My friend’s children are becoming overweight. My kids play with them and I don’t want them to pick up bad eating habits, and I feel I should advise her to control her kids’ diet. What should I do? I don’t want to spoil the friendship, which I value, nor upset her.

Being honest with those you are close to is never easy. As you rightly point out, if you tell her she should stop feeding her kids so much junk and think about their health, she is likely to feel judged. On the other hand, if you say nothing, you might feel the tension build every time you see her.

However, it sounds to me like your friend needs your support, but how you get the message across is crucial. And I urge you to do so, because childhood obesity is likely to have ramifications for the rest of her kids’ lives.

Is your friend is overweight too? Eating patterns developed during childhood are commonly passed down families. It could be that your friend shows affection for her children through food, because she has learnt to associate the two together in her own past. She might also be struggling to effectively discipline her children and simply finds it easier to give in to their demands rather than deal with the fallout when they don’t get their way.

You can support her without being judgemental in a number of ways. Perhaps the most effective is to be a role model. You could invite her and her children for lunch and get everyone involved in cooking. Make healthy but fun food and talk about your choices as you all work together. It’s great for engaging kids in a conversation about healthy eating and also teaches them invaluable life skills. Perhaps your friend doesn’t know how to cook from scratch and relies on ready meals, so showing her another way, without being patronising, might motivate her too. Afterwards plan to go out to exercise and encourage the children to run around.

You could also talk to your friend in a general way. Discuss your own concerns about the responsibilities of parenting and how difficult, but important, it is to make the right choices for your children. This way she might open up about her concerns as well.

What I do know is that you are a true friend to be so concerned and that can be a hard thing to find. I’m sure she’ll appreciate your support.