Preparing for the Discussion of Weight with Your Child’s Healthcare Provider

Asheley Skinner, PhD

My last post talked about how doctors often stigmatize patients based on their weight. Whether or not your child is affected by obesity, you should be prepared to discuss weight, activity and nutrition when you visit your child’s doctor.

It is difficult for parents to look at a child and determine whether or not they are affected by obesity. A six-year-old affected by obesity does not look like the images of severe childhood obesity that we see in the news. Those images are just that—extreme. Unfortunately, this can make it even harder for parents to know what is “normal.” Parents may come to the doctor’s office with a child they believe is of a healthy weight, and are surprised when they find out that the growth charts indicate that they are impacted by excess weight or obesity. Or parents may have been told before that their child is affected by obesity, but find it hard to tell if anything has changed throughout time.

Weight in the United States has become a very sensitive subject. Much of this has to do with the stigma that people affected by obesity experience from people in the community, healthcare, their jobs, and sometimes even their own families. This stigma can make parents with children affected by obesity feel as if they are doing something “wrong.”

Most parents want to do what is best for their kids, but it can be a very hard job. They might want their child to be more active, but when they send them outside to play, they may worry about them getting hurt. They want their child to eat healthier food, but after working late, they also want to spend as much time with their families as possible; cooking a healthy dinner can often take more time than they want to spend in the kitchen. How do you balance all of these needs?

Your child’s doctor should be one of the people you can turn to when looking for advice. You should be ready to discuss your child’s weight, healthy eating, and activity. But you should also be ready to ask for advice on how to actually carry out the suggestions your doctor makes. For example, if the doctor suggests that your child should play outside more often, be ready to tell them if your home is near a busy street, if your child needs to stay inside until you get home from work, or if there are other circumstances that make it hard for them to get outside.

Remember that the goal is not to have your child lose weight—you want them to “grow into it.” More importantly, you want them to develop healthy habits, no matter what they weigh. Your doctor can help you reach these goals. Here are some examples of the kinds of questions you might want to ask your doctor:

      • Many people in our family are overweight. Is my child’s growth healthy?
      • I work late and need to get take-out once or twice a week. Which kinds of foods are better choices?
      • My child refuses to eat any vegetables. What should I do to change that?
      • I’m very worried about my child developing an eating disorder. How can I be sure to encourage healthy behavior while not making her worry about her weight?
      • You’ve just told me my child is overweight. Do I need to worry about his health right now?

It is very important that kids get their recommended check-ups. Even though it can be hard to feel stigmatized by healthcare providers, regular visits play a very important role in taking care of your child’s health; it extends well beyond your child’s weight.

About the Author:
Asheley Skinner, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has written many papers about the childhood obesity, including health outcomes and obesity stigma. She is committed to developing ways to improve obesity without causing unintended harm. 

Next Week…

Join us next week as we’ll discuss ways to talk to your doctor about stigma more specifically.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. Information contained in this blog post is not based on scientific research and has not been validated. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise or program mentioned in this blog post.



2 Comments for this Post
  • Terri
    August 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    This is a very helpful series.. I think an important part of this process is not to allow the doctors or staff to use shaming or negative talk with your child and to stand up for child if they do. I have very clear memories of a weigh in when I was a child where the nurse said at the scale.. “Wow, but then you have always been quite a porker”.. This language can affect how the child sees themselves, but most importantly changes how they see their relationship with their doctor and can keep them from seeing the relationship as an educational partnership into adulthood.

    Additionally, I think its important to stress to the doctor that you would like realistic suggestions… ie.. not just your child needs to exercise more, but suggestions for activities and informal exercise that meets the child’s needs and recognizes any limitations.


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