If you're one of the 10 million weekly viewers who have tuned in to the hit new show, "This is Us," you may have caught the heart-wrenching moment in the second episode when the mom tucks her school-aged daughter into bed. The daughter, Kate, looks up and says: "Mom? I only ate fruit today."
It's a scene that just about broke my heart, as it likely did for any parent.
Kate is overweight. And her mom gently responds with, "You know I just want you to be healthy, right? Tell you what? How about you and I find a healthy balance together? How does that sound?"
As Kate nods, I'm applauding from my spot on the couch. The mom didn't suggest losing weight, nor did she body shame her daughter. Instead, she focused on being healthy and let Kate know that she wasn't alone on the journey.
While this was a fictional moment in the lives of a fictional family, the Pearsons, it's a very real conversation with serious consequences.
As an expectant first-time mom, it helps me realize the complexity that goes into shaping these important conversations in the right way.
"Focusing on healthy habits at an early age and getting the family involved is a basic thing, but it's something we're not so great at doing anymore, such as playing outside or encouraging families to have meals together," says Dr. Virginia Richey, a family practice doctor with SCL Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents (12.5 million people between the ages of 2 and 19) are obese or overweight—a rate that has tripled since 1980. If your child falls in this group, you may be wondering how best to help or approach the conversation.
"With children, we want to emphasize behavior goals instead of weight loss goals, whether it's a specific dietary habit or activity level," says Dr. Richey.
She offers these tips so that you can set healthy examples early and often with your family:
- Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast
- Don't use food—especially those with high calories—as a reward
- Encourage play
- Limit screen time
- Make healthy foods available in the house
- Schedule meals and snack times to avoid the tendency of eating whatever, whenever and however much
- Take sodas and sugary drinks off the grocery list.
"If parents have additional questions or concern about their child's weight, I encourage them to schedule a specific visit with a primary care provider or pediatrician," says Dr. Richey. "That way there's dedicated time to talk and it's not crammed in with everything else that happens at a well-child checkup.
"This is Us" appears Tuesday nights on NBC.