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The Mentor’s Field Guide: Question 42:C

According to 2010 data from the federal government (, child obesity has tripled over the past 30 years, and nearly one-third of children in the United Sates are now considered to be either overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African American and Latino children, nearly 40 percent of whom are overweight or obese.

Not only does a weight problem put young people at greater risk for conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, it also makes them more likely to be overweight as adults. Further, overweight children are frequent targets for bullying, teasing, and social exclusion. The issue is so serious that it has attracted the attention of the medical community, schools, federal and state policymakers, and the White House.

At the most basic level, weight problems result from poor food choices and lack of physical activity, so this is where mentors can begin to influence their mentees. Lecturing your mentee about being more active or criticizing food choices won’t work, but there is a lot you can do.

  • Be a good role model for healthy behaviors when you are with your mentee. If you have a weight problem yourself, consider asking your mentee if he would like to create a mutual “biggest loser” game. Keep it fun; don’t put pressure on your mentee, but use the game as an excuse to modify eating habits and level of physical activity. Set challenges for each other, such as who can go the longest between meals without having a snack or who can walk around the block the most times in a week. Keep track of weekly activities, and the next time you get together talk about how you’ve each met your challenges.
  • If possible, incorporate more physical activities into your time together. Talk about physical activities you both enjoy and ask your mentee what she would like to do with you when you get together. You might go for a walk instead of sitting while you talk, shoot some hoops, race each other, play with a Frisbee, dance together, or take short exercise breaks when you are doing more sedentary things. Avoid time-killing, snack conducive sedentary activities like watching television together.
  • If you have meals or snacks together, make them healthy, and talk about and read food labels.
  • If your mentee’s weight or a weight-induced disability would make physical exercise too difficult, consult with his family and your program coordinator.

Two websites that have good information for adults and young people on weight and other health issues are and Also, check out the First Lady’s campaign Let’s Move ( to help your mentee “eat healthy” and “get active”, as well as Eat Well & Keep Moving (

Mother and daughter playing.

Mother and daughter playing.

Reprinted with permission from The Mentor’s Field guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed by Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick; Questions about the Mentoring Relationship, Question 42:c. Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®, Copyright © 2012 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN ; 877-240-7251, ext. 1; All rights reserved.