Conversations to Curb Childhood Obesity

. May 18, 2018.

Cupcakes or green beans? Let’s face it. When given the option, kids may pick the less healthy choice. With obesity quickly becoming one of the biggest health threats facing children today, parents are desperate for information that will help them with daily food dilemmas. How can we talk to our children about healthy foods and lifestyles?

Direct imperatives

In a recent University of Michigan study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 237 mothers and children ages 4 to 8 were given a four-minute window of time to taste test both healthy and not-so-healthy foods. Over 90 percent of the time, mothers of obese children tended to use direct commands to prevent children from choosing junk food over healthy alternatives.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Megan Pesch, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, found that the conversations that parents have with their children about food can have positive and negative impacts.

“There’s a lot in the literature that says not to restrict. If you say ‘No’ too often, it could lead to giving your child a complex, or tongue child developing unhealthy eating habits. What our study did find was that mothers of kids with obesity did use direct commands more often. They are intervening more, even though the guidelines say not to.”

Choosing tone and language more carefully

Parents are encouraged to have conversations with children about foods and healthy lifestyles, but to be sensitive when choosing the tone and language to convey the message.

“When a mother says ‘Don’t eat that cupcake,’ she can say it in a nice way. It’s not necessarily just what they say, but how they say it. A mother can say it in a supportive, guiding, nurturing way and not yell or be harsh with her child,” Pesch suggested.

In the future, Pesch hopes to research methods that will have a positive impact on children as it relates to obesity, not just for their physical health but for their emotional health as well.

For more information on preventing and managing childhood obesity, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics webpage at

Dr. Megan Pesch, developmental and behavioral pediatrician, University of Michigan C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital