Overweight, Obesity and Special Needs – 10 Things to Consider

For years my son was a walking stick.  Nothing he ate put any weight on his thin frame.  I struggled to find blue jeans in slims and still had to add elastic or darts in them.  Then, my son got better, healthier, the weight stuck, we were happy. Now I find myself pulling back the amount to food John wants to eat, and shopping for the same length of jeans I have for years, but bigger and bigger waist size. In the back of my mind I keep thinking I don’t want him to end up one of those pudgy special need adults. I swore I would never let that happen, now it hits me how vigilant we must be about weight, size and health.

In reading statistics taken each year at special Olympic games, one can see a trend, people with mental or physical disabilities have a higher rate of obesity than their same age peers.  How can we help our children slow the weight gain and keep a healthier life style? In all honesty, the same rule for non-special needs applies to special needs. Yes, it’s fact, no excuse for poor eating habits or being a couch potato.

Special Happens | Obesity and Special Needs_Miranda Everitt Flickr1) Work together as a family.  Tackle any life style changes as a family helps the special need child feel included in an event, rather than being singled out to participate in a change.

2) Check with your child’s doctor.  Flat feet, coordination or poor vision issues, wheel chairs and more may make setting up a work out program more challenging.  It’s always a good idea to talk to your child’s health care specialist to assess any physical issues that may need extra attention when changing your child’s life style pattern.  Ask for advise or a list of locations that offer gym memberships or other free workout fun programs for special needs individuals.

3) Over haul the kitchen.  Giving up fatty foods, junk foods, and other treats can be painful and it’s wrong to ask your child not to drink soda pop when it’s hidden in the back of the pantry just for your own consumption. Clean it out, and go shopping as a family for healthier snacks.

4) Cook together.  Including your child is one of the best ways to help them feel like trying a different food as well as giving them a feeling of accomplishment.

5) If possible grow healthy foods together.  Plant a blueberry bush in the yard or in a large pot on an apartment terrace.  Plant herbs in pots, small tomatoes for salads can help encourage your child’s understanding of where food really comes from.

6) Get moving.  Check into areas that offer aquatic work outs for children who have movement issues.  The buoyancy of the water can help support the limbs and encourage movement.  A back yard pool need not be expensive and can serve well as an exercise center.   Look for small above ground pools with  three feet depth for walking in and playing ball.

  • Walk, take a nature hike or people watching hour three times a week with your family.  Malls offer indoor protection from inclement weather, just try to avoid the tempting food court.  If you must stop, drink water, choose a healthier choice in snacks such as grilled chicken or a fruit salad from venders.
  • Dance, dancing is fun no matter what your age or ability.  Wheelchair dance classes are popping up nation wide. Ask your local special needs support group leaders about wheelchair basket ball, dance or cheer leading for your child.

7) Be honest with your child about everyone’s need to eat less and make better choices.  Expect balking, children are good at it when parents change the rules so don’t expect a miracle over night.  Take your family shopping for new tableware.  Choose smaller plates with large raised rims to encourage eating only in the flat center.  Buy colorful place mats, napkins, and decorate the table to help encourage eating only at the table. Remind your child as you walk and shop that they are already making a better life style choice by walking the store isles.

8) Brag on them, heaping on praise as they try a new food, or choose unsweetened tea over sweet tea, helps them feel accomplishment.  Set a family goal and plan, if we eat better and change habit X over the next three months, then we will visit the zoo to celebrate.

9) Be honest with your expectations.  You are not out to win a metal or turn your child into Twiggy, but you are there to help them be in the best physical shape they can be.  Know the difference between posture and pudgy.  Not sure what I mean?  Look at your child’s spine.  The deeper the C curve the more they may look pudgy when really, it’s a weak set of back and stomach muscles.  Ask your physical therapist about exercise to help in these areas.

10) Most of all, have fun.  Anything done with a positive outlook is easier to stick to than if you view working out as a drudge.  Take time to make a plan that’s workable and stick to it once you start.  Our children like all children do their best to copy us first.  Make sure your life style choices reflect what you want your child to copy and the journey will be sweeter.


(Photo By: Miranda Everitt via Flickr)

Cheryl Bailey
Cheryl Bailey is a freelance/ghost writer who lives North Mississippi. She is the mom of two grown sons the youngest was disabled after a vaccine injury left him without any physical skills or speech. Cheryl now works to advocate for all persons of disability, and frequently writes about life with John, subject of A View in the Mirror. Her other passions include sewing, gardening, and spending time her dog Cindy and any stray cats that choose to call her back porch home. When not working as an advocate for persons with disabilities, she can be found working for Soldiers Angels in support of our troops. You may contact her via Facebook or Twitter.
Cheryl Bailey
Cheryl Bailey

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