3 Challenges Overweight Children Have
A few years ago, some family friends of Sherri’s moved to the Orlando area. Their sixth-grade son, Bobby, seemed to support the move and appeared to enjoy the change in his surroundings… all except for one thing. At his new school he quickly ran into a big challenge – quite literally.
The school required all sixth graders to go outside every day and run around the school yard. Because Bobby was the typical sixth grader and weighed a few more pounds than he should, he hated that run. He wasn’t good at it. It winded him easily.
And he always came in dead last.
IT MIGHT BE HARD TO GET STARTED
If you have a child like Bobby who struggles with weight and related health issues and you want to help him or her to get up and get moving to drop some of those unwanted pounds, first we want to say, “Great! It’s one of the best possible ways you can help your child.”
But immediately after that, we would like to give you a caution. Remember this: A supersized child has a lot of trouble just getting started. It’s very hard for kids like these to get going, to get active, and to get some exercise. They face extraordinary challenges on at least three levels.
Physical challenges: Their excess weight makes them less flexible and more likely to suffer aches and pains; and the more they move, the more aches and pains they feel. They have up to five times more fat cells and less functional muscle. And so they struggle to perform tasks their normal-weight peers find relatively easy. Obese teens and even preteens may already suffer with arthritis or serious back problems that make it really hard, even painful, for them to get up and get started.
Emotional challenges: SuperSized Kids are more likely than others to be bullied, mocked, kidded, and insulted by total strangers, let alone people they know. They will get stared at. That’s extremely tough for young kids, because image is so important to them. So they tend to think, Why should I go outside and exercise and invite the kind of abuse I’ve already received?
Relational challenges: Study after study has shown that obese kids have much more difficulty making and sustaining healthy relationships than kids of normal weight. We wish we could say that the fat, friendless kid is a myth, but he’s not. And the lonelier these kids feel, the more likely they are to retreat from the relationships they already have and instead try to find solace in food – probably in front of the TV. Besides that, relationships within the family may make it harder for an obese child to lose weight and get healthy. Grandma may see those extra pounds as a sign of good health and may therefore offer donuts or sweets for the child without the parent’s knowledge.
Yes, it’s critical that we get our SuperSized Kids up and moving, but we have to realize that it won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.
Walt will never forget Stuart and his family. When it became clear that Stuart absolutely had to shed dozens of pounds, he and his family began working together. One day shortly after they started this new, health-promoting habit, someone in a passing car shouted out an insult about Stuart’s size. Stuart stopped dead in his tracks, his shoulders stooped, and all the wind rushed out of his sails.
But Stuart had something going for him: a wonderful mom. Instantly she recognized how the nasty remark had cut deep into her son’s soul. She responded by physically turning Stuart to face her. Then she looked him eyeball-to-eyeball and said, “Stuart, what they don’t see is the Stuart inside of you. That’s what I see. Let’s find him.” And then the family continued to walk.
Weeks after this incident the family returned to Walt’s office for a follow-up visit. Stuart had begun losing weight, he felt better physically, and his school performance had shot way up. “Do you think that’s just a coincidence?” his mom asked.
“No,” Walt replied, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all.”
When SuperSized Kids get moving and on a more healthy track, the positive results ripple into every area of their lives. They feel better about themselves. They find new self-confidence. Their self-image improves. They sleep better. They become less withdrawn. They perform better in school. Regular exercise has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. And on and on enormous benefits go.
Parents, we applaud you for wanting to get your kids to exercise more. Keep it up! But remember that if you have a SuperSized Kid, its physically hard, and relationally hard for him or her to get up and moving. You can’t simply tell obese children to “go exercise”. Not only is it really tough for them to do so, but they’re likely to get knocked down once they try. You need to understand this hard fact and get ready for it.
If you have a SuperSized child, remember that he or she has to start slow. Don’t make that first step difficult or even impossible to take! And if you have one child who’s obese and another who’s overweight, realize that it’s going to be easier for the overweight child to get started than it will for the obese child.
Don’t let the difficulty of the task, however, stop you from taking that first step. Consider it carefully, plan for it wisely, encourage it positively – and then get started. Don’t worry about if it feels as if you’re going too slowly. Just get started.
You might be surprised to learn how motivated your child will become to “get out and get active” if they observe their parents – you – getting out and getting active. According to movement specialist Jane Clark, professor and chairwoman of the University of Maryland’s Department of Kinesiology, “If a mother and father both exercise, compared to those who don’t, kids in that house are six times more likely to exercise. If one parent exercises, the child is three times more likely.”
Do you want your child to get up and get active? If so, the best thing you can do by far is to get up and get active yourself.
And how much activity are we talking about? The recommendations vary slightly from group to group and from expert to expert, but most authorities recommend that both you and your child get at least sixty minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise – the kind of physical movement that can get your blood rushing, your lungs pumping, and your metabolism rising. Sixty minutes a day should be your minimum goal – and it doesn’t have to be sixty minutes all at one time.
Walt Larimore, M.D. has been called “one of America’s best known family physicians.” He is a nationally-known and nationally sought after speaker and health expert.