Dr Dawson's advice on how to help children feel better about eating

13th December 1996 at 00:00
* Many girls trace the origins of their dieting back to teasing or off-hand remarks at school about their size or the shape of their body. It is important to deal with any teasing of this nature sensitively and firmly.

* Classroom projects that involve children producing graphs on which their weight and height appear should be avoided; if there is a child who is self-conscious about his or her weight, drawing attention to it publicly could result in long-term misery. Instead, measure heights on their own.

* Teachers should know the facts about the nutritional needs of children. The wrong information about low fat and high fibre diets being healthy can work to children's detriment nutritionally as well as making them feel guilty every time they have a sticky bun. School policy on what is allowed in lunchboxes should be based on children's calorie needs. Mid-morning snacks and lunchtime treats of chocolate or biscuits provide much-needed energy.

* Dispelling myths about dieting can help children accept themselves. Children should be told of the health risks of eating less than one third of their calories as fat. It should also be made clear to them that dieting never has more than short-term effects.

* The link between genetics and body shape should be spelled out to children, particularly that their basic shape remains the same no matter how much they may diet or exercise.

* Discuss the myth that thin is beautiful.

* Diets can become epidemics. Beware of children becoming unusually faddy or finnicky about food. Younger children may appear quiet, listless, cold and unsociable.

* If you suspect a child is losing weight, it is important to substantiate your suspicion by weighing her or him every week for two weeks. If it is confirmed, speak to the child to find out if there are obvious problems associated with the weight loss. Share your concerns with the parents.

* Serious concerns should be mentioned to the nurse or doctor from the School Health Service. Advice is also available from the local health promotion unit.

Dr Dee Dawson's Quick Guide to Eating Disorders is published by Daniels.

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