by John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D. and Nicola Schutte, Ph.D.
With child obesity rates rising (Torgan, 2002) and the negative health and social effects of obesity affecting more children every day, parents wisely seek ideas about what to do to help their children remain at normal weight. This article describes a simple approach taken by two psychologist parents applying social cognitive learning theory (Bandura, 1986; Martin & Pear, 2003) and findings regarding human behaviour and obesity. So far the approach has worked for our daughter, age 10, and son, age 5. It might also work for your children — to prevent obesity and possibly even to reduce it.
There are two safe ways to control weight: Controlling calorie intake and controlling calorie burning. Unlike calorie restriction, calorie burning can be great fun. We engage in physical activities with our children. We hike, dance, and play sports together. Regular activities pay off the best, but every little bit helps. When we go on vacation, we go places where we can hike. Every week we play badminton. Sometimes we play tennis or other sports. We give the children enough instruction that they have a chance to get good enough at a sport to enjoy it. We encourage our children to play sports by themselves, with others, and on teams. We sign them up for any team sport that they think they might like. Our daughter plays on a netball team and goes to gymnastics once a week. Our son plays on a basketball team. We send our children to a school that offers physical education or sports activities almost every school day. When feasible, we encourage the children to walk to school. At one private school our daughter attended, she was the only walker out of 600 children We limit TV viewing to an hour a day during the school week and 1 1/2 hours per day on other days. We don't want TV to compete with physical activity. There is some research evidence that restricting TV time works (Robinson & Killen, 2001).
References for Further Reading
Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social-cognitive theory. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Arenz, S., Ruckerl, R., Koletzko, B., & von Kries, R. (2004). Breast-feeding and childhood obesity — a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 28, 1247-1256.
Children and youth BMI calculator (undated).
Department of Health & Human Services National Institutes of Health (2006). Weight control.
Martin, G., & Pear, J. (2003). Behavior modification: what it is and how to do it. (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Mortensen, E. L., Michaelsen, K. F., Sanders, S. A., & Reinisch, J. M. (2002). The association between duration of breastfeeding and adult intelligence. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 2365-2371.
Robinson, T. N., & Killen, J. D. (2001). Obesity prevention for children and adolescents. In J. K. Thompson and L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image, eating disorders, and obesity in youth: assessment, prevention, and treatment. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.
Torgan, C. (2002). Childhood obesity on the rise.
Web Sites by the Same Author:
Malouff, J. (2004). Nine ways teachers can help young students overcome shyness
Malouff, J. (2010). Coping with the loss of a loved one
Malouff, J. (2010). Preventing child obesity (you are here now)
Malouff, J. (2010). Fifty problem solving strategies explained
Malouff, J. (2010). Helping children overcome shyness
Malouff, J. et al. (2006). Simple strategies academics can use to help students improve their writing skills
Malouff, J., & Schutte, N. (2004). Using psychological strategies to help your child read more
About the Authors
John Malouff, who studies coping with stressors, and Nicola Schutte, who studies emotional intelligence and personality, are senior lecturers at the University of New England School of Psychology.