"Chubby" Aside, How Do We Tackle Childhood Obesity?

Prime Minister: You know Natalie who works here?
Annie: The chubby girl?
Prime Minister: Ooh, would we call her chubby?
Annie: I think there’s a pretty sizeable arse there, yes, sir. Huge thighs.
            From “Love Actually

I’m opening the windows, airing out the blog, and writing about something other than doom, gloom and sickness. You were awesome with the advice and thank you so much for your well wishes. The body is back and I’m movin’ on. But I’m still looking for your feedback. This time on childhood obesity.

Michelle Obama, who has launched an initiative to fight childhood obesity, came under fire from eating disorder groups last week when she said she’d put her daughters on a diet because their doctor and their father thought they were getting “chubby.” (Here’s a link to the Huffington Post’s “Michelle Obama’s Childhood Obesity Controversy”)

Chubby. Ouch. Not a fan of that word, particularly when it pertains to children. I’m sure Mrs. Obama didn’t mean it to hurt her children, but having been called “chubby” (and its numerous synonyms) more than a few times in my life, I know it can hurt no matter what the intention of the speaker is. While I didn’t develop an eating disorders, “chubby” did create a whole lot of self-doubt, some of which is still alive and well today. Seems to me there must be a better way to discuss weight concerns with children without using “chubby.” I also have a problem with putting kids on a “diet” per se. But I digress.

Name-calling is never a motivator, obviously, so what is the solution to childhood obesity? I saw this on Yahoo today and wanted to know, particularly if you’re a parent, if you believe these findings seem valid: 3 Home Habits Help Youngsters Stay Thin.

The study showed that 4-year-olds who ate with their families at least five nights a week, got at least 10.5 hours of sleep each night, and watched less than 2 hours of television or DVDs a day were 40 percent less likely to become obese. To me, that sounds reasonable, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had little ones in the house. My children are 25 and almost 27. When I was a young mom, there were fewer demands on my time and personal space, and fewer options. My children played only a few sports, television options were limited, fast and convenient foods weren’t as prevalent, computers weren’t mainstays in anyone’s home, and video games were only found in an arcade, unless you had Atari, which I couldn’t afford.

Times have changed and so have obesity levels. And while I’m disappointed in the first lady’s choice of words, I hope it won’t take the spotlight off the problem of childhood obesity. Being so many years removed from parenting young children, I’m really not in tune with the demands of the 21st century family and won’t presume that the answers are as simple as eating together, getting adequate sleep and limiting television, or if they are, that they are easy to implement.

That’s why I’d like your feedback. What do you think the solutions are to childhood obesity and have you implemented changes into your family life?

17 thoughts on “"Chubby" Aside, How Do We Tackle Childhood Obesity?

  1. No kids, so I guess I shouldn't have an opinion…Ha, but that never stopped me…

    And yikes, my dad (whom I love very much) called me Chubbers. Yuck.

    It is curious to me how many moms have a lot of angst about their own problem with trying to resist 'junk food,' and yet do not want to 'deprive' their children of the same stuff, calling it 'treats.' It seems there is still a disconnect there. And it seems us 'maintainers' could help Michelle Obama out with making permanent healthy changes to her daughters' food choices!

  2. Michelle Obama would have done better to have said absolutely to her daughters or anyone else and just made some subtle changes to the foods that are in the house and available to the girls. When I was little, it was a treat to get a bottle of soda–like a special occasion or something! So rare. My mother cooked every night. We had a few things to snack on, but we had to ask first before we touched anything or else! And we were never, ever allowed to take the 'last one' of anything. Good lord, no. I never recall my mother talking to me about being pudgy or going on a diet. And it wasn't until I got out on my own that I got really fat–by being lazy and not doing the things for myself that my mother had done for me when I was a kid.

  3. It's telling that of the 3 changes that can most affect obesity, only 1 of them deals directly with food (family meals), and that in a non-restrictive way. The others are about having less sedendary lifestyles and more sleep–maybe this means time better structured and less about food? Anecdotally, it seems that parent who put a lot of emphasis on keeping kids from “bad foods” breed rebellious, food-oriented kids.

  4. I have no kids, so it's very easy for me to pontificate at great length on the best way to raise them. 🙂 I do think parents who lead by example will be more likely to raise healthier children.

    I also think there have to be some major changes in the food and advertising industries, as well as early education programs in the schools. It'd definitely not a simple fix. 😦

  5. If I had it to do over again, I would really limit the amount of soda and fast food my kids ate. We had a rule that we didn't keep sodas in the house but they would have them when we ate out. Well, we ate out a lot – another thing I would changed. At the time, what with running from baseball practice to cub and boy scouts to school events, it just seemed easier, but it was very unhealthy and instilled a lot of bad habits in all of us.

  6. Less car, more walking. When I visit the USA, I'm always shocked at the lack of sidewalks in neighborhoods. It's almost as if developers assume no one is going to ever get out of their cars anyway, so why bother to construct safe walkways?

    The obsesity issue is of course not just one thing…it's an amalgam of components. But just to cite one contribution to the problem…when you take away good public neighborhood schools, parents will put their kids in private schools which are usually not within walking distance. So you are driving your kids to school. And then because it is not a neighborhood school, the school chums are are spread out. So for playdates and socializing, you are again driving your kid to various houses.

    Contrast this to our growing up environment where we walked to school, we walked to each other's homes, we didn't play inside in front of a computer…

    It's just a small part of the problem but this diminished activity level on a daily basis is part of it. When I take my daughters (French born) back to the USA to visit family, their American cousins can't keep up with them in terms of endurance. Just walking around the State fair has the American kids complaining, or wanting to eat and drink and sit continually. Whereas my kids, who go to a neighborhood school and walk everywhere (we rarely use a car in Paris…we do everything on foot or by subway which involves long corridors and lots of stairs) wonder why we are alway stopping for a snack or to sit down.

  7. I don't have children yet, so I also can't speak for today's families, but I know one of the biggest factors in my pubescent weight gain was sitting at home alone, eating in front of the TV. If my parents didn't make dinner (which happened frequently due to their busy schedules), I would eat 2-3 bowls of cereal for dinner, or some other easily-accessible comfort food. That habit set up some serious issues for me in the future; it established simple, white-flour carbs as my go-to food.

    I often think how different my struggle with weight would be if I'd been taught better eating habits. I'm fairly confident had I not gained that first 30 pounds at age 13, I'd weigh less today.

  8. Debby, I know a very successful loser who feeds her kids junk all the time. It's so strange to have separate food agendas in the same family. I wish I understood that dynamic better.

    I think it does come down to making better food choices at home and getting back to more movement. But then it leads to the question, is “healthy” food more expensive, as some claim?

    This is a huge issue, no doubt. I appreciate your input in helping me understand it even more.

  9. “The study showed that 4-year-olds who ate with their families at least five nights a week, got at least 10.5 hours of sleep each night, and watched less than 2 hours of television or DVDs a day were 40 percent less likely to become obese.”

    Well, my son is a month shy of 4.

    We eat as a family 7 nights a week.

    He only sleeps 9 hours at night, sometimes 10, but does nap for 1.5 to 2 hours during the day. He's always been on the low end of the sleep cycle.

    He rarely watches 2 hours of TV. Most days it's maybe 15 min. Really only if one of us is sick, or one of us has to work on a weekend day.

    I think to start, we need to re-institute gym in school, as much as I hated it back in the 70's and 80's.

    We also need to stop subsidizing Big Corn. It's just crazy that all these bad foods with HFCS and corn chips and things can be made so cheaply. When we start having to pay the actual price of the items that go into our junk food, maybe people will buy potatoes and not corn chips.

    We're on the more restrictive side of food with my son's diet. There's definitely sweets (sometimes too many). The key is to get kids used to good foods and EARLY. Boy, once you give up (because you worked a hard day, and you are tired), and you start feeding your kids mac and cheese and chicken fingers for dinner (even if organic), you will have a HUGE fight on your hands.

    My son's teacher was teasing me a bit about feeding him cooked red cabbage. He refused to eat it for dinner, so he got it for breakfast. And she said “lunch too!” I said: “it was half a cup, total. I don't find it unreasonable to expect him to be able to finish 1/2 cup of cabbage.”

  10. I have seven children, ages three months to thirteen.We eat home cooked meals except for the occasional ordering out. I'm definitely not perfect in the area of nutrition(I am very overweight)but all of my children are slim and very active. We load up on fruit and veggies at the supermarket and limit sugary drinks. They are outside quite a bit and are involved in sports.Sometimes conveinence foods become a crutch on busy days,but thankfully that doesn't happen too often. I am very upfront with the older children about nutrition and health issues.They know that studying school subjects is important for their brain and they also know their body needs fresh air,movement,proper rest and good food.

  11. Instead of focusing on weight, I think it's important to educate our children about what foods are healthy. Also, what amount of food is healthy. We live in an environment where huge amounts of bad quality food is pushed on us at every turn, so it's a real challenge.
    I wish that I had been taught to love exercise. I think if parents show that it can be fun kids will learn to enjoy it.

  12. I love your blog, but this is the first time I've felt moved to comment.

    As someone with big food issues with two small children, I've thought alot about encouraging healthy eating habits with my kids without being restrictive (I was raised to believe that candy would “poison” me, which, after I figured out that wasn't literally true, led to me carrying 30-50 extra lbs for most of my life).

    With my 3-5 year old we:
    -eat dinner together every night (I know this is easier with littler kids).
    -don't do TV/screen time on a regular basis at all. this means we watch a movie maybe once a month, or a short documentary every two weeks. This was the best parenting decision I ever made, my kids are great at playing by themselves, and they are not social misfits at all (they still know who Hannah Montana is, despite never having seen it!).
    – I never make them eat anything, or even try anything. I'm in charge of what, where, and when we eat, they are in charge of whether to eat and how much. For some great reading on kids and food Ellyn Satter's books are a must! I don't want them to lose the natural full/hungry signals that I lost so long ago and have struggled to get back.

    So far, so good, my kids are healthy, active, and eat a variety of foods…

  13. Marcia, LOVED the cabbage story. Why was that such a big deal for his teacher to accept, though?

    Tamaca, I'm glad you came out of lurking and posted. What struck me most is that your kids aren't (or at least they don't seem to be) worried that “everyone else is doing it, why can't we?” Kids adapt to the environment in which we raise them. Thanks for commenting!

  14. I grew up a fat kid – not going to mince words – and I regret it. Sad thing is my parents are really to blame and that is simply where it starts. Of course vending machines and such shouldn't be in school, but not instilling in your child the benefits of exercise, eating right and so on is just robbing them of being healthy and having a better life.

  15. I have a 5 and 6 year old who are slim and active. We limit screen time, have early bedtimes, and eat most nights at home together. But I still worry and struggle — they don't care for vegetables and are sugar fiends!

    I worry that I am too controlling with sweets — creating some kind of future rebellion.

    A few weeks ago, my son came into our bed and told me he had a nightmare. There was a scary girl with big eyes at Disney World and I was talking to her mom. I wanted to give away my son to this mother — because he wouldn't eat his vegetables!

    Yikes! I feel like I nag too much. I can get them to eat veggies by holding dessert out as the reward. I wish I could be more hands off (& take the emotions out), but then I worry they'll never eat right.

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