We Have To Stop The Childhood Obesity Epidemic

1 Apr


I currently have an 11 year old client who is severely overweight – to the extent that she is classified right now as being obese.

Her mother brought her to see me on the advice of their family doctor when they made an appointment to get a sick note to excuse the girl from PE classes as she found them too hard.

Now apart from the sad fact that obesity is already limiting this child’s life in many ways, there are several interesting things I noticed when dealing with this mother and daughter.

I have full permission from them both to discuss their case openly, as long as I don’t mention their names, and I believe many people can benefit from some of the ‘mistakes’ they have made over the years:

  • Mom is also overweight, but not obese.  She comfort eats and sees food as giving her pleasure.
  • Mom is a warm, friendly person who dislikes confrontation and disagreements.  She admits giving in to her daughter’s requests for food because she wants her to be happy, and doesn’t like saying no.
  • Daughter has always been a ‘fussy eater’, and to make sure she was eating enough calories mom has always allowed her to leave her vegetables and fill up on pudding
  • Mom carries guilt for being a working single parent.  This makes her spoil daughter with presents, late bed times and food.
  • Mom admits to being unorganised and busy.  Takeaways and ready meals are easier than cooking fresh meals each evening.  Now that daughter is getting older, she is beginning to refuse to eat fresh cooked meals.  Mom doesn’t want her to starve, so ends up giving her money for chip shop takeaways later in the evening.
  • Mom realises daughter is manipulating her to get her own way, but feels helpless.  Daughter receives pocket money from her absent father so (to quote mum) ‘she can buy the food she wants regardless of what I say’.
  • Daughter suffers from allergies and asthma and now struggles with physical exercise.

I think it’s important to highlight some of these things because they reflect a trend that is present throughout the developed world – we are killing our children with “junk food kindness”

All too often, obese children are described as having a large appetite, being big boned, or having puppy fat, and while preserving the child’s self-esteem has to be one of the biggest goals within any therapy, there are usually deeper reasons for a child becoming obese at such a young age.

I believe there are 3 main reasons, and for many families there will be a mix of 2 or all 3 present:

  1. Coming from an obese family – having an obese parent means that a child’s risk of becoming obese will be 50%, and having 2 obese parents raises that risk to 80%.  This is not because of genetics, but because of the lifestyle and eating habits the child will watch and imitate from their parents.  Each family has a food culture that children will believe to be correct, and this can often affect their attitudes towards food for their whole life.
  2. Guilt – when a parent feels guilt, they often try to compensate for this by spoiling their child, and this often includes with food.  What are parents feeling guilty for?  Two main things – divorces, and working.  Working mothers feel guilty for not being at home with their children, and single parents (as well as the absent parent) feel guilty for not making their relationship work.
  3. Weakness – this is the lack of discipline that many families present nowadays.  Whether because of a dislike for confrontation, or a lack of understanding for the importance of rules and discipline, there are many cases where children are allowed to do as they please.  Children quickly realise whether a parent will back up the rules they create, and they know how far they can push each parent before they give in.

These three issues are creating an epidemic of obese children who will grow up facing limited lives and health problems – notice how my 11 year old client is already suffering from allergies and asthma (both caused or worsened by obesity) and is unable to keep up with her peers in PE classes.

The interesting thing about the PE is that my client says she isn’t upset by this, and doesn’t want to do PE.  I can’t help but wonder, if there was a culture within her family of valuing physical exercise and having active hobbies, how different her opinion of PE would be… and how different her weight would be.

I have no doubt in my mind that I can help turn things around for this girl, and a large part of that will be educating and working with her mother.

So, what food culture are you bringing your children up to have?

Are you watching your child grow heavier and telling yourself it is only puppy fat?

If so, maybe it’s time to stop the junk food kindness.

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2 Responses to “We Have To Stop The Childhood Obesity Epidemic”

  1. Therese April 6, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    I see a lot of myself in this little girl! I have struggled with weight my entire life and am in the process of taking off the weight I gained in and after law school. I was overweight when I started law school, so I have a long way to go! I have recently blogged about our country’s fast food addiction here: http://bit.ly/c5a6fb….and about how to create a balance between “fat acceptance” and what is good for our health here: http://bit.ly/9lqctY

    Keep us up to date on any progress made with this kid! Since we share a common history, I’d like to know how she’s doing.

    Also, have you read The Gabriel Method? Many of the technique recommended in that book have been very helpful to me. I think it’s a fantastic book and would love to know what a nutritionist thinks of it.

  2. glyco247 April 7, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Hi Therese

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment.

    That’s so great to hear that you are doing well with your own weight loss, and I’m sure you’ll succeed since you sound so passionate about it.

    I haven’t heard The Gabriel Method – tell me more?

    I’m going to take a look at your blog, it sounds very interesting!

    Have a great day,
    Katie 🙂

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