Image: Pexels Help your chubby child without chiding him
Overweight children who are shamed or stigmatised are more likely to binge eat or isolate themselves than to make positive changes such as losing weight, a leading paediatricians’ group says.

In a new policy statement, the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) offers guidance to help parents, teachers, school officials and paediatricians assist overweight and obese children without making them feel bad about themselves.

“We see a growing problem regarding weight stigma. In a misguided attempt to get kids to change, people end up reinforcing negative coping behaviours,” said policy statement lead author Dr Stephen Pont.

The statement authors said rather than motivating children, stigmatising them could worsen obesity by making children less likely to be physically active or to seek health care.

It also made binge eating and social isolation more likely.

Dr Chris Karampahtsis is a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, New York.

He said he saw a previous study that compared quality of life for cancer patients versus quality of life for obese patients, and that cancer patients reported a better quality of life.

The new statement, in the journal Pediatrics, is accompanied by a new study that focused on how society and the media aren’t helping to dampen the stigma overweight children feel. What’s worse, the media is likely a significant contributor to young people’s weight problems in the first place.

This study looked at 31 top-grossing movies from 2012 to 2015.

The researchers found that all of the movies had obesity-promoting content. For example, 87% showed unhealthy food and 71% showed excessive portion sizes.

Nearly two-thirds of the films showed people drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.

Eighty-four percent of the movies promoted weight-related stigma, such as a verbal insult on body weight. The researchers also noted that these weren't isolated incidents.

Parents need to be mindful of their word choices and help their child make small changes.

“Let your child guide the ship and choose what to change. Maybe the family - yes, family, so you don’t isolate the kiddo - will start eating more fruits and vegetables,” Pont said.

“Approaching the topic of weight in an empathetic, sensitive manner is critical. Don’t call the child fat or obese. The goal is to motivate behavioural change to maintain good health,” Karampahtsis said.

Both experts advised involving the child’s doctor.

Sometimes children don’t need to lose weight, Pont said. If they can avoid gaining weight, then their weight may normalise as they grow.

Children are still building bones and muscle, so it’s important they get the right nutrition to do so. - New York Times