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Five Ways to Teach Kids About Healthy Body Image

Hemera/ThinkstockBy DIANE HENDERIKS, Good Morning America Health Contributor

(NEW YORK) -- We turn on the TV, flip through a magazine or check out an ad on our favorite website…images of skinny female bodies are everywhere. We can hope our kids will not get sucked in by the hype of “thin is in,” but, unfortunately, they do. The average height and weight for a model is 5’10″ and 110 lbs, while the average woman is actually 5’4″ and 145 lbs.

One perfect example of these unrealistic expectations is the world’s favorite doll. Researchers generated a computer model of a woman with Barbie’s proportions. They found that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and a few centimeters of bowel. A real woman built this way would walk on all fours, suffer from chronic diarrhea and eventually die from malnutrition.

What kind of message does this send? The majority of us could NEVER attain the bodies in these images, but the number of girls and women who try is astounding and the health penalty of this quest is devastating. Family pressure, peer pressure, the media or a combination of all three appear to be major sources of negative self image.

The diet and weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar business and they’re not just targeting adults. Do our children have the unrealistic idea that being thin is the only way to popularity, happiness and success?

It is our responsibility as parents to be sure that the messages we communicate to our children are healthy.

Here some of my suggestions:

  1. Promote a healthy relationship with food: Discuss nutrition and why your body needs natural, whole foods to function properly. We need to eat to live, not live to eat.
  2. Don’t talk negatively about your own body: Hopefully you are comfortable enough in your own skin, but if you are not, keep it to yourself.  Your child will feed off of any negative discussions and comments.
  3. Exercise: Be a role model for regular physical activity! Many studies have shown that the key to a lifelong healthy weight is regular physical activity. Get physically active with your kids whenever possible.
  4. Don’t use the word “diet”: If you skip meals, buy prepackaged “diet” food, eat only “fat free” or “lite” foods, avoid “carbs,” your kids will pick up on it and think that is how they should eat and think about food.
  5. Keep healthy foods on hand at all times: Get your kids involved in grocery shopping and food decision making.

Diane Henderiks is a registered dietitian, the founder of Dianehenderiks.com and a Good Morning America health contributor.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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