You’ve probably heard that the first lady is taking on childhood obesity. On Tuesday she announced the development of a task force that will engage both private and public sectors to solve the childhood obesity problem in a generation.
The areas of focus include: helping parents make healthier food choices, making schools a healthier environment, increasing physical activity and making healthy food more accessable. In 90 days this task force will develop and announce a plan of action. I’ll be sure to keep you updated. For more on this, see Let’s Move.
There are some changes that will take place immediately. The American Academy of Pediatrics is joining the cause by enouraging pediatricians to keep a close eye on the BMIs (body mass index) of children. So if there’s a problem they will let you know.
But there is a part of me that is worried that some negatives may come out of all this attention on weight. So I jotted some of my concerns down just in case Michelle Obama — or her task force members– runs across my blog.
1. It’ll take more than healthy eating: Whenever I see a story on fighting obesity, it’s always talks about getting kids and adults to eat “healthier.” There is not a parent alive who doesn’t know that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for their children. So if pediatricians just spout of the same old advice, parents will still face the same barriers they had before, whether it’s getting kids to eat fruits and veggies or finding the time to prepare them.
But what if pediatricians asked families to change how they eat? Isn’t this what has really changed over the last 40 years? We no longer make feeding ourselves — and our families — a priority. Telling parents to start by having regular meals and snacks at the kitchen table is a great start. They can gradually add more variety including fruits and veggies.
But if children continue to graze on food, eat while watching TV, or are allowed to grab food out of the cupboard when they are bored, they are much more likely to get more calories than their bodies need. And why should we wait for a high BMI to give this advice?
2. Keep a watchful eye on eating disorders: According to The Alliance of Eating Disorders Awareness, eating disorders affect 24 million Americans. Young women with an eating disorder are 12 times more likely to die than other women their age. The most common behavior that leads to an eating disorder is dieting. Fifty-one percent of 9 and 10- year olds feel better when on a diet and 42% of 1st and 3rd grade girls want to be thin.
So very young children already have a desire to be thin. We need to watch the way we talk to our children and let them know that health is most important, not looks or weight. Pediatricians also need to be careful in how they relate messages when they find a child is overweight. I will be running an eating disorder prevention series this month to discuss ways parents can help prevent eating disorders in their children so stay tuned.
3. Size discrimination is a problem: The last acceptable form of prejudice is size discrimination. This movement could make people even more critical of those who carry excess weight. We need to educate our children that people come in all shapes and sizes. While BMI can be a helpful tool, some kids may be considered overweight but still be healthy because they are naturally bigger. Just the way some children fall off the growth charts because they are small. What we want to avoid is kids gaining an unnatural amount of weight for their body type.
4. Restrictive feeding practices don’t work with kids: With more pediatricians telling parents their children have a weight problem, some parents may start restricting their kids’ eating, which is really a form of dieting. Research shows such practices backfire, making children more likely to overeat and gain weight.
Encouraging healthy behaviors for the whole family is vital. Singling out an overweight child can do long-term damage to their self-esteem, make them obsess about food and increase their risk of developing an eating disorder. All members of the family benefit from healthy habits, whether or not they carry excess weight.
So that’s it. Just some thoughts I wanted to get out there. Now I feel better.
What do you think about all this? Any solutions you want Michelle Obama to know about?