Here’s something I’ve been wondering about lately, and I hope I can phrase this in a way that conveys my honest and unbiased curiosity about the answers: what do you think about childhood obesity?

Is it a real issue, worthy of concern? (And political focus?) Is obesity among children a different issue than obesity among adults? Does fat acceptance, specifically the health component—the belief that health is independent of weight—apply towards children? At what age should children be allowed to make their own lifestyle choices with regards to food and exercise?

I’m particularly interested in hearing from people who strongly identify with the fat acceptance movement, but all (civil) opinions are more than welcome.

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Pete
Pete
12 years ago

Every time I see an over weight kid I blame the parent. I’m lucky and my kids have good genetics and are not over weight. Since I’m over weight I make sure my kids see the side affects (Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, etc) of being fat and try to avoid the causes (getting married).

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

I think it’s especially important for children to have a variety of foods in order for them to grow properly, and if the Let’s Move campaign actually goes towards eliminating “food desserts”, then that would be a worthwhile goal. However, so many people forget that fat itself is a nutrient, and the needs of kids is very different than that of adults. People come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s the stress from stigmatization of larger bodies that is more detrimental to a person’s health and well being than a person being healthy at their body’s set point. If you want more information, you could check out Paul Campos, Linda Bacon, and the Fat Acceptance FAQ on kateharding.net for some resources that run contrary to the “common sense” that fat=unhealthy. Also, I love the BMI Project at Shapely Prose.

Anne
Anne
12 years ago

1. I think it is a real issue, yes. Kids today have access to far more stationary activities/amusements than we used to. 8,029 channels on television, DVRs, computers, video games, etc. Young kids don’t know enough to throw some actual activity in their day unless they are taught to do so and their role models do so and make it enjoyable.

2. Is it a different issue than obesity among adults? Yes, only because kids have less control over their environments. They don’t buy their own food, for example, they only have what parents/schools provide for them.

3. Does fat acceptance (the health portion) apply to children – I would say as much as it does to adults, yes. I certainly don’t think people who are a size four and can run a five minute mile are the only healthy people. For some people healthy is heavier than it is for others, and there are all sorts of shades of healthy – not just one version. (You mean it isn’t all black and white? SHOCKING, I KNOW.) That said, I think fat acceptance – as in accepting the person and treating them with the respect you would anyone – is essential with adults or children.

4. As for when kids get to take control of their food/activity choices – I say bit by bit as they grow. A first grader can have input within a set of choices provided by the parent for what is packed in their lunch, and a high school student will probably do whatever they want no matter what you say because that is what teenagers do. Pretty much like every life choice, we take more and more responsibility as we grow; it isn’t an on/off switch.

g~
g~
12 years ago

Ohhh! Brave *you*!
It’s a sticky situation, to be sure. A lot of kids go through a “thick” or even “chunky” stage but their growth-spurts all even out and they end up fine. (Besides the rolly-polly baby and toddler stages, it seems to be around 2-4 or 5th grade.) So, one has to be very cautious labeling children who might just be in an awkward phase “fat” or “overweight” when, in fact, they are just growing. Two of my siblings did that and they are Thin now. Obviously, we have all seen kids who are obviously Not Just going through a phase. But it’s hard because we always hear people who say (WRONG) stuff like, “I don’t want to feed my baby too much because she is getting fat!” or stuff like that. As if normal, chunky little rolly thighs aren’t normal (AND ADORABLE) on small children. I accept the “some people are naturally bigger” philosophy but I think that EVERYONE needs to try very hard not to burden our children with the same attitudes we possess in regards to what sizes are acceptable. Children develop at entirely different rates and in different ways and it’s imperative that we err on the side of respecting that process which they/we have no control over.

deanna
deanna
12 years ago

i might have a biased opinion as a pediatric nurse practitioner, but it is indeed a REAL ISSUE worthy of REAL CONCERN. obesity is a life limiting issue, with obese people requiring far more health care and resources than non-obese people. obese children are, in general, not as healthy as children of appropriate weight. childhood obesity predisposes children to life-long problems of hypertension, diabetes, musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis and other cardiac diseases, among many others. this increases their overall lifetime morbidity and will eventually decrease mortality. once children become obese/overweight, it’s far more likely that they will remain so for the rest of their lives. in terms of my personal practice, children need to be educated to make their own decisions as soon as possible–ideally once they start school and are out of the constant supervision of their parents (if you call what some parents do supervision, which is a totally different issue for another day). in order to institute any change in the pediatric population, however, changes have to occur on the family level as well. economics plays a role in making this baseline change as the availability of healthy food choices in many low-income areas is a terrible problem throughout the country and the option for healthy food choices in schools is also an issue. it is for these reasons that there needs to be political action, because the issue is far greater than just encouraging children and families to eat better and move more.

im all for encouraging people to be comfortable in their bodies, but being overweight and obese is a totally different issue for me. obesity to me is the equivalent of smoking. people know smoking is unhealthy, but continue to smoke anyways. many people who are overweight know its unhealthy, but continue to eat poorly anyways. this isnt a perfect argument in that you NEED to eat to survive, you dont NEED to smoke to survive. but none the less, i think obesity will eventually move into the realm of smoking in terms of governmental action and i cant say that i dont disagree.

i think the fat acceptance movement does a GREAT disservice to our society in general. we need a HEALTHY acceptance movement, first.

g~
g~
12 years ago

I meant 2nd-4th or 5th grades.

Kaire
Kaire
12 years ago

I started gaining weight after first grade because of how my parents rewarded me and kept me occupied. While I think it’s shitty that any kid grows up fat, I don’t think there is any easy answer or my fat brother wouldn’t be raising two fat kids.

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

I do think it’s a real issue, if for no other reason than the rising rates of type 2 diabetes in kids. Obese children are also more likely to have health problems as adults, such as cardiovascular disease. Some even have “adult health problems” like hypertension at a young age, when those problems typically aren’t seen yet.

I don’t have children yet, but I think I’d feel responsible if my young kids were overweight. It does seem to be a different issue than adult obesity in that kids are more guided/controlled by their parents’ choices–e.g., if they’re eating cupcakes and soda and Doritos all day, it’s not because they’re driving to the store to buy them. Those things are in the house and available to them.

I’m just not sure the idea of fat acceptance applies to kids.

deanna
deanna
12 years ago

oh, and for the record i think that you and jb are doing a FABULOUS JOB setting an example for your boys by being active and eating healthy yourselves. THAT is the kind of action that needs to occur at a family level to put any sort of dent in this childhood obesity epidemic. bravo to you guys, indeed.

Kristin
Kristin
12 years ago

Being in the public health field, I’m a bit biased but I do believe childhood obesity is real and worthy of concern. That said, like Pete, I believe a lot of it is the result of parenting choices. Children are impressionable and they are not able to go to the grocery store to pick out the healthier options. They eat what their parents serve (for the most part) and are likely to follow suit in lifestyle as well. Active parents usually have active children but sedentary parents usually have sedentary children. It’s up to parents to teach healthy eating habits and lifestyles at home and set a good example.

I think it’s important for us as a society to not just “accept” obesity. I do not think marginalizing obese people is right by any means. The fear in just accepting it and not encouraging healthful lifestyles is that we end up with an unhealthy society at higher risk of Type II diabetes, heart disease, etc. which reduces our societal productivity.

Sorry for writing a novel in your comments section! *stepping off the soapbox now*

Erica
Erica
12 years ago

I try not to judge, but when I think of the general lifestyle differences from when I was a kid 30-some years ago, I feel the parents holds the greatest responsibility out of all the influencing factors…

Eg: We got pop and chips *every couple of months* when the babysitter came.

– We did not have video games in the house.

– Schools had gym classes 3x/week minimum.

– We played outside pretty much everyday.

– There were no such things as “DVD Libraries” at home. Movies at home were a rarity. We rollerskated in the basement until we were wet from sweat.

– Even with two working parents, dinners were made with real food every day, not out of a box.

– Junk food was not accessible at school.

– We did not hear of every instance of child abduction/murder/kidnapping/trauma 24/7. We weren’t afraid to be out of sight of our parents and vice-versa for hours at a time.

Yes the world has changed. Yes, new houses come with backyards the size of postage stamps. Yes, the cost of organized activities are very prohibitive for many families. But really… motorized scooters? Electric cars for kids?? Driving to the park at the end of the street??? Sub days, pizza days and chocolate-covered sugar-filled granola bars every day for lunches? Why are there 5-year olds who are classified as “video game experts”??? That right there tells me what’s going on.

Children model their parents. If I model walking to the park for my daughter, she’ll come to know that’s just how it is. If I model good food choices for her, she’ll follow. If I don’t give her pop to drink and candy to eat at every outing to the store, she won’t ask for it. If I show her that being even modestly active can be fun, she’ll do the same. It’s up to me as a parent to set the boundaries and provide the expectations for her as she grows up. And if the wheels ever fall off the rails, it’s up to me as the parent to get things back on track asap.

It’s extraordinarily rare that children have biological conditions which cause them to become obese. It’s high time that people started looking at themselves as being responsible for their circumstances and stop trying to blame anyone else for their ‘predicaments’.

Kelly
Kelly
12 years ago

This is an issue I’ve struggled with, more so now that I have a child. I was an obese child and still am (mostly) an obese adult. For me, obesity had a genetic component (PCOS) and an environmental one. My obesity was made far worse by attempts to get me to diet – starting as early as age 10. The “concern” everyone showed didn’t help me lose weight, it just taught me to be ashamed of myself and to hide my eating. So I would binge in secret and went from a healthy, if moderately chubby child to an obese one. Then the PCOS kicked in and my weight really soared. Children get enough grief from their peers – they know they’re fat. If we keep drilling in the “fat is bad and ugly” mantra, it doesn’t help obese children lose weight. What’s the answer? Yes, it is an issue, but not one likely to be solved through any politically based program. Teach kids (all kids) about food, stop buying tons of processed crap, provide exercise opportunities, take your daughter to the doctor if she suddenly puts on a lot of weight around puberty and has irregular periods, but if after all that your kid is still obese – leave them alone! It’s taken me 20 years to learn to like myself again. It took Metformin and synthroid to help me lose weight. I pray that my daughter doesn’t have the same weight issues I do, but if she does I promise there will be no talk of diets in our house. We will eat real food , we will exercise together, and she will be whatever weight her body settles on.

Jessica
Jessica
12 years ago

@deanna You may want to check out Health At Every Size, which is the basis for my participation in the fat acceptance movement – the whole premise is that you can take steps to improve your health, they just might not make you lose weight. Let’s not also forget that mental health is part of overall health, so it’s not necessarily healthy for people to obsess over their weight. I would be interested in knowing what studies have been done to study childhood obesity with the diseases you mentioned above, are they available online?

Nolita Morgan
12 years ago

I think Childhood Obesity is a real concern because kids nowadays are more sedentary and not forced to go outside and play like when I was a kid. Also, there’s a snack mania that has taken over that I don’t understand: daily snacks in school, at the extra curriculars after school, sports practices, etc. And most parents do not bring healthy snacks.

I don’t think you can always blame the parent. My daughter is at risk for obesity but she is going to be a BIG girl – she’s adopted. She eats healthy food at home and plays soccer and basketball, but she is bombarded with sugary snacks everywhere. At soccer practice the kids don’t need snacks but one grandma insists on bringing sugary snacks. The kids are conditioned to expect sweet snacks wherever they go, not just for special occasions.

And do not get me started on school supplied meals. Those are the worst. We try to bring lunch as often as possible. At 7 my daughter knows about the effects of obesity and knows that she has to make smarter decisions when confronted with all the food options. I mean her school is having a bake sale to raise money for Haiti…seems a bit ridiculous to me.

They do a yearly jogathon fundraiser which is a big step in the right direction, but their other big fundraiser is selling butter braids! Luckily we don’t have many fundraisers to support our school, but everything seems to revolve around food!

warcrygirl
12 years ago

I find it ironic that there are people who think there needs to be government intervention on childhood obesity yet there’s no limit to the junky, high fat foods one can buy on WIC. I insist my kids play outside when the weather is nice yet I will let them play video games/watch t.v. to their heart’s content on days when the weather is crappy. Neither boy is fat; I’m overweight simply because I have a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. I did not grow up fat but I do come from a long line of very large women. Hey, at least now I have boobs!

Nolita Morgan
12 years ago

I wanted to clarify on the comment I made about my daughter. I am 5’3″ Filipino Irish gal at 120 lbs normal. My daughter who is adopted is African American and at 7.5 yrs of age is 4’9″ tall and 115. Her bone structure and muscle composition is different than mine and I don’t think the formula that doctors use to determine BMI is the most effective way to determine if a child is obese. She is rock solid, but she has a belly, then she shoots up an inch, repeat.

I had not heard of the FAM before today so I can’t speak to that. I want my daughter to be healthy at her healthy size, not fat. I don’t want her to strive to be Barbie thin. I would like people to become more educated about ALL of the factors contributing to size and eating habits and also know what healthy physiques look like so that children do not grow up with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder.

Melissa
Melissa
12 years ago

I am of the opinion that there is a certain demograph where fast food has become the quick, convenient, and in some cases economical meal solution. If you live on a low and fixed income, feeding your child for $3/day off the dollar menu is better than letting them go hungry or trying to satisfy them with a $3 gal. of milk from the grocery store. Ordering dinner delivered is also something that’s been more prevalent with our generation than any other (especially with both parents working hard and late). Let’s also factor in the amount of homework children bring home with them from school which has increased as our standards of education have increased (speaking specifically of NCLB requirements).

Overall, I see how easy it is for parents to teach their children convenient ways of eating rather than healthy ways of eating. Also, for varying reasons, some children don’t have the opportunity to really be exposed to exercise as a form of recreation outside of school.

However, I think the emphasis should be placed on taking care of your body and keeping your body healthy rather than terms of obesity. As a society, we seem to think that any and all fat is bad, but the truth of it is your body does need some fat. In the 90’s the average model size was between 6 and 8 now it’s 0-4. I would like to see the media promote men and women within the healthy range of weight instead of the waif like or ridiculously unattainable creatures that have been shown to our children as role models.

In short, yes, I’m concerned about childhood obesity but I would prefer to address the issue in terms of fitness rather than fatness.

Karl
Karl
12 years ago

I was all set to pontificate here, but it seems that Erica above has pretty much said it for me.

I do think that any anti-obesity campaign needs to be awareness oriented, not measurement oriented. If parents teach their kids at least some level of good eating and exercise habits, it will help millions of kids. It would be a mistake to draw a bunch of lines in the sand and say “this side good, the other side bad.”

.303 Bookworm
.303 Bookworm
12 years ago

This is a difficult one.

My own experience with childhood weight issues indicates that it was despite my parents best efforts. I was at the bottom of the pecking order at school and food for me, was a comfort. I was also an early developer and discovered (“pre-teen”) that the bigger the rest of me, the more my boobs were kind of ‘hidden’ amongst the excess. All my pocket/babysitting money went on sweets and, left unattended, i’d just about eat the pantry. And afterall, I’d never be a tall thin model so why even bother trying? All this despite healthy meals and an active family/school life (it was probably the activity that stopped me hitting the ‘obese’ mark). The only ‘bad’ family habits were an insistence on a clean plate (but waste was considered bad – remember, there are children starving in africa)and using food (dessert) as a reward.

Both my sister and I have had a love/hate relationship with food although hers started later in life. And we’re both careful not to use the word ‘diet’ when discussing food or exercise with/around the kids. It’s about making ‘healthy’ choices instead, so we make healthy meals/snacks, we go for walks and my stepson does judo and soccer. He comes from a tall, skinny gene pool and he’d happily live on lollies and playstation and probably not have any weight issues as a result – but he wouldn’t be healthy. I’m from short, stocky genes. At my ‘skinniest’ i was still 7kg over the Weightwatchers healthy weight range, had an ‘overweight’ BMI and yet my doctor was telling me it would be dangerous to lose any more weight. Go figure.

What I would like is more emphasis on our athletes as role models (Go Valerie Vili & the Evers-Windell twins!) not ‘super’models or lollipop celebs. There is something screwed up that our kids grow up seeing size 6-10 (NZ) idealised when, given the ethnic makeup of our population, a 12-14 is healthier.

So, yeah, I think obesity is an issue but, like drinking, it often overlies a different issue. I think we should treat it like smoking or alcoholism. We should support people and make it easy to be healthy (whatever weight that may be) and tax the shit out of junk food to discourage its use (use it to subsidise healthy food?). Junk food advertising (including sweets) is now banned from NZ TV during kids viewing times and many schools are not only putting in their own gardens (which the kids cultivate) but have also banned ‘junk’ food from the tuckshop. Small steps. (and sorry for the length!)

g~
g~
12 years ago

@Melissa–I really like your point about it being about fitness as opposed to fatness. We may have trouble differentiating the two as a culture, but we do not have to pass that fallacy on to our children.

kakaty
kakaty
12 years ago

As someone who is an advocate of fat acceptance (although I didn’t look at that link, so that’s not what I’m referring to – more of an acceptance of people of all sizes can be fit and/or healthy) I do think childhood obesity is a very real concern. Both because of overabundance of cheap, over-processed and hyper-advertised food and lack of physical movement during most kids days.

I’m 32 and in elementary school we had 2 recesses per day and gym 3x a week. We had an Atari at home but were only allowed to play it on the weekends and I don’t ever remember having soda in the house except for parties. We spent our summer days roaming the neighborhood playing with other kids. I was always a heavy kid but I was active and healthy. I can’t remember any kid in our school who would classify as obese. As we got older that changed, but the high rate of morbid obesity among elementary age kids now is not something we saw back then.

But the “size does not equal health” argument still holds true for kids – I know a few rail-thin teenagers who eat nothing but white-bread PB&J and chips and drink only juices and lemonade.

Shawna
Shawna
12 years ago

I think there are two issues here: health and positive self-image. I know all too well that there’s a stigma associated with being on the heavy side, no matter how fit you are.

I was a chubby kid who equated exercise with group sports, which I hated, so I got less exercise, which made me chubbier. In the end though, I just grew out of it after a couple of years. Oh, and I started junior high, who didn’t have the same solution for providing enrichment to gifted kids: send them to the library during their gym time.

As an adult, I am a totally happy exerciser, now that I’m not working out doing something that requires a lot of balance or coordination. If there’s one message I want to pass on to my kids it’ll be that you can be active even if you suck at sports, and it’ll make you happier in the long run to move around instead of watch TV.

victoria
victoria
12 years ago

It’s interesting: clearly obesity is a nationwide epidemic, and it’s deadlier the older you are, but as a culture we’re less tolerant of obese children than we are of obese adults. Is that because there’s some epidemiological evidence that it’s harder to correct adult obesity whose origins lie in childhood? Or are we just intolerant of all fat people, but have license to modify and control children in a way we can’t modify or control adults?

Kristy
12 years ago

I think childhood obesity is a problme however I also wonder if parents take the blame because they are the natural skapegoats and therefore there’s an automatic “someone to blame”. I fight with my weight constantly. My 17 year old son is 5’11 145 lbs of thin thin thin. I like to think I taught him to eat more healthy, but who can ever really know since at a certain age children do make their own choices once they go off to school etc. Parents cannot control every single thing their kid’s eat. All they can do is set a good example, provide forms of exercise and try to be good role models.

Do we blame drug addiction, alcoholism etc etc on the parents? Not so much….eh..

Rachel
12 years ago

I agree with @deanna and many others who have posted. I work in public health also, and the big reason for political involvement is because of the overwhelming cost of obesity to society (money makes the world go round, sadly…).

When it comes to actual obesity we’re not talking about someone who has a larger body structure, a bit of a belly, or just tends to be chubby. As long as an individual eats well and is active, there is nothing wrong with that (yet another things parents need to impress upon children!). But actually being clinically obese due to lifestyle is an issue. Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease…all of these used to be adult diseases and are now showing up in kids who are obese, meaning they will likely carry them throughout their lives. Chronic diseases like this put a huge strain on the healthcare system. It’s one of the many reasons healthcare costs continue to go up. A healthier population means lower costs for everyone, and that is why it is a political issue. Many parents are not setting the right example, so it is getting to the point that someone needs to educate the families on how to live a healthy life. Early intervention can make all the difference, so I fully support any sort of program that educates and gives the resources needed for a lifetime of healthy living.

Beth in SF
12 years ago

I think it’s worthy of concern, because the average overweight child is such because of choices their parents have made for them (or, some choices they were allowed to make too young). And something needs to be done, because these children are getting serious diseases that used to be strictly adult issues. Young children now are the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than the one before, and I think that’s pretty sad. I think our entire society needs to be taught new habits and know what they’re putting into their mouths.

Katie
Katie
12 years ago

Hi. I’ve never left a comment here but I’m a long time (diaryland) reader. I was an overweight child up until my senior year of college. Then weight loss began and what went from a very healthy plan spiraled into a eating disorder when depression from other life issues came into play. I spiraled from 217 pounds to 98 in less than 1 year. (Note: The anorexia stemmed from depression of other life issues- not media, celebrities, etc.) Basically I’ve learned I get a “high” off of either eating way to much in my life, or not eating at all. Most eating disorder specialist will tell you that anorexics and over eaters are actually very similar in terms of their depression/anxiety issues that they may face.

What prompted me to write however was that people “blame the parents” such as the first commenter. No offense, but I think that is the furthest thing from the truth. I NEVER had junk food in my house growing up- yet as a kid, I found a way to get it, or I would eat “healthy” items, (ex. just simple cheese found in every refrigerator) in massive quantities when my mom and dad were not looking. Kids will find a way no matter how hard the parents try. Food is not the problem in childhood obesity- it’s children simply using food as a medication for underlying probelms of depression and anxiety. It’s taken me two years of hell in therapy, psychiatry, and more doctors visits to realize this.

Someday I know I’ll have children who will suffer from either binge eating or anorexia. The minute I see a problem with obesity, I’m not going to tell them they can’t have HFCS, or enroll them in a million sports. I’m going to simply going to get them help- because I know their is a deeper problem. I don’t believe in this “epidemic”… I believe kids are facing greater anxiety/depression just as more adults are these days.

styleygeek
styleygeek
12 years ago

I identify with the fat acceptance movement to a large (ha!) extent. I believe that obesity in children is not of itself the problem, nor what we should be focussing on. I believe that eating non-nutritious foods, and not learning to use our bodies in fun and energetic ways are serious problems. I don’t know that there is strong evidence that these two problems are solely a recent phenomenon. (Sure, two hundred years ago, kids were walking several miles a day, drinking no soda and not eating Big Macs, but they were also eating more saturated fat, working in mines and chimneys, and dying of malnutrition more frequently.)

If we managed to get all children to eat healthily (i.e. lots of veges, more fresh whole foods) and to enjoy exercise, maybe the “obesity epidemic” would reduce (or maybe it wouldn’t), but the main thing is, (even fat) kids would no doubt be a lot healthier. And I’d much rather have a society full of fat and well-nourished, physically strong and fit children, than one full of skinny badly nourished couch potatoes.

Health at every size FTW!

styleygeek
styleygeek
12 years ago

I should also say that I don’t have children, but I WAS a child myself, obviously. My own parents’ eating habits were and are shocking and I subsisted almost entirely on packaged snacks, chocolate, and cheap meats (sausages, hamburger, etc). I loathed exercise, because PE at school consisted of running loops around the field until we were bored stiff and wanted to die. I didn’t exercise after leaving school and continued to follow the eating habits I had learned at home. I was also technically underweight (BMI of 17) until I was in my mid-twenties.

Since then, I have taken up a variety of fun sports: I cycle everywhere, I lift weights seriously, I rock climb, and I play soccer. I can run faster and longer than I ever could as a teenager. I eat mainly vegetarian, don’t eat packaged snacks at all, eat dessert only once a week… And I am now at the high end of “normal” on the BMI scale. But my blood pressure and heart rates are lower than ever, and all my other health measurements are great. I almost never get sick even with colds or flu.

I DO blame my parents for teaching me (and to some degree enforcing) bad habits (“No, you can’t have fresh fruit this week: it’s too expensive.” “No we are not letting you try out vegetarianism: you’ll get anemic.”) But again, it is not about OBESITY: it’s about health.

Kader
Kader
12 years ago

Another interesting thing to throw in to the mix: In “Nurture Shock,” the authors argue that childhood obesity is more closely linked to kids not getting enough sleep than it is to sedentary activities.
Glad to see a good, constructive conversation going on about this!

Lesley
Lesley
12 years ago

When you ask “is it a real issue”, are you looking for hard data on childhood obesity? Or subjective opinion.

Data on the preponderance, growth rate, and causes of obesity would determine whether it’s an issue.

Alyce
Alyce
12 years ago

I’m not sure if this is one of the things you were wondering. I may be speaking to questions you didn’t have.

I believe it is never ok to judge or shame someone based on their body. Not a 5 yr old and not a 35 yr old. What someone eats and how they look are not moral issues. They are often not health issues either – not that you would know that from looking.

Ideally all human beings would have access to fresh fruits and veggies (though they are under no obligation to me or to the environment or to the public to select those options). I would also prefer that everyone have food security. But I’m not in charge of that.

I know you have had success with your diet/food choices and exercise, but your hard-earned success is not typical. Diets of restricted calories have been proven to cause many more long-term problems than short-term solutions (see: Minnesota Starvation Experiment, among others).

CHA
CHA
12 years ago

I believe that childhood obesity is a problem not only because of the monetary costs of obesity but also the costs such as quality of life that come into play.
From the nutritional aspect, there are many factors attributing to childhood obesity. Few families still cook and sit down for supper. Cooking a quick meal with a parent is a strong way to encourage children to try new foods, and if done correctly healthier choices. Other problems stem from the popularity of quick meals/foods. In many schools across the country, vending machines have become quite the topic—offering sodas that seemed ‘unhealthy’ for students to be consuming. When these were replaced with juices and other ‘healthier’ beverages, many of them still had as much sugar as the soda. The rise in processed snacks and meals have become so convenient that parents forget that an apple or banana could be a healthier choice—yet just as quick and most of the time, even cheaper. Other problems that arise are accessibility to healthy food choices. Often families are only able to ‘shop’ at the convenience store (instead of grocery stores) around the neighborhood that only has quick and processed meals. These are usually high sources of sodium, fat and/or sugar.
As for the activity side of the problem, today children are constantly told and reminded that they need to “exercise for 60 minutes a day”. However, a child is much more likely to spend time expending energy when they find an activity that they enjoy. When a child enjoys something, they will want to do it, whether they are told to or not. In this case, its much better than them wanting to sit inside on the computer or in front of the television. I believe that encouraging children to try new activities can help them become more active and enjoy doing things that are good for their bodies. However, these bring up conflicts on a much larger scale. One of the largest problems is that often children do not have the accessibility to a backyard or playground or even a safe neighborhood. Numerous communities discourage these types of healthy activies. These are all problems that need to be assessed at a larger scale to help improve communities, neighborhoods and help create healthier happier children.

Lesley
Lesley
12 years ago

Alyce, re your example of the starvation experiment not working. Yes, starving is never a constructive or practical option. Putting aside the risk of death for the moment, starvation slows metabolism to a crawl. A starved body will conserve all the fat it has and eat as much of everything else first, starting with muscle tissue. Anorectics always pile on weight when they start eating again, because starving is inefficient. It’s also extreme, unpleasant, dangerous, and therefore unrealistic.

Marie Green
12 years ago

The “food/body image” topic scares the SHIT out of me, since I’m raising THREE daughters. I really do not what to mentally fuck them up about food, but I have no idea how to deal with it.

For now they are all extremely tiny. In fact my 7 year olds weigh in at 43 and 44 lbs! They are petite, short, and have always been small for their age. So we are not in any danger, at this point, of having any childhood obesity issues.

I do worry about later in life, however. I too was a small skinny kids. And now I’m not a small, skinny adult. (Dagnabit!)

mema
12 years ago

delurking to give my opinion. as a mother of twin girls (fraternal) i have first hand experience on this childhood overweightness (hate the word obesity). my girls were raised and fed the exact sme foods, by about age 7 or 8 it was apparent that one was a lot heavier than the other. she continued to gain wieght and by the time they graduated high school, one wieghed 105 pounds and her sister was over 300. she has since gotten bypass surgery and is the happiest she has been in a long time. so, yes, there is somehting to be said for eveyone is different, is is NOT always the parent’s fault for overweight children. it is sad, kids are cruel, and my poor girl got more than her share of teasing, broke my heart that i couldn’t fix it. hard to imagine how it was for her, having a twin sister who was on the skinny side. they are 27 now and although she is happier, her childhood weight issues have taken a toll on her and will for the rest of her life.

Mary
Mary
12 years ago

Wow – as the parent of an overweight girl, this judging really sucks. As if it’s not enough to deal with my own issues with weight, people blame me for her weight. You’ve confirmed what I have feared – people look at me and think I’m a bad person and a bad mom. Here’s some news, folks. We do what we’re supposed to. I cook a fresh dinner almost every night after I work all day. We eat balanced, healthy meals, made up of exactly what we should eat – fish, chicken, whole grains, low fat milk, plenty of vegetables, healthy snacks, very rare desserts, etc. I run, we hike, my daughter runs and plays soccer. And we’re both still heavy, and healthy. And I do what I can to be vigilant without crossing the line to policing her food intake. When I found out she was buying extra chips at school to eat along with the lunch I packed, we agreed that she wouldn’t buy extras when she brings lunch from home. But you know what? If her friends buy her chips at school lunch, I can’t control that. And I can’t control how many snacks they let her eat when she gets to her after school program. And it will get worse the older she gets as she gains more freedom. She has a big appetite, and I don’t blame her if she feels like it’s not quite fair that the skinny girls all around her at lunch can eat pizza, potato chips and cookies for lunch and I won’t even let her buy a bag of SunChips. It isn’t fair that some people have an easier time maintaining an ideal weight and she has to face that every day, because her little sister has access to all the same foods and activities and is rail thin – she has very little appetite. Everyone is built differently.

I know that those of you in the health care field see many, many overweight people who are not healthy – I don’t doubt that one bit. All I’m saying is you don’t know just by looking at us how healthy we are, what we eat or how active we are. Nor is it your business to decide whose “fault” it is that we’re heavier than you or we would like.

mema
12 years ago

well said mary. my heart hurts for both you and your daughter. i know that people thought it was mine and my husband’s fault’s for our daughter’s weight, like we were experimenting with our daughetrs, feed one starve the other to see what happens! ya, right.

js
js
12 years ago

Oh boy. This may get lengthy. This is a subject I try to be very aware of. My daughter is overweight. And she’s 8. And your first commenter (Pete) made me shrivel up when he said he blames the parents. That is always my fear, but I care less about what people are thinking and more about what we are doing to help. So, yes, I think it’s a real issue. As others have pointed out, kids have so much more access to “lazy activities” than when “we” were growing up. It’s hard having a child struggle with this. I feel like outsiders are judging me (it’s the parents fault) and I know I judge myself. I constantly wonder what I am doing wrong. But here are the cold hard facts: She eats well, she’s active (less so in the winter, but still active), and I do not keep junk in the house (not because of her necessarily, but because I have a hard time with portion control. A pint of ice cream is gone in the blink of an eye. But, even on the rare occasion I do have crap in the house, she’s more likely to eat celery, cucumbers, bananas, etc. I finally took her to our doctor after writing down everything she’s served on a daily basis. He reviewed and said the only “flaw” he sees is that she has whole milk. But she only has it on cereal in the morning, and a glass with dinner. I did, however, switch to 1/2%. I feed her well, veggies, fruit, protein, we don’t graze throughout the day. She has a couple glasses of juice a day (and I’m still in the habit of cutting juice with 50% water. It’s what I’ve done with her since day one, and it just stuck.), at 8 she’s never had pop, and we don’t do fast food. During the months there isn’t snow, I go on 3 or 4 mile runs and rides her bike along with me. If I need something from the drugstore, we walk, it’s 2 miles round trip. We also swim, play soccer and run around like lunatics. In the winter, we sled, we play the Wii for hours on end and I often find her hopping on the treadmill when I’m using the heavy bag or the elliptical. At first, I discouraged the treadmill, thinking it seemed more like…I don’t know, a punishment or something. I guess an actual workout machine screams “LOSE WEIGHT” more than a walk to the park does. But I got over it, because she loves it. She also “must be” involved in an activity all year (something my parents required, that transferred over to my parenting), be it dance or gymnastics. I’ve never had a weight problem (aside from side effects from anti-depressants over a decade ago, and when I was pregnant and had medical issues with it), I’m 5’3” and always over around 120lbs. My daughter weighs over 90lbs. BUT, her biological father’s side of the family has weight issues. His mom & sister were (are) obese. It’s incredibly frustrating as a parent to know that I’m doing things “by the book” but that I can’t seem to control this. And being that she’s growing up (and kids are growing up way too fast these days), she’s becoming aware of her weight. Kids are teasing her at school, shopping for clothes for her is heartbreaking (most of the clothes she likes are slim cut, and don’t fit her thighs, her booty or her belly), and she was devastated the other day when she realized that we wear the same size tee shirts. I’ve made it a point to outlaw the word “fat” in this house and that we exercise to be healthy, not to lose weight. And she also knows that a sugary snack here and there and a random trip to McDonald’s (which probably happens a handful of times a year, if even that) are ok. The doctor is currently running blood work to see if she’s got a thyroid issue or anything else (her biological father and I are not in touch, and never will be, which makes this scary) going on. However, he assures me that even though she is overweight, she’s healthy. I know there are some parents out there who don’t care what their child eats and that’s frustrating to me. It’s also frustrating that crap food is so much cheaper and (seemingly) more readily available, part of the reason I very rarely allow her to buy lunch at school.

So yes, I think the issue is real and worthy of concern.
I think it’s important to teach kids about this, and to “intervene” at a young age, so bad habits are nipped in the bud.

I think that health can be independent of weight…until a certain point. I know people who are overweight and healthy (my daughter being a young example), but no one can convince me that someone weighing 400lbs is healthy.

I don’t know at what age children should be allowed to make these decisions for themselves. I guess it depends on the kid. I know my daughter, if given the choice, would sit on her butt all day long watching TV. But it’s not an option for her, and I’m hoping that one day getting out and riding her bike will sound more appealing than watching TV. But she’s my daughter, and her health is my responsibility.

Alina
12 years ago

I was an athletic, active kid, but I was also solid as a rock. My mother was serious about fresh, healthy food and lots of activity, and I was healthy as a horse until I hit puberty and started to feel the pressure of looking a certain way and acting a certain way, and I started to put on weight and haven’t stopped yet.

There’s no way to tell if it’s “the parents’ fault” or if it’s genetics, or environment, or illness, or psychological. Every person is different. It’s important for there to be systems in place for each person to take advantage of, in whatever way they need, but until the stigma of the gross, dirty, unworthy fat person is gone, many people are going to continue to manifest the self-fulfilling prophesy: “I’m so fat and disgusting, no way I’m going outside to exercise. I’m going to just sit here and self-medicate.” At least, that’s what my experience has been.

By the way, this is a lovely opportunity to shout from the rooftops that the BMI is BULLSHIT and needs to be abolished. It’s such crap, and bad science, to boot.

SKL
SKL
12 years ago

I have been wondering the same thing. My two kids have proven to me that some people are just born more curvy than other people. As with intelligence and temperament, parents have some influence, but only so much.

I think for some people, curviness is a lifelong reality, while for others, it’s something that happens with age (reducing metabolism rate or whatever). I also think adult obesity is more controllable, because adults can be motivated to take uncomfortable, long-term steps to shape up, while kids can’t be expected to choose to say no to every yummy thing they see, or to perform gyrations when they’re in the mood to relax. So I don’t see adult obesity and childhood obesity as the same, though they are surely linked in many cases.

What I have been wondering about is, for someone who is genetically curvy, what is “healthy” for that person? For example, my daughter always has a round belly compared to most kids, even kids whose arms and thighs are chubbier. Even when she’s been on a tightly controlled diet combined with plenty of exercise for many months, she has a belly and she’s never fallen below “overweight.” Over whose weight? I notice that her rib cage is significantly bigger in circumference than her sister’s (same age, same diet, exceptionally slim). So, fat aside, they are never going to be the same size. So the next question is, is it right for me to keep trying to get her BMI down to the level “they” say is healthy? Would she be more energetic and exercise more if I let her go to town on the food she loves? There are no helpful answers out there.

Erin
Erin
12 years ago

Nothing hit home about the seriousness of this childhood obesity epidemic like the news I recieved at work last week.

The pharmaceutical company I work for now has not one, but two drugs approved for use in pediatric populations. One is a blood pressure medication that can be used in patients as low as the age of 6 (6!! Blood pressure problems in a 6 year old!!). The other is a cholesterol medication that can be used in patients as young as 10.

It makes me want to cry for these children, regardless of how they came to this point in their health (nature vs nurture). Someone in my company took a look at some raw, startling numbers of children with potential health problems and said “Yep– there are enough of them out there that we need to pursue the pediatric market.” Part of me is glad to offer products that are so safe children can be on them, but the mommy part of me is sick that I may have to have honest “this is how your patient will benefit from drug A” conversations with PEDIATRICIANS.

Alyce
Alyce
12 years ago

FYI Lesley – the study didn’t totally deprive the men of food (what we commonly think of as starvation), they reduced their caloric intake. To numbers that wouldn’t astound someone who has tried to follow diet advice in the last decade.

sara
sara
12 years ago

I never really experienced childhood obesity on the scale it is reported until I left the NW. In fact I didn’t believe the statistics until I went to the south.

I think the situation changes even more when you not only move out of our region (mine being a suburb of Seattle)and into areas of poverty.

My sister teaches on the south side of Chicago and those children experience weight issues across the board..under and overweight. They operated on 100% free lunch…meaning 100% of them receive their meals from school (breakfast and lunch). Most of her students don’t eat dinner every night. Not a single child in her class realized that apples grew on trees. They believed they were a product of McDonalds. They didn’t understand the concept of a farm or a grocery store.

If the meals they are served are not nutritional they may not starve (and in fact may remain overweight) but their quality of life is affected. The school is forced to make sure they are fed appropriately and that exercise is encouraged because the parents largely do not participate. Children learn best when they are nourished.

By focusing on these two things… tests scores, concentration, and confidence (especially of the teen girls) have all increased. It’s not about being skinny or fat at their school, it’s about childcare.

If tax dollars pay for millions of low income children to eat 2 meals a day in the United States, it becomes a community issue and therefore a political one. If children who play sports, exercise, and aren’t malnourished are more likely to graduate high school and get a job or possibly go to college…it serves a purpose beyond weight in the eyes of the government. It’s an investment in the idea of less Americans on disability or welfare, to be honest.

Christine
Christine
12 years ago

I agree with deanna.

This issue is close to my heart because my nephew is overweight and has health problems because of it. While I am not judging anyone here (nor do I see a random “overweight” child and think Oh, it’s the parents!), in my nephew’s case, it IS his parents that are allowing this destructive behavior. They seem to not know any better despite the wealth of information out there and recommendations from their own doctors.

I have watched with my own eyes FOR YEARS as that child ate NOTHING but fast food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Or only an entire package of cooked bacon and two glasses of orange SODA for breakfast, or licking the frosting off 6 Dunkin’ Donuts and call it dinner. Both his parents as well as his grandparents (they all share a home) are overweight. The child’s father had a stroke 6 years ago and a TRIPLE bypass in Dec. ’09. He is 39 years old.

My nephew is now 11 yrs. old. When he was nine years old there was a health fair at school. The nurse took his blood pressure and immediately called his mother and told her to take him to the doctor. AT NINE YEARS OLD he was diagnosed with a fatty liver, high blood pressure and borderline diabetic. 9 years old. He has been steadily putting on more weight and still eats nothing but processed foods, even in the wake of his father’s health issues. He stays in his room playing video games all day long and does not participate in any kind of physical activity.

His mother is tall and weighs close to 400 pounds – I am not expecting this child to be what some people would consider “normal sized.” However, it is clear to me that lifesyle plays a big role in how sick everyone in that house is. I am not saying they need to turn into waif’s, but there needs to be an awareness of what is healthy and what is not. People can still be “big” and be healthy. I don’t believe that small = healthy.

Sorry if I got a little emotional there..

Tina
Tina
12 years ago

Ha ha! I love Pete’s answer!

This is something my friends (especially those of us who are not at reasonably healthy weights) and I discuss frequently.

Many of us were thin kids and thin teenagers. But we weren’t especially athletic or even active and we didn’t know much about good health habits. Add to that a toxic mix of body image issues, influenced by peers, dieting mothers, well-meaning yet critical grandmothers and you end up with a gaggle of women who gained weight steadily in their adult years and who are now fiercely trying to get it off.

I want my kids to learn, understand and value good health habits. I want them to understand personal health as well as personal finance: it’s about balance, measured treats and being responsible.

I also want them to love real food. And if they’re gonna eat junk food now and again, I’d much prefer they eat a REAL chocolate chip cookie made with butter (gasp!) than some kind of light/diet ice cream made with soy lecithin and a bunch of ingredients that I can’t pronounce or find on it’s own in the supermarket.

I want them to love feeling strong and healthy and active as much as they love curling up with a book or sitting in front of the TV playing Mario Kart.

That’s all… if they have this, they’ll be healthy, well-balanced kids. And that’s what’s important to me.

wookie
wookie
12 years ago

many people who are overweight know its unhealthy, but continue to eat poorly anyways.

If only it was that simple, there wouldn’t be so many fat people. Because really?

Many overweight people eat just like thin people. Many overweight people exercise just like thin people.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUTJQIBI1oA

While targeted at an adult audience, this video resonated very much with me. The synopsis is: if you eat healthy and exercise and you’re still fat? Your life is not over.

No one is arguing that eating garbage and not getting activity is a problem with adults and children alike. But when we focus on the outward appearance of fat and not on the real problem, we create an entirely new problem.

deanna
deanna
12 years ago

whew! lots of interesting points and comments while i was at work last night! im kind of excited that this was brought up as i do think its an important topic that merits discussion. the more discussion the better.

someone (jessica?) asked if i had references for the studies i cited, linking obesity to future health problems. there are MANY articles and most are available online if you have access to the specific medical journals (Pediatrics, Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Pediatric Health Care, Contemporary Pediatrics, etc) or a collegiate library that subscribes to them. id be more than happy to list the bibliographic information here (in apa format!), but that might get boring. feel free to email me at the above links and ill be more than happy to provide that information for you if youre really that academically interested and would like to read the (i’ll admit…dry and boring!) data of some of the studies. in general, the link between obesity (be it in pediatrics or adults) and morbidity and mortality is common knowledge among medical professionals. pediatrics is a bit of a different animal, but it doesnt mean that it doesnt set up children for the same set of problems that adults also face as the result of being morbidly overweight or obese.

i hope i didnt come across as being judgmental of parents or families or overweight people. that was neither my intention nor the point i had wished to make. this is a personal issue for many people, and i can understand that perspective, but this is such a big problem that we need to step away and not look at it from such a personal point of view. some of you might not see it in your every day lives as often as i do, but the scale of childhood obesity is indeed epidemic. to me this isnt a question of existence as much as a question of what should we do about it now?

there is no blame to place on any one person or any one thing for such a major health care problem. its a large issue that spans health care, political funding and policies, economic development, environmental issues, education, our society’s pill popping nature and lifestyle changes over the past century. the only way to fix this issue is to go at it from all sorts of angles to even try and make a small dent in one area at a time. ban junk foods from public schools. require a nutrition unit in every grade level. improved physical education requirements in schools. get political funding for parks and recreation departments. change advertising for unhealthy foods during childrens programming on television. make fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable to communities that need it. get funding for community cooking classes. the list is ENDLESS.

as for the whole fat acceptance movement, i must admit that i am not especially well versed in it. however, one of the things that scares me about the concept is the idea that it allows for some degree of complacency about being overweight; that its ok to be overweight and unhealthy if its just the way you are. there is a difference between being a healthy 180 pounds and a very unhealthy 300 pounds. im not saying that everyone subscribes to that belief if they participate in the fat acceptance movement, but it allows an “easy and acceptable out” for people that choose to take it.

i personally choose to focus on health over weight, but there is no denying the connection between weight (actually BMI, but i wont get technical here) and poorer health outcomes in both adult and pediatric populations.

Melissa
Melissa
12 years ago

I’m in the public health field and while I do believe it is of real, valid concern for all sorts of reasons, I am a bit loathe to jump on the blame-the-parents bandwagon.

If you’re at all familiar with the social determinants of health field, you might already know this but… Consider that you live in a relatively safe neighborhood where you can run. Where the air quality is relatively good. (I am guessing here, based on your photos).

Now consider where I live: Baltimore City. We have poor air quality, incredibly high crime and lots of neighborhoods without proper infrastructure (no sidewalks, no safe parks or community centers, aging schools without gyms). What do you say to those kids? They can’t go outside to play safely. They live in what Marion Nestle has termed a “food desert” where there is little access to affordable healthy foods and little knowledge of how to prepare, say, lentils which are cheap and protein-rich.

Obesity isn’t a simple problem. For some number of people it can be reduced to more calories in than out and just a need to move more and make better food choices. But for vast swathes of the country, the ability to make better choices is seriously curtailed by a lack of social support and infrastructure. If you’re interested, I think you might find this worth reading: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/

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