Healthcare professionals have been calling childhood obesity a national epidemic for years, but only recently has the extent of the problem become a part of the national conversation. Some statistics just can’t be ignored. 15 percent of American children, ages 6 to 11, are considered seriously overweight, a number that has tripled over the past thirty years. Obesity puts children at high risk for health problems including type II diabetes, hypertension and heart disease and for becoming obese adults.
There is another harmful aspect to this problem that is less discussed — the emotional toll obesity takes on children.
Overweight children are prone to low self-esteem, negative body image, depression and anxiety. These children are often ignored or ostracized by their peers and turn to more food for comfort. The unhealthy pattern of isolation and poor eating habits can lead to devastating long-term physical and emotional problems.
Although it is natural to self-isolate when one is feeling sad or depressed, this behavior only exacerbates existing problems. In addition to eating more, overweight kids exercise less and become less involved in the world around them. This pattern perpetuates feelings of shame, hopelessness, and helplessness that can develop into full-blown clinical depression if untreated.
To break this negative cycle it is important to introduce these children to the joys of using their creativity as an alternative to overeating and isolation. Guiding children to use their imagination and natural creativity will provide them with the tools to express their feelings and emotions in healthy and productive ways. This process is called The Creative Imperative.
Using creativity helps eradicate feelings of emptiness and depression while creating positive change. For obese children this is especially important because how they see themselves and others at this point in their development will leave a lasting imprint on how they live the rest of their lives.
• Find your child’s creative language – Every person has a natural way of expressing him or herself. As a parent, you have to find your child’s creative language. Is your child more of a painter? A writer? Does he or she like to take pictures? Does she build models or plant flowers? Encourage your child to use that language to develop a project and then share this creation with others. This form of self-expression allows children to share their feelings in a safe and positive way, especially if talking about low self-esteem directly is too difficult for them.
• Share a creative project – by sharing what they create, children learn to express themselves without the immediate gratification of consuming empty calories. This can improve self-esteem and self-awareness and creates pathways for establishing relationships with others.
Getting kids to follow their natural creative instincts is not hard. Giving kids the tools to develop their own creative language will give their self-esteem a boost and make them far more resilient when life throws them the inevitable curve ball. Kids who have active imaginations build the skills to turn their dreams into action and will be far less likely to feel stuck with their negative feelings
Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping patients achieve mental health and well being through creative expression. His clients include New York Times bestselling authors, musicians, and a wide range of artists and professionals. He is an adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University and on the medical faculty at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. Dr. Michaelis is the co-founder of the Downtown Clinicians Collective, one of New York City’s largest networking organizations for mental health professionals. The author of numerous scholarly articles and studies, he has been featured as an expert on creativity and relationships in articles on SheKnows.com Salon.com, and in Parenting, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times. He has been a guest on Martha Steward Living Radio on Sirius/XM and on the nationally syndicated television program, Daytime. Dr. Michaelis lives and creates with his wife and two children in New York City. http://drbenmichaelis.com/nav-4/events/