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Because I'm in the Leadership program at my ATA school, my Instructor asked me to think of a way to serve others in my town. I decided to pick up trash at a park near my house so that kids like me would have a clean place to play. My Mom and Dad and even my little brother helped. It was kinda gross, but I had fun. I really like helping people!
– Paxton Thomas, Yellow Belt, 9 years old

From ATA World Volume 20, Number 1 – Spring 2013

Worried about having “the talk” with your child? It used to be that using a certain three-letter word (yes: fat) was positively off-limits in a family. Today, the issue is, well, bigger. Nearly 17 percent of kids ages 2 to 19 fit into the category of “obese”; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the percentage of obese children has almost tripled since 1980.

And with childhood obesity comes a host of dangerous disorders: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, sleep apnea, and more. Not to mention a higher risk for social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem.

If obesity is a problem in your family, addressing it could be a matter of saving a loved one’s—a child’s—life.

Master Tina Newberry of Leaders for Life Martial Arts in Champaign, Ill., knows firsthand the struggles many parents are facing. She and her husband have three daughters: Melanie, 23; Tiffany, 21; and Destani, 12. “I’ve raised daughters who are fit and in shape, but it’s something we struggle with,” Newberry says. “It’s not necessary to be perfect, but we do strive to raise healthy-minded daughters.”

Together, As a Family

What’s been most successful for the Newberry family is making changes to diet and exercise as a family. For example, when late-night eating was having a negative impact on their wellness, they made plans to eat a light meal before classes at their Taekwondo academy, and small, healthy snacks after classes.

Making small changes as a family is a great way to address weight concerns, says Esther Levy, program coordinator at the Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program at Stanford University.

The program successfully helps obese children—and their families—make lifelong changes that positively impact wellness. (Two effective tactics they use: Reduce the number of calorie-dense foods and set activity goals.) But any changes must start at home and be good for the entire family, Levy says. Parents are the best role models for new behaviors, whether that’s adding vegetables or exercising regularly. “If it’s important for your child to be healthy, then it needs to be important for you [the parent] to be healthy too,” she says.

Healthy Talk

Talking about the problem is just as important as making changes. “If a child is being made fun of or if self-esteem problems are apparent, it should be discussed,” she says. But it’s still a family affair. She suggests the conversation could start with: “Let’s talk about what we can do together to make our home healthier and to be more active.”

Another tip: Keep it positive. For example, parents can say, “We want to live long, healthy lives together,” when broaching the topic, Levy suggests. Then celebrate successes small and large.

While weight loss is a visible result of her particular programs’ success, it’s not about looks. Obese or overweight children who lose weight feel healthier, have more energy, perform better in physical activities, and have more self-esteem.

And isn’t that what’s most important? Newberry adds that just as parents do with kids, Taekwondo instructors teach kids that their bodies need these things: balance, peace, nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. “If they learn that before they leave home, they’ll have a solid foundation for a happy, healthy life.” ATA