Childhood Obesity is a huge deal right now. Michelle Obama is all over the television talking about the horror of childhood obesity, you can’t look at cnn.com or yahoo.com without seeing something about how obesity is after your child. Kids are being subjected to public weigh-ins and BMI report cards.
I see some major issues with this:
First, obese children are children first. They are not little walking statistics. They are precious children who have feelings, and who are learning lessons now about self-esteem and body image that will follow them for the rest of their lives. If we try to motivate them to be healthier by shaming them about their bodies it’s going to backfire. Do you take care of things you don’t like? Kids don’t either, and if their body is the epicenter of chiding, shaming and teasing we’re going to teach them to hate those bodies, and they will never take good care of them.
We have a “war against Cancer” and that makes sense – our goal is to eradicate Cancer. But a war against obesity isn’t quite the same. Obesity is measured by our bodies. Bodies we live in 100% of the time. I am my fat. My fat is me. You can’t have a war against my fat and leave me out of it. Therefore a war on obesity is a war on obese people and a war on childhood obesity is a war on children. In the end, people just end up at war with themselves.
Second, nobody can prove that they have a way successfully achieve long term weight loss. Studies show that 95% of people who attempt intentional weight loss fail. We are prescribing something that only works 5% of the time, and then blaming the other 95%. What we do know is that the medical issues that are the result of cycle dieting (yo-yo dieting) can far outweigh the medical issues correlated with obesity. Starting your kids on a diet roller coaster is setting them up for life threatening health problems later for only a 5% chance of success.
Don’t get me wrong – I am absolutely for children’s health. I’m for healthy food in the schools and lots of PE classes and recess time. I’m for those things for ALL children, not just the obese ones. I just don’t see the logic that singling children out and making them feel bad about themselves is a path to health and well-being.
When weight loss is the goal, kids feel punished and restricted. They are forced to exercise to try to change the shape of their bodies, and they learn to hate exercise. They eat what someone else tells them to eat, and they stop trusting their bodies and start labeling foods as “good” and “bad” in a way that can set them up for disordered eating later. And at the end of the week when the scale doesn’t go down as much as they want, they are labeled failures no matter how hard they worked
When healthy behaviors are the goal, kids have success every time they engage in healthy behavior. They succeed every time they are active, make a healthy food choice etc. They can find ways to move that are fun for them, they can learn about what foods they like and don’t, what their bodies really need for fuel, how different foods make them feel, and how to truly make choices about eating.
It’s up to you. You can set your children up for a lifetime of yo-yo dieting, poor body image and low self-esteem. Or you can help your kids use their childhood to plant the seeds for a life of loving movement and exercise, and appreciating, listening to, and taking care of their bodies. While you’re at it – you could choose that kind of life for yourself too. You could be a model for health, high self-esteem and great body image in your family. What do you choose?