I can remember when there was only one “chubby” kid per class. Now one in three, by my informal survey and the government’s official tally, would be eligible for this form of verbal abuse. Actually, one child in ten is considered morbidly obese and the other two in ten just obese or overweight.
It’s not just the couch potato, chip-munching, remote controlled kids with the problem. I see plenty of active, fat kids at the baseball games, soccer tournaments and swim races. Many have normal weight parents who are active themselves in sports.
So what are the causes? You’re probably going to blame the fast food industry, cars, and a lack of physical education classes for our children living on the edge of medical self-destruction. Initially I even fell prey to that logic as a family practice physician and former P.E. teacher/coach. But when I really thought about these excuses I realized the causes are still the same as they were forty years ago when I ballooned into tent dresses.
After all, didn’t we have cakes, pies, and Twinkies to eat in the fifties and sixties? Ice cream and potato chips aren’t new. Plus, people used real cream, butter, and sugar in all the treats. I’ve ridden in cars my whole life. I can remember my brother falling out of the car at 50 mph on our way to Grandma’s Sunday dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and cherry pie. Of course that was before seat belts came along.
Here is the real secret to all the “husky” kids circling around the last piece of pizza. They are emotionally empty, not their stomachs. Families are spread out or absent. Children are left to fend for themselves for meals and entertainment. They get bored, stressed out, and use food as a comfort just like adults. Often, parents are in denial that a problem even exists. My 50 lb. weight gain during the later stages of my mother’s illness and eventual death was no accident. It just wasn’t discussed.
Kids get shuttled from one home to another. Different rules, different environments. Especially with the divorce rate at 50% the so-called blended family requires much adapting by the child. Extended families don’t live nearby. Frequent job transfers, larger homes, and two car payments force both parents to work full time. The idea of sacrificing, saving, and delayed gratification went the way of the fifties and sixties.
With so much work and so many bills parents often arrive home emotionally drained. It is easier to let kids eat whatever they want, watch whatever they want, and listen to whatever they want. It takes more energy to be a parent enforcing rules and boundaries. The average father spends 20 minutes a day interacting with his child. Instead of picnics at the park, hiking, and shooting baskets, families opt for a video and pizza. Sometimes that is the only meal of the week together!
So what can we do? Treat the problem, not the symptom. Each child needs to feel valued. If you ask them whether they would rather have a new car or spend more time with you, the answer will be evident. Listen to your child more, talk less. Be quick to praise, slow to criticize. Regular family meetings promote feelings of belonging and connection. Everyone has a voice. Eat meals together on a regular basis. Preparing them as a team puts fewer demands on any one person and encourages communication.
Look inward, not outward to help solve a weight problem. Seek professional help early before medical problems and poor body image take hold. Your kids deserve it.