Childhood Obesity- Are Parents to Blame?
One third of all American Children are Overweight or Obese.
I was prompted to write about this issue after watching last evening’s Fox Philly News. It was reported that Forty Percent of all kids in Philadelphia are Obese. When I saw the statistics I was reminded of the obesity epidemic in this country and so sad that in a city so close to home the numbers were so incredibly high.
There is really so much to blame for this obesity crisis, Right?
Fast-food, lack of exercise, high fructose corn syrup, bullies, marketing, TV, video games & etc. But would you blame the parents? I mean really blame the parents to the point that Parents Should Lose Custody of Super Obese Kids? | Fox News. That has been a recent hot debate. In fact, in an article last summer, the Journal of the American Medical Association said that putting children temporarily in Foster Care is in many cases more ethical than Obesity Surgery. But how are they hopping right to surgery?
An Obesity Specialist, Dr. David Ludwig, says it’s not to blame the parents, but to get the kids the help that they can’t provide. What about getting the parents, the families, help as well. Kids with Obese parents are 50% more likely to be obese. Solving obesity issues is about lifestyle changes, social & family changes. Yes, in some instances there are thyroid disorders or genetic disorders that play a role in the Obesity, but for most kids it’s their lifestyle that needs changing.
Family intervention and Nutrition Education is key. The father in THIS CNN VIDEO didn’t mean to hurt his child’s health. They were just enjoying food (obviously a little too much.) He thought he was making his child happy. Maybe we could call it spoiling his child with an over abundance of food or extreme eating? The video doesn’t address Dad’s health issues, but I’m sure there may be a few as well. I must add that I thank this family for helping others learn from their mistakes- that takes real courage.
Anyway, we all know that a child does not gain hundreds of pounds overnight. So, where was the preventative health-care along the way? Was it too expensive? Maybe the doctor tried to intervene, but the patient switched physicians or simply ignored Dr. advice OR didn’t know how to change their ways. Think about this: A doctor says, “I’m concerned that your son/daughter is overweight.” And then they show you that growth chart graph.
Okay, now what right? What does that mean? What do you do? Where do you go?
Hopefully, the Dr. also hands you a referral to a Registered Dietitian. But Nutrition Counseling is not always covered by insurance and patients can’t always afford the Co-pay or Deductible or see the value in investing in Nutrition Education? Or Doctor hands you a referral to see a Registered Dietitian, but piano lessons or football practice take precedence over calling to set up an appointment or spending quality time with a Registered Dietitian?
Maybe the child’s Doctor was too busy with a room full of sick kids the day your overweight child was there for his/her physical. Or they simply didn’t intervene because he/she didn’t want to lose a patient or hurt the child or parents feelings (hopefully, not the case.) Talking about weight is a tough issue. It’s a sensitive topic for everyone, even doctors. People can get defensive when talking about weight, especially their kids’ weight.
As you can see in the CNN video, even in Higher Income homes, obesity happens. Imagine the child in the video above in a home away from his family. He doesn’t seem to be in an abusive home…right? He doesn’t seem unhappy, just unhealthy. BUT what kind of earlier prevention could be provided for patients like Tiger? What could have been done when he was only 10, 20 or 30 pounds overweight?
I also think about lunches at school? Most school lunches I’ve seen resemble Fast-Food, if not worse. And if that is what we are serving in schools, are we teaching kids that chicken nuggets and petrified cheese burgers and fries are healthy? (Okay- so school lunches is a post for another day….)
The reality is many parents bring home Fast Food because they are working a couple of jobs to pay their bills. Many families don’t have or make time to cook and have been bombarded by marketing messages. They see Golden Arches and in they go- French Fries and Big Macs & a FREE Toy. You don’t even have to get out of the car- it’s a quick fix to the dinner dilemma. The witching hour (what many families call dinner time with young children) calmed by greasy food and a free toy. It’s cheap and everyone is happy…right?
No cleanup involved for the moment…
We see Tiger in the video above in a football uniform. But many kids are home after school not getting enough exercise. They are told to stay inside because their neighborhoods are not safe enough to play outside in. There may be drugs, guns & etc. on the corners.
Or they live in safe neighborhoods like Tiger, but don’t know their neighbors. Parents are at work when the kids get home and worry because of all the crazy stuff they see on the news each night. “Lock the doors, kids.” Parents are working long hours and aren’t they aren’t able to monitor the caloric intake of after school munching, which probably happens in front of television- because they are inside. Other kids are so over-scheduled running from activity to activity that there is no time to sit down as a family to eat a healthy meal. Eating in the car is the norm for some. Do you have French fries between or under your seats?
Now, let’s think about this…you have a child or teen who is already going through physical tragedy. They are Obese- Super Obese, which is probably causing them physical stress- maybe Diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, breathing issues- maybe even depression. But now you throw some emotional turmoil into the situation by taking them away from their parents?
Now I agree if the obesity is mixed in there with other social issues like physical or emotional abuse or maybe just downright neglect- maybe then a separation would be warranted. In cases as such, let’s not blame the separation on the Obesity- that’s just one sad outcome of the abuse or neglect.
Solving the issue of Childhood Obesity is extremely complicated. It’s not only about investing in Nutrition Education in our schools and communities, but in Childcare and Social Programs that support busy families. It’s about Large Food companies using healthier ingredients and Restaurants making portion sizes appropriate. It’s about advertisers being responsible. It’s about getting active, taking the steps more and elevator less. It’s about learning to enjoy each other without stuffing our faces. You can teach a child or adolescent to eat right, but when the family eats wrong, it won’t work. And for many teens stuck in an overweight body, food becomes a control issue. One that parents don’t always know how to handle or can’t.
Insurance companies and government programs need to provide family Nutrition education with a Registered Dietitian. It must happen at school, at home and in our communities. It takes a village to make change AND it should start at home, but we should not blame or judge the parents.
And I’ll close with a few quotes from our own- Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, Pa
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
“I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand.”
“I guess I don’t so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old.”
Kristie Finnan is a Registered Dietitian/Licensed Nutritionist, Freelance Writer and Published Children's Author. She is the Mom of 3 and Food Snob with a passion for Nutrition Education, Healthy Kids Foods, Marketing and Social Media. Kristie is the Creative Director/Editor for www.DivaDietitian.com and www.KidsLoveFood.com & Founder of www.DoylestownNutrition.com. Diva Dietitian blogs in Full Disclosure. Please see: http://kristiefinnan.com/about/disclosure.