by Dana Hawthorne, MScFN, RD, Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit
We see and hear messages about healthy eating, physical activity and weight every day. Physical activity and healthy eating are usually encouraged for weight loss. Words and attitudes about weight are often negative and blame personal life choices or lack of willpower. These views can cause discrimination and stigma, which can lead to poor body image, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and avoiding physical activity and medical care. The Health Unit supports a “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds” approach that shifts the focus from weight to overall health by promoting balanced eating, regular physical activity and mental wellbeing for everyone.
Children are always watching, listening to and learning from the adults around them. They’re also surrounded by unrealistic messages and images in the media. Poor body image and self-esteem among children and youth is common and continuing to increase. The negative effects of these feelings can last throughout a person’s life, not just in childhood and adolescence. Because of this, it’s important that adults and caregivers role model healthy behaviours. Shift the focus from “weight and shape” to “health, wellness and resilience”. Begin by being aware of your own words, views and actions, and how they affect your child’s view of themselves and their world. Try not to compare bodies. Healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Instead, focus on strengths, skills and seeing the positive traits in yourself and others. Practicing these behaviours will help improve self-esteem, while role modelling helps children learn and adopt healthy living behaviours.
For more information, visit www.healthunit.org, connect with us on Facebook and Twitter or call 1-800-660-5853.