Monday, June 11, 2012

The "Child Obesity" Problem

Every time I open a newspaper (yes, I still do that, even if it is an archaic form of reading about events) or read news reports on-line I see information about the "child obesity" problem we have in the U.S.A. I will admit that over the years I've seen chubbier kids. I've also seen chubbier adults. In general, Americans are gaining weight. There's good news and bad news about this. Which one do you want first? The good news?

Good news: The recession hadn't starved everyone. The government isn't rationing food like it did in the past during times of war. Food is plentiful. We seem to have an overabundance in America, unlike many other parts of the world where supply and demand creates a government-controlled entity. People can waste food and not think twice.

Bad news: We are spoiled. We don't have to grow or prepare our own food. We can grab it on the run. We can eat it when we're bored. We can use it to cheer us up. It's a crutch for many of us. Including our children, who model themselves after us.

First off, a disclaimer. Not everyone is meant to be thin. Some people's bodies hold onto fat better than other people's bodies. These are the people who, if times got real tough and there wasn't enough food to go around, would probably outlive the skinny people out there. I believe in loving and accepting ourselves no matter what. Some children are going to be heavier than others. Some kids eat a varied diet and are satisfied, other kids, like my own, will only eat two types of vegetables and one kind of fruit, and we parents are happy if they eat half a sandwich for lunch. Kids are not a one-size-fits-all product.

Okay, here are my feelings on this so-called epidemic. A lot of these kids are eating fast food because their parents are busy. After work they're running their children to sports, dance, drama club...any number of activities. With only a half hour in-between, who has time to cook and eat? No one, that's who. And there's no time to argue with a child over a request for a high-fat option versus the less tastier, healthier venue. Sure, you could order the healthier one anyway, but most kids will stubbornly refuse to eat it and go hungry instead. That is, until they come home famished and raid the cookie cupboard.

Also, one would think if a child is attending baseball three times a week, that's plenty of exercise, right? Wrong. Watch the kids. What are they doing? Most of the time they're standing around, waiting for a ball to come to them in the outfield or waiting for a turn at bat. If they're lucky, they'll get to run toward a wayward ball once in a while. So specialized sports, while great for teaching discipline and sportsmanship, should not be the child's only form of exercise. How to get more exercise for your kid? A game of tag! If you play the game with your children they'll be so thrilled it can go on forever. A plus? You'll get exercise, too.

A lot of these children, when not standing in turn to hit a ball or eating fat-filled fast food, are playing video games, Wii, Gameboy, etc. They're thumbs are getting a good workout, but the rest of their bodies? Not so much. I know this is a big "duh," yet many parents put up with it. Why? Because it prevents the kids from attacking one another in a physical sense. They can work as a team to go after the "bad guys." This means a mom or dad can get work done around the house without having to stop every five minutes to pull the kids apart. I can relate! But when we rely on this "babysitter," our kids become addicted to the games and don't want to play outside where they can run around.

Okay, I know. I know. I've heard this, too: some kids live in rough neighborhoods and it's too dangerous to play outside. First off, I think it's a damn shame that poverty forces people to live in undesirable neighborhoods. I could rant more on this, but it's a sticky subject, so I won't. I understand a parent's concern over this. If there are free after-school programs where kids can play sports, it's helpful. If there aren't, or if there's no way to transport the child to and from these places, consider finding a place in the home for active play. It could be as simple as putting up a Nerf basket ball hoop over the closet door. Or find large boxes and let the kids build a castle with them and play games where they have to jump up and run around the castle to get away from dragons. Be creative. But try to dissuade the kids from video games.

Here is my last opinion on this matter. Many kids are eating out of boredom. Or guilt. Or depression. The list goes on. They are battling the same types of stress adults deal with daily. We try to treat them mini adults. We have years of learned wisdom they don't yet possess. They can't think problems through like we can. Food becomes a great comfort. Fail a quiz? A Snickers bar will help. I fear this is becoming more common, especially when children model on their parents, who might grab a beer at the end of the workday to relieve stress. Or eat an ice cream sundae when feeling blue. Can we find better ways to handle stress and teach those methods to our kids? After a bad day at school, maybe a kid needs to listen to music and draw pictures. Your child is bored? Help her come up a dance routine instead of letting her run to the fridge. Then do these activities yourself to model the behavior. You will find your appetite waning along with your child's.

In the end, we all want what's best for our kids. Parents know when their children are "heavy." And while some choose to wait it out, knowing a growth spurt might be all that's needed for the child to be at a healthy weight for his/her height, others may wish to get a head start by finding alternatives to their lifestyle. Most don't want their children on a "diet," and I agree. Many adults can't even stick to a diet, how can a child?

I'm open to other ideas. What can be done to prevent children from becoming obese? What do you think is the cause? And is the government handling it well? Should the government be involved at all? I'd love to hear your opinions.


  1. I have a child that is actually underweight, yes, in the obese world, he is underweight. Put that aside, he is a rare thing in this world. I am a pediatric nurse and the obesity problem is HUGE! It is actually so sad to see it. 5 year old who weigh 100 pounds, 12 year olds who weigh 250+. Diabetes and heart problems already start to develop so early.
    Kids learn by example, and sometimes they don't have the best examples to learn by. Most of the time, these obese kids have obese parents. If the parents are willing to change, there is a trickle down effect, you start to see positive changes in the kids. If the parents are not willing to change themselves, the problem just goes on and worsens. There is so much education needed, some people don't know the difference between whole milk, 2% milk, fat free milk. Sugary drinks and soda is consumed way to much and sometimes toddlers are drinking the soda too! Education, education, education!

  2. Thank you for your comment! I was at the water park yesterday, and I was surprised to see so many children who were heavy. They were quite active, too. I'm glad you responded to let me know your viewpoint, since you see so many children in your practice. Thanks!