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Q: My daughter is seven-years-old and is 30 percent overweight. We are trying to eat healthier as a household and are also trying to start walking together. I have a question about how to handle birthday parties and holidays when there is so much high calorie food around.
A: You are doing exactly the right thing by having the whole household adjust their eating and exercise patterns, rather than focusing on your daughter alone. Even if other family members are not overweight, the modeling of proper eating is very important for your daughter. It is also not fair to deprive her of foods that other family members are allowed to eat, and this is true at holiday time as well. Your daughter would likely feel very self concious and unhappy if all the other children at a birthday party had cake and ice cream, and she was allowed none. The key is to limit the quantity of these types of foods, as you teach her how to recognize what food choices she can make.
I would recommend talking with your daughter before a party or holiday event, and come to some mutual agreement about how much of a particular type of food she may have. A small piece of cake with no seconds, for example, or three or four potato chips rather than three handfuls. Also make sure she knows which foods she can have as much of as she wants, so that she won't feel that she is hungry, or being deprived.
Praise for sticking with the agreement is good for the first few times, but I would avoid making any type of reward for her eating behavior.
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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.