Childhood obesity won’t improve by discussing body weight. We need to focus on the real issue– the health, happiness and fitness level of children.

It’s back-to-school season! This year, I have one son transitioning to high school, another son starting his second year at a private {special education} school, and a daughter – right in the heart of middle school. This school year- packed with homework, school clubs, therapy, my son’s part-time job and my daughters competitive cheer and cross-country schedule – may be my busiest year yet. Truth is, I’m loving it!

My kids are not the only ones headed to school – I’m going too, but for a different reason. While they’ll be busy learning, I’ll be busy teaching. I’m traveling around giving presentations to school staff- teachers, administrators, nurses, counselors– sharing strategies for how each and every one of them can help shine light on health and wellness.  Actionable, achievable and affordable strategies that any school can implement. And while it will take a team to tackle the issue, it starts with one passionate person – sharing an idea or going the extra mile. I’m encouraging everyone to act and demand a change.

Is Childhood Obesity Really the Issue?

Last week, a friend commented on how great it is that schools invite me to speak about wellness. I smiled and replied, “Actually, they don’t.”

Companies and organizations hire me to speak about health and wellness, but schools don’t. Instead, schools ask me to talk about another topic – childhood obesity. It’s always childhood obesity. I get asked to share strategies to help conquer childhood obesity; I get asked to share strategies to help talk to parents about childhood obesity; and I get asked to share strategies for talking to kids about obesity. I always say yes! But, when I walk on the stage, I say something they usually don’t expect to hear. I share why they should never ever talk about childhood obesity or body weight with parents and children.

That’s not to say childhood obesity should be ignored. Schools and health-care practitioners are concerned with the body weight statistics of our kids. So am I.  I hate to see children being bullied or ridiculed about their weight. It’s cruel and can be emotionally damaging.

But, is childhood obesity really the issue? Is weighing our children in school helpful? Is focusing on how much children weigh really going to make a change?  I say no – and the statistics are on my side. It’s a conversation about healthy – how to grow well-nourished, happy and fit kids will that will make a change.  It’s time to change the title!

Last week I presented at the School Nurses Professional Development Day in Maryland. Giving that talk got me fired up all over again about this topic. I ended up posting a message on social media titled, “How to Talk to Kids About Their Body Weight.” The answer – “Don’t!”

That post sparked some great conversation among my colleagues.  I also received lots of private messages and questions from parents. It reminded me that this is definitely an area that needs more attention – a lot more.

Focus on the Positive

Today, I’m speaking at another school nurses training. This time in Washington DC. Like last week, I was asked to speak about –you guessed it –childhood obesity. In preparation, I had the organizer survey the nurses so that I could tailor my talk to their needs. Not surprising, one of the challenges that they reported was talking to parents about body weight. They wanted guidance because they get a lot of push-back from parents. Understandable.

This particular county is very diverse, with 58% African American, 33% Hispanic, 4% white, 3% Asian, 2% mixed race and 11% special education. Equality, diversity, values and cultural norms are more reasons why weight should be left out of the discussion. Some cultures associate a greater body weight with wealth. They see it as a positive. Who are we to tell them different? If a higher body weight is not affecting their health, happiness or fitness level, is it really a problem?

Should we really be focusing on body weight?
Is it the schools responsibility to reverse or prevent childhood obesity?
Why do schools report kids being overweight?
Does a person that is obese really need to be told that they are obese?

Approaching a parent or child to discuss body weight results in negative thoughts and is the wrong approach. If we want parents and kids to make positive changes, than we need to give them positive messages.

[bctt tweet=”If we want parents and kids to make positive changes, than we need to give them positive messages. #RDChat #WellnessInSchools” username=”heathermangieri”]

How to Talk to kids about body weight. Don't. Instead focus on positive messages like health, happiness and fitness level

It doesn’t matter what race, nationality or gender a child is, parents are more likely to listen to advice on how to improve their child’s health, wellness, fitness level, sports performance, concentration, mood and academics than on their body weight. When we show parents that it’s the health of their child we care about, and we share how nutrition impacts all of the things above, ears will open. It’s time to stop talking about body weight.

Ideas for Incorporating Wellness into Schools

If we stop focusing on body weight and childhood obesity, that leaves more room to focus on the real issue – the health and happiness of our youth. There is money available to help schools incorporate wellness into the curriculum.

Spending thousands of dollars on a new playground is not necessary – think outside the box. It might take a team to tackle a huge project, but it only takes a single passionate person to start suggesting ideas. Here are a few ways wellness can be incorporated into schools.

  • Incorporate health messages, nutrition education and movement into the academic curriculum

    1. Math– put jump ropes in the classroom and have kids jump to count
    2. English Literature– choose reading books and English literature assignments that teach nutrition, health and fitness
    3. Science– show how sugar dissolves in water and how much goes in to making homemade iced tea or other beverages
    4. Social Studies– teach lessons on farming and use field trips to visit farms
  • Set-up Taste Tests in the Cafeteria to Get Kids Trying New Foods and Flavors

    1. New fruits
    2. New vegetables
    3. Smoothie
  • Sign up for the Chefs Move to Schools Program

  • Invest in a Charlie Cart

  • Form a Wellness Committee

  • Use Healthy Fundraising Options

    • sell candles instead of candy
  • Fill Vending Machines with Healthy, Reimbursable Meals

    • fruits and veggies, containers of yogurt, bottled water
  • Invest in an Indoor Tower Garden 

    • this allows kids to participate in growing their own herbs or vegetables.
  • Purchase a Greenhouse and Start a Planting Project (Grants Available)
    1. Have kids grow their own produce
    2. Have kids taste their own produce
    3. Teach kids about hunger and food waste by donating grown produce to food bank or other organization

I have a huge passion for raising healthy kids. Yes, I care about their nutrition, but it goes way beyond what they put into their mouth. It’s what goes on in their mind – what you can’t see – that can be far more damaging to their health. It’s time to get kids learning and interested in food, nutrition and wellness. Together we can do it, and we can do it without scales, and without students even realizing they are learning.

Health is Wealth – Spread the Word.

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