According to Statistics Canada, one in five Canadians was considered to be overweight in 2014, a 15% increase from 2003. Among children, statistics are even worse, with one of every three children in this country being overweight. Of course, even though being overweight is more prevalent than being underweight, it’s important not to discount the seriousness of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which can effect both girls and boys equally.

Phillip Lafave, Athletic Director and Exercise Science Teacher at Montreal’s Loyola High School, points out that the initial sign that a child or teenager is starting to experience weight problems is when they start lacking energy while performing routine tasks like taking a walk or climbing the stairs.

Lafave says that a combination of an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are usually what contribute to unhealthy weight gain. A huge factor that often goes forgotten, however, is stress, and Lafave points out that people often deal with stress by either overeating or not eating enough.

Lafave says that lots of young families lead very busy and stressful lives, and often have little time for meals, so their solution is to pick the quick option, which is often fast-food. An easy solution for parents to rely less on fast-food is to set aside a few hours per week to plan and prepare healthy meals for the following days. “It’s a thing that parents and kids can do together and talk about the way that they eat,” he says, adding that it also greatly reduces stress for everyone, since all the meals are already prepared and ready to eat.

Lafave also reminds parents that they are role models for their children, and children learn most about food at home, so if parents make it a point to eat healthy and exercise often, children will most likely follow suit, thus avoiding weight problems. In this case, doing exercise does not necessarily mean going to the gym; it can simply mean encouraging activity as a family, such as walking, skating, cycling, etc.

Lafave points out a shift in the trend of health awareness nowadays as opposed to ten years ago. He says that while girls have always been self-conscious about the way they look, this has now become more popular among young males, who are much more conscious about what they’re eating than ever before. “Kids are learning about nutrition and ways to help them lose weight and to gain mass the natural way,” he says.

Lafave does not deny, however, that students who are either overweight or underweight do face incredible challenges in terms of their own self-esteem and bullying, noting that bullying is always prevalent and contributes to children with weight problems feeling self-conscious about themselves.

According to Lafave, the best way for parents who want to have this conversation with their children is to be direct. Trust needs to be established between parents and children at a young age, and along with trust comes an open dialogue between them. When parents do notice their children struggling with their diets, being overly sedentary, or even overstressing, it’s time to step in and be direct with them. Parents and children should discuss what’s going on and solve the problem together, thus being able to outline concrete steps about how to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Lafave points out that, if not their parents, children should at least talk to someone they can trust about these issues, and that he has been approached by students before. “It can be delicate,” he admits. “But from my experience, the student and the parents were thankful at the end of it all.”