Dear Barb – Worried about overweight nephew

Dear Barb:

My sister has a four-year-old son who is severely overweight. I am concerned about my nephew’s health, but whenever I even hint that he may have a weight problem my sister becomes defensive. She says it’s only baby fat and he’ll outgrow it. Am I overreacting? Do obese children usually outgrow a weight problem or do they become obese adults? Is there anything I can do to help my nephew?

Judith in Toronto, Ontario

You are in a very sensitive position Judith, as most parents find it difficult to accept anything even approaching criticism of their children. However you are right in being concerned about this young boy’s health. A recent study of obese children indicates they are at a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and these health risks increase with the level of obesity. The frightening fact is that these conditions, generally associated with middle age, are now showing up in children.

Your sister may be more receptive if you offer suggestions as opposed to what she perceives as criticism. Perhaps you can suggest activities that will promote a more active and healthy lifestyle, not only for your nephew, but also for his whole family. To make this really work you may have to include yourself in some of these activities, which is an added benefit for you.

Assuming you live near your sister you can suggest walking together as a family. If you have children, you can make it a fun outing for everyone. Develop a routine. For example every evening after dinner walk for thirty minutes and include a visit to a nearby park where the children can play for half an hour. Between the walk and playing in the park, this one hour a day of physical activity could offer many health benefits for your nephew. He may lose weight and more importantly learn to enjoy physical activity and hopefully want to make it an ongoing part of his daily life.

In addition, you could recommend your sister involve your nephew in organized sports, such as soccer, baseball or hockey, just to name a few. As your nephew masters these sports he will also gain confidence in his abilities and receive the added benefit of improved self-esteem. Eventually your sister will see that her son is not only healthier, but also happier.

Of course the other aspect to consider in becoming healthier is dietary choices. Again, you don’t want to criticize what your sister is preparing for meals, but rather present alternatives. Perhaps when you nephew is visiting your home you could offer him healthy snacks that also taste good, such as fruit, or fresh vegetables. Hopefully your sister will see that her son enjoys these snacks, as an alternative to high sugar, high fat snacks. Another source of mega calories, than many parents are not aware of, is fruit juice. I don’t know if your sister provides these drinks for her son, but many parents believe fruit juices are equivalent to fresh fruit as far as nutritional value, but this is not so. Try offering your nephew water as an alternative to fruit juices, or diluting his juice with part water, thus cutting his intake of calories and sugars.

I know this may sound like a huge undertaking for you Judith, but it is well worth the effort. Remember being a good role model is the best teacher.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.

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