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.

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
138 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SKL
SKL
12 years ago

Feelings about obesity aside, I am concerned that public spending throws good money after bad when it comes to “nutrition programs.” I think there are some ideas that would probably work, but others would just be a waste of money, and possibly aggravate the problem.

For example, the school “hot lunch and breakfast” programs are a major source of the “bad foods” that low-income kids eat. I don’t know why the government / society clings to the idea that spending money on “hot lunches” is in any way beneficial to children. It would be a lot cheaper and healthier to distribute uncooked foods such as apples, carrots, lowfat milk, and sandwiches made with whole grain bread. This is just one example but there is a whole list of reasons why the popular logic about “poverty => obesity” isn’t entirely helpful. If we instead focus on “lifestyle => obesity” maybe more positive solutions would result. Now, if I say “lifestyle,” people assume I mean “blame,” but that’s not necessarily true. To an extent, it means educating people about nutrition and healthy, cheap, satisfying recipes (example: getting protein from bean dishes instead of red meat). However, given choices, many people will still knowingly choose the unheathy option for no reason other than desire. And we should acknowledge that as well, because it plays into discussions about “what (if anything) government should do about it.”

Becky
Becky
12 years ago

My kids tend to bulk up in the winter and sprout up during the summer. They get exercise during gym and extracurricular sports and spend time outside rather than in front of the tv. It is something I always keep a watchful eye on because I’m not always with them and they still have access to vending machines containing not-so-good choices at school.

Diabetes and heart disease run in my family, but truthfully it’s as much about me not wanting them to suffer through being ridiculed/judged by peers growing up fat. It’s just one more problem they don’t need to have.

I worry more about my daughter, she is 8 and already takes about 10 hours/week of professional ballet training. Although the school’s emphasis is on being strong and healthy, the girls do notice if their belly sticks out more than others and they talk about height and weight. Even if teachers don’t bring it up there are mirrors everywhere and they can’t hide behind clothes.

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

“Is obesity among children a different issue than obesity among adults? ”

Yes, because they’re not making their own decisions. All I know is, parents attitudes about food, lifestyle choices must influence their children. The more we can do to help people make healthy choices for themselves and their children, the better.

So yeah, maybe it’s something that needs to be “politically” focused on, to fuel or fund food education. I don’t know how we got so side tracked from “the four basic food groups” (I mean, this shit ain’t rocket science!) but we need to get back on track.

The issue of “safe” places to run or play I feel are often fairly overplayed. Run in a group. Play in a group. People do this, in cities and ghettos all over the globe. And remember while there may always be “an abduction” on the news, statistically no doubt you are at greater risk of dying of type 2 diabetes than getting shot in a drive by or abducted from a sand pit. (Free range children in cities is another topic altogether of course).

I have no personal insight on the obesity side. My mother was anorexic and watching her essentially not eat (breakfast or lunch) for my entire childhood wasn’t all so helpful. While my anorexia manifested itself when I was legally considered adult, and therefore I take full responsibility for it and all of my actions… I know where it came from.

Parents have such a huge influence their children (who may either mimic, ignore or rebel, any myriad of possibilities) and I think there has a been a huge brain fart in human consciousness. How anyone could ever think fast food once a day, let alone three times is fine, is beyond my comprehension. We are cut off from anything other than internet community (which is a network, and not a community)… we are self absorbed, non-questioning. If it’s labeled a “food product” we think it’s food. It’s not, of course.

Our brains need some serious exercise too. Not just our bodies.

And you don’t have to fit into a certain tax bracket to use your noodle either. Westerners have lived through tougher “economic times” without the aid of fast food (one considered a “luxury”).

D
D
12 years ago

Childhood obesity is definitely a problem, but there are a couple of things I would add to that statement. First, as many people here have said, there are risks involved in trying to make sure kids are thin (as opposed to healthy). My mom was crazy hard on my sister with respect to her weight – as a result, my sister was borderline anorexic for many years in an effort to please my mom. Then she went to college and ballooned. She’s in her 30s now and struggles every single day with her weight, and as a result, her self-esteem. She hates her body, and because of that, she hates herself. I think the key is to provide your kids with healthy meals, give them opportunities to exercise, etc. And tell them, in a non-judgmental way, about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. But you need to be careful about teaching “fat = bad.” Kids are judged by their peers all the time, having parents who tell them that they’re not good enough because of their weight just adds to the self-esteem issues. I’ve also read that even if parents aren’t specifically making their kids diet, the kids will learn from their parents’ behavior, which can go either way – so if you have a healthy lifestyle, your kids can learn that….or if you squeal in delight after losing 5 lbs, your daughter may learn that the number on the scale is equivalent to her self-worth.

The other thing I wanted to add was that my view that childhood obesity is a problem doesn’t necessarily conflict with my opinion that you need to learn to be ok with who you are. I’m overweight, and I’m working very hard to change that – eating better, going to the gym, etc. It’s making a difference, albeit slowly. But I also feel like, I’m in my late-20s. I can’t keep looking at my body in disgust. I’m not a size 2, and I never will be – hell, I’ll probably never be a size 8! And that’s ok, as long as I keep working at it and trying to make my lifestyle healthier, I can still get dressed without crying over how my ass looks in pants.

sarawr
sarawr
12 years ago

I am a fat woman who is pro-fat acceptance and Health At Every Size, and I’m a little appalled at the amount of misinformation being tossed about in here — on both sides. I think, Linda, that if you’re really interested in this it would be better to study the actual science on both sides. I’m sure you can locate the anti-obesity, pro-diet stuff yourself, and as for the pro-fat acceptance stuff… start at Shapely Prose, hit up JunkFood Science, read through the HAES website. You’ll find plenty of links to the science and study upon which the Health At Every Size/fat acceptance movement is based, and you can use it to help you make up your own mind.

I know this was a “what do you think” question, but it can’t hurt to really understand where each side is coming from.

KKF
KKF
12 years ago

Haven’t read the comments yet but I think that the “lets move” campaign is a great idea on two accounts.

First, it will probably get a few families moving toward healthier eating etc. Probably not a LOT of them/us, but a few of them/us will take it to heart.

Second, I think it will add to this cool little undercurrent idea that the American Renaissance is nigh and that with a teency little shift in attitudes towards things like our food, our free time, and what we cherish most about ourselves, we as a nation can rise above our current archetype of the lazy, greasy, overfed and underwhelmed socialite wannabe.

Again, it won’t happen all at once and it won’t happen to 100% everybody. But I think that if even a small percentage of “us” can make that shift toward healthier living, eating and thinking, our whole country will be so much better off.

When kids are “chubby”, it’s hard but not a life-ender. When an 8 year old kid weighs 200lb, that’s a huge deal. When a 40 year old parent of three weighs over 600lb, that’s an alarming situation. Everyone loses. I know, though, that nobody just wakes up one morning having gained 150pounds overnight. There’s a lot of mental stuff going on there too (in all of us) which contributes far more than a single cheeseburger ever could.

Is it the government’s duty to tell us what to eat? Nah, but it’s great that the government can start to popularize healthy trends and provide for healthy living, regardless of if we ever ultimately partake.

Short version: Obesity is a symptom. Childhood obesity is a similar, and far more upsetting symptom. “Bad” food is one part of a larger equation including miserable patterns in our minds, our families and our communities.

“Let’s move” is a great start.

Molly
Molly
12 years ago

I don’t know – I study the cellular/molecular links between asthma and obesity and I’ve got to tell ya that there is a whole lot more to fat tissue than being heavy. It is becoming increasingly more clear that fat tissue secretes substances that have far reaching effects on many different processes in the body (inflammation for example). It’s not just about how you look or even how you feel necessarily – there are real differences in the chemical milieu between obese and non-obese people that may be leading to harmful disease states in the obese population. IMO it is better to avoid such possibilities as early in life as possible. This is not anti-obesity propaganda, just what I’ve seen in the incredibly complex fields of immunology/cell signaling. I am curious to read the scientific evidence mentioned above on HAES website.

I do think childhood obesity is a problem that deserves a lot of attention, if for nothing else than to highlight how expensive it can be to eat healthy, natural foods as opposed to the chemical-laden junk sold in most of our grocery stores for far less money.

Nolita Morgan
12 years ago

I have to say that my very healthy daughter has been under threat of the “obesity” tag even though her weight has stabilized now (over the past year). In kindergarten when we parents were on the hook to bring snacks once a month, I was the only parent to bring frest fruit and veggies. I was shocked at the sugar loaded snacks that the kids ate daily and wondered why the teacher allowed it with the kids bouncing off the walls.

I lobbied for the parents to bring healthier snacks (cleared with the principal) and gave suggestions and some parents actually agreed and brought healthy snack. Still had to deal with soccer grandma bringing sugar laden snacks. Also at the soccer games the parents would bring pizza and cookies and soda pop for halftime snacks! Hello, whatever happened to oranges?! (we bring oranges and grapes and they kids love them)

Last year I had a misinformed overweight after school worker incorrectly trying to educate my daughter about nutrition. I had asked if they would provide fruits and veggies instead of sugary snacks and she interpreted this as a weight issue and actually kept her from participating in a cooking club activity, without my prompting or permission. I did have a talk to straighten that out.

About a week later I arrived at snack time to see the kiddos gulping down the sugariest cereals on the market with chocolate milk and then the kids were buzzing like crazy. The workers were frustrated by the children’s behavior afterwards but what did they expect?

I talked with the head of the after school program about the food offerings and she said that they had state guidelines they were following. They had weekly amounts of nutrients, not daily so they could serve very healthy stuff one day and junk the next. The guidelines are sorely lacking for the after school programs as well as school lunches.

3 years ago my daughter was in ballet and I recall the first time she stepped out in front of the teacher. She said “My, look at that physique!” Uncool! (Thankfully, Emi did not want to do ballet after that first year.) People like that cause our kids to have eating disorders and I am glad we are away from that bullshit.

Last year before her weight stabilized her pediatrician recommended that we try out “Fit for Life” at the hospital. We went to one class and were amazed to see the educators and participants coming in with Big Gulps and talking about how school lunches aren’t that bad.

I agree with emphasizing FITNESS not weight and size. My daughter is not petite (see “brick house”) but she is very healthy in every way and I want to keep her that way. I am not confident that the gov’t can help with this because I have seen their “standards” and what has been done so far with the funding for “nutrition”. Maybe if the school system had a nutritionist on staff? I would LOVE to see “Jillian Michaels” types at the schools!

I think WE parents have to educate and train the kids at home and also train the teachers, caregivers and grandparents it seems.

Kerstin
Kerstin
12 years ago

This is a subject that really gets me worked up — to the point where I can’t really gather my thoughts and put everything as succinctly as I’d like to.
So just a few random thoughts, you’ve been warned … it’s not that coherent.
There are examples, right here, of people eating all the ‘right’ things and still being overweight, or having children who are overweight. And healthy. So it’s just simplistic to say that overweight = unhealthy.
We need to separate health, aesthetics and morality. Eating isn’t a moral act, food isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s nutritious or it isn’t. Even food that has no nutritional value is not ‘bad’ – it’s ok to eat it, you’re not committing a sin by eating junk food.
Being fat doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Nor does it mean they’re lazy, or sedentary, or that they consume huge amounts of rubbish every day. They CAN be/do all of these things, but so can slim people (my very thin mother being an example of this).
What we find attractive is not necessarily healthy, and vice versa.
I also find the idea that we must all police ourselves and each other and not grow ‘complacent’ about our weight really scary. There’s this worrying trend in many Western countries toward a judgmental puritanism (eat only the bare minimum, and only ‘virtuous’ foods) and Big Brother attitudes when it comes to food.
We are incredibly fortunate and privileged to be able to eat as much as we need and want. I find it obscene when people who live amid such plenty deny themselves the pleasure of enjoying all that food because it’s ‘bad’. When people who are lucky enough to be able to satisfy their hunger every day choose not to, because they want to fit into a pair of skinny jeans. Because they want to be ‘good’.
It’s ok to eat and enjoy food, even *gasp* junk food. It’s ok to be overweight. It’s ok to be ‘complacent’. It’s ok to not worry about your weight. It’s your right to look whatever way you want and not worry about how other people perceive your body.

This is what I want to teach my child.

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

What is interesting is how many people think lean meat, chicken, fish, and cheese are “simple healthy foods”. They are not. There is nothing healthy about cheese, especially. The USDA has done a wonderful job brainwashing Americans into thinking animal products are a necessary and healthy. Our school lunches are nothing but white flour, cheese, and chicken product “nuggets”. (I know because I have a child in public school – it’s appalling.)

It’s not what we ARE eating, it’s what we ARE NOT eating. Feed your children unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables, and obesity will never be an issue.

“American children consume less than 2% of their diet from natural plant foods such as fruits and vegetables. American children move into adulthood eating 90% of their calories from dairy products, white flour, sugar and oil. Amazingly, about 25% of toddlers between ages one and two eat no fruits and vegetables at all. By 15 months, French fries are the most common vegetable consumed in America.”

I recommend reading anything by Dr.Joel Fuhrman if you want to know the truth about what our diet is doing to us and our kids.
http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/cat–about.html

Kris
Kris
12 years ago

I wouldn’t say I push a fat acceptance agenda, but I try to be size positive. Society needs to be a little more tolerant. Weight can be used as a determining factor in healthiness, but it shouldn’t be the *only* guideline.

And you know what makes me really sad? How self-righteous some people are. This attitude of “I’m better than you and so is my kid because we’re thinner than you.” I’m not specifically pointing fingers at anyone here – it’s more in general life terms.

Also – if you want to blame fat people for jacking up the insurance rates, are you also going to point fingers at the massive surge in depression and anti-anxiety meds? I have family members who are being over-medicated, and their medical costs to treat teh crazy far outweigh my fatass ones.

(Sorry if this threadjacks. I just wanted to offer another opinion.)

Trish
Trish
12 years ago

At what age do we start to be concerned about out children’s weight? When does it go from normal baby fat/chubby baby to something that merits action? I get really worried when I hear other mom’s wondering if they are over-feeding their BABY (and I am talking infant, here) and considering limiting how much formula/food they give them each, because their pediatrician told them that their baby was big or because of their percentiles or because their pediatrician told them to. Really? Over-feeding an infant? Can an infant be too fat? At what age do the too-fat judgements become valid, though?

SKL
SKL
12 years ago

Trish, I do think obesity can start in infancy. The problem is, moms have no guidance to recognize whether their kid is (a) chubby now but will slim down later (which is very often the case), or (b) chubby now and will keep getting chubbier.

My instinct tells me that my kid’s belly fat is an indicator that she’s at risk for obesity. I observe other kids and although they may have chunky limbs, most of their bellies are not particularly prominent. Based on my totally un-scientific observation, the kids who are soft in the belly are the ones who never slim down without intense parental intervention. I wish there was some research or reporting out there to provide some real guidance.

So supposing my instinct is right, and I wish to save my kid some heartache by not letting her get to a point where she’s obese, only to be told at that point to start starving her or tie her to my car bumper and drive? Does that make me a terrible mom? I feel it would be far better if parents could start addressing their kids’ weight issues long before the child is cognizant of the issues, in order to keep psychology out of it as much as possible. I really wish there was a meaningful risk screening for obesity as young as 9 or 10 months. Obviously BMI would NOT be meaningful for this purpose, but if they did some research, they could probably find a meaingful trend.

Leigh
Leigh
12 years ago

In my mind the obesity epidemic is a social issue with its roots in public policy decisions made by the institutions charged with protecting our health. Some of those decisions were made based on flawed or flimsy science, some were influenced by big agriculture in ways that have not benefitted us. Add to that the preponderance of increasing portions of cheap, unhealthy food (again made with substances that are subsidized by our government), a general lack of education and guidance in schools and bang; an epidemic.

Having said that, in the absence of the above factors, people come in all shapes and sizes. I don’t agree that the fat acceptance movement promotes a belief that “health is independent of weight” as much as it recognizes that the link between health and weight is not as linear as popular culture promotes. Some people are healthier than others at higher weights. In addition, there is so much we do not know about why people get and stay overweight; it is not as simple as calories going in vs. calories out. Given the paucity of our understanding of this issue, no one should judge or make assumptions about the laziness, low self-esteem, depression, or apathy of anyone based on his or her appearance.

The important part of fat acceptance to me is the idea that you are not less of a person if you are above an “ideal” weight.

So I have these two distinct beliefs: one the one hand the obesity epidemic is something we must a address from a policy perspective. On the other hand, an individual’s size is an intensely personal issue and is, largely, none of my business.

And childhood obesity is where these two issues collide for me. As a culture we need to make a decision to promote healthy, unprocessed food over processed food (especially processed corn products). It’s not enough to make school lunches healthy if the only choices outside the school in poor neighborhoods are unhealthy. Kids should be way more active, and yet P.E. programs all over the country are being slashed. In my middle school we had ropes to climb, parallel bars, a balance beam. My son’s high school P.E. class spent six weeks bowling. Bowling! And they won’t give him class credit for participating on a weightlifting team outside of school.

We need to make better decisions about our priorities as a society.

On the personal level, there has always been only healthy food available in my house. I have never battled with my son about food at all. I think that can be very damaging. I have simply made good food available.

My rule is that my son must either participate in a sport at school or a fitness program outside of school, with workouts at least 3X per week. He is not overweight, but I think he would not be in the absence of my guidance, he’s lucky genetically. My real hope though, is that he stays healthy all of his life because of the foundation we’ve laid down now.

So I guess I think that yes, childhood obesity is an issue. And the part of the issue that interests me is the public policy part because that’s where we all can help. But I would never judge an individual child’s parents or offer an opinion on what they should be doing differently because a) I don’t usually have enough information about what is going on there, and b) it’s none of my business.

And we should all of us resist the demonization of fat people in our culture because it is harmful and bigoted. It is particularly bad for children and can leave scars that last a lifetime.

Melis
Melis
12 years ago

Erica nailed it for me too. I seem to remember a time when my parents would say “Don’t come home until the street lights come on” and off I’d ride on my bike, 2 miles or so to a friend’s house to run around in her backyard and then ride home again. My son is 5 and our backyard isn’t completely fenced in-do we let him play out there alone? HELL NO! My husband remembers spending hours ALONE shooting hoops at the church parking lot-there’s no way we’d let our son do that (even if he was 10 or 12)-our neighborhood just isn’t safe.

I grew up in a house where we ate a lot of boxed meals. Mom didn’t cook much, still doesn’t. She made the same 4 meals over and over again. I was a size 12 in high school and thought I was fat yet I look at those pictures now and think I was a bit underweight if anything. I wasn’t allowed soda at home, I had to eat what was put on my plate BY MY PARENTS, and very rarely did we have cookies or snacks in the house. My husband was a bit on the opposite but neither of us were heavy or chubby because we were active.

My 5 year old son doesn’t like soda, doesn’t even really like anything but milk or water, and isn’t a sugar head. He’s a carby kid but even though he can recite movies with the best of ’em and has snacks available to him, he’s a string bean who is ALWAYS MOVING. Even when he’s got a movie on, he’s playing or dancing or up running around. He’s in a class called “Stretch and Grow” at preschool that is basically PE for 30 minutes and then 15 minutes of discussion about nutrition and exercise. We can’t afford a Y membership but we *can* do this for him.

Childhood obesity IS an issue. Yes, the parents do have a role in this but I believe EVERYONE has a role in this. We need to bring back phys.ed. and recess and encourage playtime for the entire family.

H
H
12 years ago

I don’t have time to read all the comments so forgive me if this has already been said. I’m so careful about children and weight because of my childhood. No one else in my family was overweight but I was what I’d call chunky – a little bigger than I should have been, probably would have been classified as overweight but not obese. I was very active and in 3 sports in high school. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s so we had foods (should I put that in quotes?!) such as processed bologna around the house. This was also because we didn’t have a lot of money and my dad was a cheapskate and made us, for example, substitute bologna for other healthier meat.

Why was I overweight? I ate the unhealthy foods provided to me, that is true, but I ate more than I should have because of emotional issues. My parents were very critical of me. I never felt good enough for them. I never felt truly accepted. I ate for comfort. I was chunky because I ate so much and then they criticized my weight. So I ate to spite them, I ate to hurt them like they hurt me. Then in senior high, I struggled for over a year with anorexia. I was so sick from it but all my parents did was buy smaller clothes for me. I still have the mentality of my eating disorder but I control it, I don’t let it control me.

I can draw a few conclusions from this. Yes, physical health and weight can be unrelated. Emotional health and weight are more related than some realize. Parents can be a positive or negative influence even if they think they are sending the right message. I’m very sensitive as a parent. I’m extremely careful about how I handle food and weight discussions with my children. I know that what I say can be intepreted in a wildly different way by a hormonal and rebellious teenager. For me, I make sure I tell my children I love them and accept them. I hope that helps them feel emotionally strong and then I feed them healthy foods and talk about what foods are healthy, proper portion size, reading labels and we all exercise regularly. Those things are never discussed in relation to their appearance.

I have no idea if this is right or wrong. It is what I feel comfortable with, given my past, and seems to be working as our children are healthy and are not over or under weight.

Oh, and by the way, I do think genetics has something to do with a person’s tendency toward a general weight range so some kids are going to tend to be bigger due to genetics.

SKL
SKL
12 years ago

I have to say I disagree with the implication that “poor” people can only afford unhealthy processed food. There are many cheaper and healthier alternatives available to every American. (And I’m not talking about fresh, organic fruit, which is the example everyone likes to use.) The “poor” populations may not view these options as healthy or they may not find them tasty. But that is different from a lack of access. The line between culture and poverty is getting blurred and confusing the policy issue.

And by the way, fruit drink, pop, and potato chips are not “food.” They should not figure into discussions about food budgets, any more than cigarettes are.

sarawr
sarawr
12 years ago

SKL, these options are not available — or at least not feasibly available — to every American. A look into the realities of food deserts and the grocery gap might really be helpful in clarifying your view of this particular issue.

Redbecca
Redbecca
12 years ago

I’d just like to point out what Kander mentioned way at the top bears some further investigation, too. Sleep, or lack thereof, has been proven to be an appetite stimulant (some recent studies proved this). I know many young kids who are going to bed way too late because of work/school, getting up way too early (pulled out of bed and stuffed into clothes) and taken to daycare or wherever, and don’t get naps because of school schedules or parents are too busy. I always find I eat less on the weekends. Why? Because I sleep more. When I’m overtired, I eat a bunch and I crave the junk.
This obviously isn’t the answer to all the obesity (unhealthy eating, under active) problems, and probably is just one more element to add to the mix.

There are also other considerations. Consider how all these kids have less outside time at school, spend less time outdoors at home, and when they do go out in the summer, they get slathered with sunblock. And now doctors are finding that most Americans are Vitamin D deficient (even those taking their multivitamins). The rise in autism has risen almost simultaneously with the rise in sunblock use. I don’t say that to steer the conversation away from obesity, I’m just saying that by restricting access (intentionally or not) to healthy foods, and regular outdoor activity, what additional risks are we setting ourselves up for that we haven’t even connected yet? Who is to say the “average” kids with healthy weights and vitals, despite poor eating and exercise habits are really any healthier?

Leigh
Leigh
12 years ago

Yeah, SKL, I live in Richmond, ca, one of the poorest cities in the country. I challenge you to find anything healthy sold in the neighborhood stores here.

norm
norm
12 years ago

To me the problem is not the epidemic of overweight kids, but the epidemic of inactive kids. Junky food is part of the problem, the other part is the sedentary lifestyle. For which TV and video games are only part, by the way. My kids have so much homework they come home from school and work until dark with a break for dinner. When do they get to go outside and run around or ride their bikes? Summer? Too late.

lisa
lisa
12 years ago

The thing I am having trouble with reading the comments– I have no doubt that there are some kids/teens/adults that just gravitate towards a larger frame but if you look back 50 years, 20 years or 10 years we were not NEARLY as heavy as we are now. This can’t possibly be just a genetic thing. Why has the childhood obesity rate TRIPLED in 30 years? And reading through the comments, there are many stories of parents that seem to be doing the right thing when it comes to diet/exercise but their kids are still heavy. I don’t get it.

I also struggle with the ‘fast food is cheaper’ thing. Someone mentioned spending $3/day on fast food. So, off the dollar menu that would be like 3 hamburgers so thats roughly 900 calories per day. A one yr old needs roughly 1200 calories per day (and it goes up from there based on age) so no one is going to get fat from 3 hamburgers a day. Healthy? Of course not. Obesity causing? Not likely. So, I have to believe what is really happening is more like $3/meal: burger, fries, soda. Thats $12/day and Im POSITIVE you can make healthy meals for $12–especially when you are talking about more than one family member (ie a family of 3 eating fast food three times a day would add up to $36). Have I oversimplified anything? Am I missing something?

SKL
SKL
12 years ago

I think the poor => obese => government intervention “logic” gets an undue amount of fuel from the transfer-of-wealth lobby, i.e., it’s another excuse to tax the working people more for the “benefit” of those on public assistance. History shows that this agenda rarely produces substantive benefits.

Lisa, the part of my previous post that I deleted included a similar comment to yours. How much does it cost to serve up a pbj on brown bread and a glass of skim milk? In what locality is that meal more expensive than a whopper with fries and coke? And please don’t tell me they don’t sell bread and peanut butter (or canned beans or Wheaties or skim milk) anywhere in the low income neighborhoods.

Also, if the people in the “poor” neighborhoods demand healthier food choices from the stores, guess what will happen? The desire to change has to come from the individuals themselves.

As an individual who has eaten on $1-$2 per day over long stretches of time, it is impossible for me to accept this “poverty” argument, however popular it becomes.

Bertha
Bertha
12 years ago

There’s a difference between being overweight and being obese. I didn’t read every comment, but it doesn’t seem like many people get that. For adults a BMI of over 30 is obese. For kids it varies with age, gender, etc. We’re all very well fed nowadays, people genetically inclined will be overweight. Obesity is different and as far as I’m concerned it should be considered child neglect.

Andrea
12 years ago

Childhood obesity is an issue to me because I keep hearing how kids are getting Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. WHAT?!?! That’s fucked up.

I do believe in Healthy at Any Size, but developing chronic diseases before puberty just freaks me the hell out.

Alina
12 years ago

Once again: the BMI is crap. It’s good for groups, but crap for individuals.

Example: I weigh 245 lbs and am 5’5″. My BMI is 39. This should mean that I am nearly morbidly obese. But the BMI metric completely fails to make any sort of distinction between fat and muscle. I wear a size 18 pant from most stores. By no means close to morbidly obese. I am, however, solid as a rock and could probably kick your ass. I was also recently told by an incredulous doctor that I was healthier than most of her patients, overweight or not.

The BMI is simple, and we like simple, but it’s too simple to use as an assessment of health. If you want to know how healthy you are, find out what your body fat percentage is, and work to either reduce or increase it. Find out how your organs are working. Assess your eating and exercise habits. It’s a lot more work, but also gives you an actual picture of your health, instead of an arbitrary judgment based on nothing.

Katie
Katie
12 years ago

Raising kids is hard! WAY harder than I thought it was going to be. But at least I have control of what I buy and therefore what they eat. So at the end of a very long day I can say, at least they got some fiber! :)

Steph
Steph
12 years ago

Here’s an example from the other end, just to beef up (heh) the “weight does not equal health” position.

My sister in law has an almost 3 year old son who is skinny-minny. He’s 75%ile for height and 50% for weight and this is not unusual for my husband’s paternal family history. However. This child’s diet consists of:
saltines
bacon (oh, he does love his bacon)
french fries
moon pies
sweet tea (yay south)
anything, I do mean anything, chocolatey or sugary
Hi-C (not cut with water)

I am not exaggerating. I should add “anything fried” to the list as fried shrimp, onion rings, etc are always winners too. This kid is decidedly unhealthy. They just recently had him tested for diabetes because of several symptoms (i.e. constipation, crankiness, thirstiness) that can ALL be attributed to his diet. All of them. If he never drinks water (he doesn’t), Hi-C and sweet tea will not truly quench his thirst. His mother frets because he refuses to eat basically anything except for the list above and so she is willing to feed him whatever he will eat. Every time I am around, I am appalled. He is bribed to *try* a bite of lasagna with CANDY. Why is candy even on the table? Why is it an option?

Anyway, I’m beginning my rant. I got an email from my sister in law just today asking the following:
“Can you do me a favor before we get to your house tonight? Can you please make sure you have some hotdogs available? My son eats them for breakfast (as well as any other meal that I allow him to). I usually buy ballpark so there at least a little higher quality meat, but whatever you have or get is fine for the weekend.”

Really? REALLY? Is there such a thing as “higher quality meat” when it comes to hot dogs?

So my roundabout point is that no, weight/size does not equal health. This kid is going to be suffering some serious health complications in early adulthood if this diet is allowed to continue. And the thing is, my sister in law is A NURSE. She KNOWS better. But her diet is not much different. Lots of soda, candy, fried foods. She rarely cooks and because her children aren’t overweight, she doesn’t worry about what they eat.

I have been food conscious for some time, but since a) seeing this example play out in front of me (oh and the amount of tv those kids watch and DS they play!) and b) my 8 month old started eating solid foods, I am much more determined to set healthy examples for my own family.

My husband and I know our limits. We know if we have junk food in the house, we will eat it. Therefore, we don’t buy it. We are both average weight and we make exercise a priority (just ran my first postpartum half marathon!) but we are aware that health comes in different body shapes and styles, but health is the goal.

I’m glad the “Get Moving” program is being started because this generation of kids NEEDS to hear that message. I agree with many of the above commenters who say that this should be about fitness, not weight/fatness/size. That’s absolutely what it should be about and educating people about healthy food options and lifestyle choices will (I believe) go far.

(This is an opinion coming from a health care professional in the rural south where an estimated 60%+ of my patients can’t even fit into the chairs in my office. And they’re pregnant.)

(Oh, and not being able to afford healthy choices ABSOLUTELY impacts many people in lower socioeconomic brackets. It is MUCH cheaper to eat McDonald’s than to eat a balanced, healthy diet. I see that EVERY DAY. In some areas the healthy choices aren’t available, and in some areas, people can’t afford them. They can EITHER afford the transportation TO the store OR the food, and oftentimes not both. Don’t discount the poverty issue.)

Kaitlyn
12 years ago

I think the whole Fat Awareness Movement is a good thing. Large people are treated differently, plain and simple. And that’s not right. I don’t think people should be discriminated against by how they look, ever.
But I think that childhood obesity is a concerning issue. A lot of that responsibility falls onto the shoulders of parents and schools (so yes, a political issue), because that is who provides children with their food. But healthy food should also be more easily available. For families who can’t afford much more than KD and hot dogs, well, our government doesn’t regulate the crap that goes into the food. How do those kids have a chance?
I don’t think blame should be placed on the children and I don’t think it should be a “big deal” focused on overweight children, because kids are sensitive beings and it could really damage their self esteem. No one needs to (or should) hear, “You’re fat.” Because guess what? They already know.

Sound Body, Sound Mind
Sound Body, Sound Mind
12 years ago

McDonald’s is cheaper than this…?

(And NOBODY can afford what McDonald’s is selling.)

1 dozen Eggs: $2
1 lb brown rice: $2.25
16oz dry kidney/garbanzo/black beans: $1.50/each
1lb pasta: $.97
14 apples: $3.99
1 loaf of wheat bread: $2.50
Frozen broccoli/cauli/carrots 10oz: $1.50/each
Bag of yellow onions: $2.00

***Current prices at my local grocery store.

Like my grandmother said: poverty doesn’t give you the excuse to be dirty b/c a bar of soap washes clothes AND bodies and only costs $1. The same goes for food. There’s no excuse.

Quick base recipe in Italian/French/Spanish cooking that adds flavor to everything (canned beans, pasta, etc.):

Sautee onions/green pepper in tiny bit of olive oil on medium until they’re almost transparent

Throw in garlic for a minute or two and any seasoning – cumin, oregano, basil, Bay leaf…

Add to beans, pasta, whatever. It’s tasty, easy and good for you.

Love your body. Honor it. It will reward you in ways you can’t begin to imagine now. Stretch. Do yoga. Get away from negative people and fad diets. Eat simply. It’s just food – nothing more, nothing less. If it’s from McDonald’s it’s not food – it’s poison.

Sound Body, Sound Mind
Sound Body, Sound Mind
12 years ago

One more thing from my big mouth…

If you have kids – ban the word “diet” from your home. Diet is negative, it’s like detention or demerits or an F on a test. No one likes diet. They shouldn’t suffer for misguided parents direction.

Parents: Enroll your kids at the YMCA. They do not turn people away because of income. Get them involved in everything. Take them to parks and let them run their butts off – even if they hate it. They will thank you. Take long walks. Show them how great their bodies are – even if they hate it at first. They will thank you.

When you’re home make a “SNACK PLATE” and leave it on the counter, fill this big plate with salty & sweet. Apples, grapes, carrots, celery, a few olives, a few nuts, slices of green pepper. They can munch on this all day and all night. It’s great for them!

Do not keep boxed snacks in the house – let those be “treats” for special occasions. The movies, a mall visit.

Diet is not a positive, feel-good word – get rid of it.

Anne
Anne
12 years ago

As a personal disclaimer, I have “skinny” genes, but I have also been very active my whole life and generally do not eat much junk (although I’ve never met a chocolate chip cookie I didn’t like!) so I don’t know how much of my not being overweight is due to genes and how much to lifestyle.

However, I think if we just focused on getting people to eat healthier foods and exercise/be active more, the other issues regarding physical health would be a lot less of an issue. As many others have commented, the rise in obesity in our culture is a multifaceted, complex issue, but I don’t think that anyone can dispute that eating more whole grains, veggies, fruit, and lean proteins is better than eating junk food, and that exercising at least 30 minutes a day is better than not exercising. So, let’s start there, and also as a society work on not judging ANYONE for body size, and I think we’ll be headed in the right direction.

Karla
Karla
12 years ago

I think it’s important to distinguish between childhood obesity and prepubescent pudginess that gradually disappears during adolescence. Not all chubby kids become overweight adults.

D
D
12 years ago

Sound Body, I have no idea where you live, but I nearly spit out my lunch at the sight of 14 apples for $3.99. And as for the recipe you gave, I know where I live, peppers for some reason are pretty ridiculously priced. I still buy them, because I love them and I have the money too, but that’s not necessarily a cheap meal like you claim it is.

Anon
Anon
12 years ago

D — There is something to be said for local eating. We buy local apples from the orchard when we can (by the bushel, cheapest option) and the apples in the store from my province are cheaper than imported. Peppers are always expensive where I live, we don’t have a climate that’s conducive unless it’s green house. We just don’t eat a lot of peppers, but go for chard or beets or kale or squash or a myriad of things that grow with more ease near us.

(I also buy 14 apples for 3.99 or LESS if it’s by the bushel.)

We buy potatoes for the winter by the bushel also. I pay the same amount for ONE BUSHEL as I would for ONE single solitary BAG at the “fancy” grocery store in town.

I know not everyone can STORE one bushel or has cold storage (simply my un-heated storage room or garage shed) but shopping for foods grown near you, buying bulk, these things are all things which can DRASTICALLY lower your food bills.

Sharon
Sharon
12 years ago

As a parent I think it is our responsibility to provide nutritious foods for our children along with plenty of opportunities for exercise. I also think it’s important to model these behaviors. I make sure that we eat well and that our family activities are physical ones most of the time. I do point out to them the consequences of not doing these things. Obesity, disease, and that being healthy and active can help you to feel good about yourself. We still have treats, eat out, but my kids know that these are treats. It’s important to teach them to love their bodies enough to take the best care of them;

Sound Body, Sound Mind
Sound Body, Sound Mind
12 years ago

D – That little sautee recipe was just a suggestion to spice up a meal. Not a staple. And I get my peppers cheap at a little bodega near my house.

In respons to D-

You certainly can’t argue that frozen veggies, pastas, breads, rices and beans aren’t cheap. Because they are. I gave a whole list and you found one thing to scoff at. If you can’t afford fresh fruit (the ones in season are always cheapest of course), eat the frozen veggies. Broccoli is a great one! So is spinach.

This is exactly what I mentioned – stay away from Negative Nellies. Don’t focus on what you CAN’T do – focus on what you can. Got two legs? Then WALK. JUMP ROPE. Got two arms? Then do PUSH-UPS. PULL WEEDS. PICK UP LITTER FROM STREETS. Exercise is everywhere. Focus on the positive. Drink water. Cut out the sugar and salt. Stretch.

Jess
12 years ago

My problem with the whole thing is the way that it’s framed. This isn’t specific to childhood obesity–it’s all obesity. We all need to be living healthy lives with lots of physical activity and good nutrition. I am sick of obesity being used as a proxy for health. Why do we have to stigmatize and blame and assume that we can tell so much about a person’s lifestyle and choices based on what their bodies look like? I think it’s pretty clear that there are a lot of factors that go into body type and environment is only one of them.

So, why can’t we focus on the things that we know (exercise and good nutrition are important), without tying it into this gray area about obesity? Plus, focusing on obesity gives the mistaken impression that thin people are healthy. Remember the whole fat-skinny debate over at Bodies? The whole issue there was that a lot of people felt that thin people didn’t have a reason to try to improve themselves, their bodies, and their health. Not true, but it’s hard to blame them for feeling that way when all we hear is THIN = GOOD, FAT = BAD. ALL parents should be modeling and encouraging healthy behaviors in their children, regardless of what those kids’ bodies look like.

SkinnyMinny
SkinnyMinny
12 years ago

Sound Body Sound Mind, it’s not just the cost, it’s the accessibility. When I lived in midst of one of the worst parts of Oakland, there was no real grocery store in walking or biking distance (we had no car). We had to take the bus (and transfer once, and then walk several blocks). This cost money, took time, and limited how much we could buy to what we could carry.

Many people in our neighborhoods bought food at corner markets and liquor stores because that was what was nearby. While they did carry a small selection of fresh fruits and veggies, most of the foods were canned or processed because that was easier and cheaper for them to stock. (And *brown* rice? Not a chance.)

We managed to eat healthy, but it was much harder than it is now, when I have easier access to good foods.

melanie
melanie
12 years ago

I certainly think its an issue, and that yes parents have responsibility, HOWEVER and this is big, I think just because a parent has thin children does not mean they are raising a HEALTHY child, for example, I have a cousin who married a gal who is very thin despite her love of all things junk food, their first two children had the same body type as the Mom, the third, while having the same “sports-oriented” lifestyle got overweight eating the exact same foods the thin siblings enjoyed with no consequences…. that child took after the body type of dad and will FOREVER have to watch every single bite of food that goes into his mouth. My inlaws eat food that I swear if I ate, I would be 300+lbs, all full sugar sodas at every meal (and yes EVERY meal) yet if you were to put us all in the photo you would swear it was me who was eating fun sized snickers bar as a bedtime snack and chugging mountain dew. I am fat, I struggle constantly, I so badly wish I had the willpower to eat nothing but salads and carrot sticks becuase I know that is the ONLY way I will ever be thin, as it is now, I am doing 40 minutes of exercise a day, and it has done nothing to change my size, sure I feel better doing it, but it has changed NOTHING.

I guess my point in this whole thing is that until we find out what causes the metabolism switch to be flipped off for some of us, I dont think its a black and white issue, I work very hard to make sure my kids are active, healthy kids but you know what, my Mom worked just as hard for us, because we NEVER got soda, we NEVER ate out, we NEVER ate fried foods, we very rarely got chips or dessert and still we all struggle (though admittedly not as children, we were not thin, but we were certainly not fat).

I wish I knew the answer, I truly do, because I hate living in my skin.

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

Man, this issue just kills me – I have a chubby 2 1/2 year old, who was a chubbier infant, even before she was eating, when she was exclusively breastfed. She’s consistently been about 95% on the weight chart (and more like 75% on the height chart). My husband is thin; I could stand to lose 10 lbs. We were both chubby as babies.

My daughter has what seems to be to be a pretty big appetite, but she eats healthy foods – the same thing for dinner that we do, and plenty of veggies, etc. And every time we go to the pediatrician, they ask about her juice consumption (almost none!) and what types of food she eats, in a way that I interpret as accusatory.

I’m pretty sure what she eats is fine, but I’m less sure about how much she eats. She definitely has a healthy appetite. So I wonder, all the time, if I’m doing something wrong, and temper that worry with an unwillingness to, essentially, put my TWO YEAR OLD on a diet. Most of the time I think she’ll grow out it. Some of the time I think she won’t, and that’s okay, if it’s not something I’m doing TO her. But sometimes, I worry that I’m somehow screwing her up, and she’s going to fight weight issues her whole life because I let her have too much dinner as a toddler.

Titanium
12 years ago

As a mom and a certified personal trainer who specializes in “special populations”, including children, I certainly have dealt with every aspect of this equation.

There is no “one size fits all” answer, just like clothing with that label that never really fits anyone.

I’ve seen miserably “skinny-fat” kids with rail-thin legs trying to play soccer on the team I coach and when I ask them about their eating habits, these 8 and 9 year old girls admit to “not eating” because they’re terrified of being considered fat. I also deal with kids who don’t fit in ANY clothing because they are over 200 lbs at age 7.

Our society is tormented, ass backward and colossally wrongly-prioritized. The children are the ones who hurt the most, just as with everything else.

My answer? Do what you can. Within your circle of family, friends, teams you coach, children you care for- show them by example. Lead an active lifestyle. Get out and play WITH them. Eat well, eat a variety of ethnic cuisines from all over the globe. Work hard, play hard. It works for farm kids, there were very few fat farm kids where I grew up. We were too busy milking cows, throwing hay bales, wrestling cattle, riding horses, playing soccer/hockey, climbing trees and riding our bikes to worry about what we were eating or when.

Michelle
Michelle
12 years ago

I think it’s a problem, but I also think it has a relatively easy solution. Breastfeed your infant. When s/he moves to solids give them food. Real, whole foods. No chemicals. No processed “foods.” I’ve never met an overweight person who existed solely on whole, unprocessed foods.

Kelly
12 years ago

Parents teach children how to eat. Period.

Penny
12 years ago

I think I would be concerned if my children were overweight, because it would be unusual for our family, but not necessarily for other kids. I agree that weight as the sole measure of health is incomplete. It annoys me that the media constantly harps on this issue, but their entire pieces begins and ends with how much children weigh.

Anonymous
Anonymous
12 years ago

I am going to very honest with you Linda. I am fat. Morbidly obese. And I am having health problems because of my choices. Thankfully I have pulled my head out of my ass (did you hear the pop all the way from Oregon?) and I am taking the right and healthy steps (no pun intended) to lose weight for health not to have a hot smokin body. At 46 almost 47 I am way beyond that.

While at the pediatrician I expressed my concern over my son who is chunky. I am not sure what I expected but he asked me pointedly “Who buys the groceries in the house, you or your son” I meekly said “I do” and he said “Then you control what goes in and out of your child’s mouth at home”

I felt stupid. Literally.

I am not sure how I feel about fat acceptance. I know how ashamed I feel being obese. And if I feel that badly about being obese I am sure others who see me don’t see someone who is smart, well educated, and articulate. They see someone who is slothly, fat, let her self go and pathetic.

So that’s what I have to say about that.

Kirsten
Kirsten
12 years ago

I have been wanting to check out the book The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos. My husband greatly respects this guy’s thinking and writing. I think the jist of it is that fitness is much more important than weight.

Beth
Beth
12 years ago

It is a real issue for sure.. seeing multiple 1st graders unable to get up from the floor without rolling over on to their stomachs then shimmy up to their knees from there. There are areas of the country and within certain states where it is more prevalent than others so sometimes it seems like an overrated issue.

Mimi
Mimi
12 years ago

I recently moved back to the US. I grew up here, but spent my 20s in Eastern Europe and Asia. When people say that weight is determined more by genetics than environment, obesity is as healthy a condition as being a more proportional weight, and it is impossible for some people to lose weight… it just goes in one ear and out the other. It can’t stick. My life experiences make it impossible for me to believe those things to be true (in any frequency worth noting, at least).

To answer the questions in the post, I believe:

Childhood obesity is very much a concern. The rate of childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years. Even if childhood obesity did not cause any health problems, wouldn’t its sudden increase alone be cause for concern?

I believe obesity in childhood is a different issue than obesity in adulthood simply because children aren’t in control of their lives. Since, with some exceptions, parents do truly want the best for their child, I think it proves that the obesity epidemic is more than making bad choices, it is about not knowing how to make good choices.

I hope that was civil. One thing I’ve also learned since being back is that it can be seen as very negative to talk about food and exercise. My friends and I overseas would constantly talk about what we were eating, how much exercise we were getting, whether we were losing or gaining weight, whether we were too full or too hungry, new diet tricks that really worked for us… it was simply a part of life. I really feel like I can’t talk about those things here. Maybe that is part of the problem?

Sascha
12 years ago

Oh boy. I wasn’t going to comment, but just couldn’t help it. I am the mom of three. My 7 year old is what you would call fat. My 6 year old is skinny and the baby is only six months old so we’ll leave him out of this. I have a whole new appreciation for genetics. My side of the family is very small. My husbands, very big. My lovely “fat” son is a mystery to me. I’ve never struggled with weight so I don’t know how to approach this topic in the future. I do know that he eats well and honestly has only ever had birthday cake once in his life (second birthday). He hated it and hasn’t tried it again. Halloween candy… he gives it all to his sister. So after years of pediatric endocrinologists poking and prodding him I said enough! So there’s my two cents.