Today's guest blogger is Alexis Skoufalos, EdD, associate dean, professional development, at the Jefferson School of Population Health and is a member of the Philadelphia Health Initiative.

"Mom, Dad, am I fat?" It's a question that many parents aren't sure how to answer.

There's no escaping the fact that people make judgments about who we are based on how we look. For kids who are overweight, especially in the teen years, the bullying can be devastating and have a negative effect for years to come.  And now that school districts are including Body Mass Index assessments as part of children's physicals, there is the added confusion over what to do if the dreaded "fat letter" arrives saying your child is at an unhealthy weight.

It's hard for parents to know how to talk to their kids about the relationship between weight and health. This is a crucial conversation, now that 1 in 3 American children is overweight, to encourage the healthy behaviors that can lower our kids risk of developing diabetes and other weight-related disorders.

How to answer that difficult question? Some things that you can say to your child depending on their age are:

  • "I love you and I don't have a problem with how you look, but as your parent, I'm concerned that you are carrying around extra weight and this can hurt your health. It can also mean that you don't have as much energy or get to do the things that you really like to do."
  • "Weight is a measure of your health and carrying extra weight can hurt your health."
  • "Carrying extra weight means your body has to work harder than it needs to. Just like when you don't like it when your teacher gives you extra homework, your body doesn't like to do more work than it has to. If we can help your body stop overworking, we can make sure you have enough energy to do things that you like to do and what makes you happy."

This is just one aspect of Weigh In: Talking to Your Children About Weight and Health, an online resource developed by the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, offers to parents to help them start important conversations with their children about weight and health. The Philadelphia Health Initiative, a local group of community leaders, recently rolled out a local edition of this online tool.

This free e-guide available in English and Spanish for parents of kids ages 7-11 includes important practical information and strategies. It also has ideas for becoming more physically active as a family; meal preparation and shopping; and ways to start those important conversations with your kids about how important it is to do the things we need to become healthier…together.

We are surrounded by contradictory messages about food, health, and fitness at every turn. Turn on the TV, your cell phone, or just log onto your favorite website. Chances are it won't be long before you encounter pop-up ads for giant burgers, extra large soft drinks and pizza with extra meat, extra cheese and a cheese-stuffed crust…followed by commercials for weight-loss programs, diet drinks and plastic surgery centers.

With all these messages, it's important to help our kids establish good habits at home. We know that it's not an easy task. Parents who are overwhelmed by their own hectic schedules, struggle to put healthy food -- that their kids will actually eat -- on the table.  At times, it can sound like a battleground trying to get kids to eat healthy food. Are you going to eat all that?  Is that all you're going to eat?  Finish your vegetables or there's no dessert!  Children are easily influenced by what's popular with their friends, what they see on TV, and what they see their parents do.

Here are a few steps parents can take with their children to become healthier together:

  • Increasing the total number of minutes being active in a day (parking farther from the door, taking stairs instead of elevators, joining after school activities/sports)
  • Limiting screen time and increasing amount of outdoor play time
  • Shopping for healthy foods together
  • Creating a family play time (tag in the yard, riding bikes after dinner)
  • Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat
  • Limiting the number of sweets (foods and beverages) you eat a week

At the Jefferson School of Population Health, we have worked to spread the word by encouraging local community agencies and groups to host meetings to introduce the guide to families.  We're committed to working with partners in the community to make Philadelphia a healthier place to live, work and play.  We would be happy to provide you with additional information or materials, or by presenting at a meeting for your school, community group or place of worship.  Let us know how we can help you by sending your questions or suggestions to us at

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