A Parent’s Responsibility… Childhood Obesity and Georgia’s Campaign

A parent’s challenge:
To raise, but not to repeat
Our own tragedies.
———————————– 
I am veering sharply away from my usual humor into a current serious hot topic. This is a difficult post to write, but I can’t stop composing it in my head, so I decided to put it in writing.

There is a lot of controversy about a new advertising campaign in Georgia addressing childhood obesity which aims the heart breaking messages (and the blame) at the parents. Here is the ABC news story about it, which includes video of several parts of the campaign. I am sure there will be many experts chiming in on the pros and cons of this approach. Here is my perspective.

I am a fat parent (and by fat, I hate to admit it, I mean obese) trying to raise trim kids (my husband is also fat). Watching this campaign was a kick in the gut. My children (ages 9 and 5) are just the right size, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I worry multiple times a week about their weight. I don’t want them to be fat like me. But I didn’t need an advertising campaign to tell me this.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was close to my highest ever weight and determined that my child would not be overweight.  I read everything I could about how to have a healthy child-parent relationship with food. Well, that isn’t exactly right… I did some research, quickly found a great book that resonated with me, and that’s the approach I took.  Child of Mine, Feeding with Love and Good Sense stated something that made clicked for me: My job is to put nutritious food on the table on a regular basis. The kid’s job is to eat it. Parents should stop doing the kid’s job.  If you approach it this way, everyone has a positive food relationship.

I also evolved some practices that were different from how I grew up:

  • Eat dinner early – 6/6:30.
  • Fruit at every meal. (A fruit is as good as a veggie in my book.)
  • No forbidden foods. (I wanted to demystify sweets, which were a forbidden temptress in my youth.)
  • Get the kids into an activity of some sort.

This seems to be working. My kids love fruit and don’t fuss about eating it (don’t worry, they eat veggies too).  They eat candy – we keep a dish of treats – but they don’t obsess about it. In fact, Halloween candy is usually ignored by day 2 or 3. They each have regular sporting activities which they enjoy and take satisfaction from.  So far, so good.

So why do I still worry? Did you watch the campaign? Do you think that took a lot of acting skills? I don’t recall feeling that same pain in my school days – I wasn’t as overweight as these kids – but when I read my old diaries I ache inside: losing weight is mentioned over and over again.  It is the number 1 topic, with boys as the second most prevalent topic.  Without those written records, I would have denied it was such a focus for me, but there it is, in black and white… Disappointment in myself. Admission of failure. Yearning to be like everyone else. Desire to be thin.  Why in God’s name would I want to subject my children to this? I don’t need anyone to convince me my kids need, wait, deserve, a different fate.

I also worry what to do should one of my kids start to pudge up.  How will I react? Will my reaction screw them up?  More importantly, I carry sadness that I am a crappy role model for my kids in terms of my weight. I know they notice. My daughter mentioned my weight to me years ago (the classic “mommy, why are you fat?”), although not recently, but I know she recognizes that most everyone else’s mom is normal size.  That makes me sad.

So why don’t I get off my ass and lose weight? Raise your hand if you asked that question. I’m guessing those with their hands up are all thin. Well, I wish it was that easy. I’m not here to claim that food is a drug and food addiction is akin to drug or alcohol addiction, but man it sure feels like it sometimes. I’ve lost and gained more weight than you can imagine, and believe me, my adult diaries still have my struggles with weight as their #1 topic (although I’ve solved the boy thing now…). I wish I had an answer.  It’s January, so time to try once again to do something about it. Wish me luck. No, wait, don’t do that. Just promise not to stare at the gym.

In the meantime, our society will continue to judge the obese. Continue to point to the parents of fat kids.  I’ve been typing and deleting this next part for 15 minutes… Am I ok with this? Do I believe that parents of fat kids should be held accountable for their children’s weight?  I think I do – we are the parents for Christ sake. If it isn’t our jobs, whose then?  In a world devoid of personal responsibility, I believe in parental responsibility – from not letting the kids get drunk in the basement to not tolerating your child as a bully to not letting your kid feast on ding dongs 24/7.  This is what you signed up for.  I can tell you that for me, I see it as my responsibility to these amazing little human beings to set them up as much as I can to be healthy and happy, inside and out.  You have no idea how hard I try.   The obvious next question is “how to hold us accountable? how do you punish the parents of obese kids?” but I’m not prepared to answer this one; I have no idea and this has been difficult enough.

(A final note: It’s hard to write this and not imply that my own parents were horrible role models and “made” me fat.  I refuse to do this. For one, I don’t think that (my) weight issues are that simple. I won’t justify this statement or explain it any more, it’s my opinion.  And second, I got a lot fatter after I left home, so they were doing something right. So thanks mom and dad. Don’t worry about me, and please don’t worry about your parenting. My own kids would be way more wacky if you hadn’t done a great job.)

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15 Comments

  1. “I’m not here to claim that food is a drug and food addiction is akin to drug or alcohol addiction, but man it sure feels like it sometimes.”

    Food is a drug and it is highly addictive. Not all food, but the food we have created and the food that has unleashed an epidemic of disease, obesity, and etc… We have literally become married to our food, and nobody wants a divorce.

    Can we blame the parents? Yes, but only partially. Instead, much of the information available about what is healthy, nutritious, and acceptable is what fastens us into this relationship. Whether it is the FDA, you local doctor, or your very own mom and dad, it is the belief in the system that is here to protect our health, that essentially destines us towards failure.

    It’s a collapse, and not a clean one, as evidenced by the disease and obesity present throughout society. I am a health enthusiast seeking a longer and healthier life. To do this, anyone can, I self educate myself and take what should be common sense to us all and try to make sense of it. We are brought up in a world where everything has been manipulated, but to us and for every generation following us, that is the only way, the original way.

    We see how our lifestyles are not working out, so we seek quick fixes and New Year’s resolutions to fill the gaps. It never works and never will. We were born into a simple world, but we as humans decided to make it more simple, and this yielded the complexities of disease which can only be warded off by returning to the simple. Instead week seek even more complex methods to treat our manipulations.

    It just doesn’t work.

    Maureen, if you continue to educate yourself and modify your lifestyle, it will intrinsically modify your children’s and their children’s… We are to blame, but only if we get caught up in the perversity of believing that: this plus that = disease, obesity, suffering, and early death, and that means we are doing it right.

    Best wishes to your health and that of your family…

    Reply
  2. Cindie Ulreich

     /  January 3, 2012

    Well written, Mo. I’ve resigned myself to eat healthier and try to move more. I’m not starting a diet, forbidding myself treats or making a big deal out of it. I’m simply thinking about my food choices more thoroughly than in the past. With a little luck, it will make a difference.

    Reply
    • Cindie… I will be there quietly with you. But how sad that we both use the word “resigned” instead of a more positive one. Speaks volumes, huh? 🙂 Let us proceed with ambition and determination instead?

      Reply
  3. What a great campaign to be a part of! Our kids’ eating habits have been neglected for far too long.

    Reply
  4. brave post. i will wish you luck. dive in and have confidence like you are doing with your blog!!

    Reply
  5. What a brave and honest post! I can feel all your worries, aches, the guilt and the struggle to put these difficult things into words that won’t hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.
    I have struggled with my weight for seemingly ever, although I am not actually obese. Just always at the line between normal and overweight. My pregnancy has changed things around a bit (hyperemesis) and then the breastfeeding did wonders for me too, but as soon as I stopped (some time you just have to) it all went pearshaped again. And of course I am worried about my son’s weight too, especially since he is rather short for his age (and that’s his dad’s fault!).
    I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but at some stage last year I was at my all-time high and knew I needed to do something about it. Here are a few of my observations, maybe they can help you:
    1) I can learn a thing or two about portion control from my little monster. He just stops when he’s full. He also doesn’t eat as quickly as I do. I try not to eat more than double his portion (he is nigh on 3). Which doesn’t mean I don’t get to finish mine just because he doesn’t want all of his!
    2) He gets sweets and choc pud as well, but in reasonable doses, and so far it hasn’t been an issue. I try to make a point of alternating these kinds of snacks with healthy (and less caloric) ones, and whenever he is having fruit/carrotsticks/yogurt etc. I have some too. Considerably cuts down on my unhealthy snacking.
    3) I am German, and I think one of the things we get right is that we eat our warm meal at lunchtime. I usually cook for the little monster and myself, and hubby gets the leftovers to take to work the next day. In the evening it’s bread and cheese/cold meat, and I make a point of adding something healthy every time, tomatoes, cucumber, red peppers or a mixed salad. Again, the darker German rye bread (luckily I found a baker here in the UK who makes it) is a much healthier option than white bread. And, like you, we also try not to eat too late, 7 p.m. is usually when hubby comes home and we can all eat together.
    4) I try and enforce eating at the table, even for chocolate or other sweets (unless we’re on the road, of course). I think a lot of thoughtless snacking/eating happens in front of the TV. There are exceptions, of course, especially when the little monster is ill, but they are declared a ‘picnic’ on the couch.
    5) I try and use the car as little as possible. My little monster loves riding behind me in his bicycle seat, I get around our little town almost as quickly as (at certain hours probably even quicker than) by car, and the exercise is just what I can fit into my schedule.
    6) In your freshly pressed post today you write about your obsession with the site stats. Welcome to the club, I am addicted to all kinds of graphs. So I just made myself a little excel spreadsheet with a graph depicting my weight development. I weigh myself every morning. Before getting dressed and having breakfast, of course. Hubby jokes at me, but it works! Slowly but surely. Sure, there are ups in the graph, and I am disappointed everytime that happens, but so far I have always managed to come back down. It was a big ‘I told you I’d make it this time’ to hubby when I finally broke the red 80 kg line three weeks before the end of the year. Now the red line is at 75 kg and I’m on my way.
    Sorry for hogging the comments section here, I am done now 😉 I think you are good as long as you stick to your very sensible rules. Good luck with everything!

    Reply
    • Thanks for this… some great advice here. (I have had good German dark bread before, nothing like it in the world. Wish I could find it here in Cincinnati!)

      Reply
      • Ha, you should have thought that in Cincinnati, of all places, one should be able to get some German bread. I’m pretty sure I saw a German bakery somewhere in Covington, just south of the river, when I was there the last time. Of course, that was in 2001!

  6. KMKH

     /  January 9, 2012

    Hi. Stumbled across your blog through freshly pressed – congratulations! reading this post, i had to reach out and share my (my mum’s actually) story with you. As a kid, my mother was fat. Not pudgy, not chubby but fat. Restrictions being what they were on Indian girls at her time, as a teenager she got fatter (not allowed any outside activity). She got really particular about health and exercise when she was about 35 (i think she decided that enough was enough). And she got incredibly fussy about what my brother and I ate. I remember clearly being told that she “will not have fat children” while she monitored our activity and food intake. While it sounds incredibly cruel and potentially scarring 😀 , it wasn’t. The result is that as adults, my siblings and I are very conscious about what to eat and more importantly when to stop. Of course it doesn’t mean we look like Megan Fox, but we try and eat well 80% of the time, make sure we get physical activity at least twice a week (not gym, but just something outdoors).

    I wanted to share this when i read the bit about how you worry about your reaction if your kids start to pudge. I think you can say anything to them as long as they understand the intent behind it. For starters you can try “I will not have fat kids!” Good luck.

    Reply
  7. Hi Maureen,

    This is a great post and I can imagine how challenging it was for you to write and edit it. I am a health coach, and most of my clients are struggling to lose weight they’ve been carrying for years. One thing they all have in common is a lack of real knowledge about what to do — and it isn’t their fault. It is so hard to find simple, unbiased information about food and nutrition these days. So many mixed messages and marketing ploys, especially when it comes to feeding kids. I hope you have people to support you! You’ve got my support from Asheville, just so you know. Good luck!

    Sam

    Reply
  8. Jessica!

     /  January 10, 2012

    With all the “toddlers in Tiaras” and things around, it’s really refreshing to read about a parent (or parents, really) who try to let their kids be normal, happy kids who can eat candy if they want to but who are encouraged to have fun and try new things.

    My brother, sister and I were always in some sort of sporting activity growing up. My brother ran track, my sister and I played softball and basketball. Both my brother and sister were slender and I was a chubby kid. I’ll never forget, one of the days my mom dropped me off at softball practice and she told me that I needed to work harder than the other girls so I wouldn’t always be fat.

    Being that she was (and still is) a bigger person herself, I know now that she was just projecting her frustrations of how she looked onto me, and didn’t want me to share her fate. She didn’t say these things out of malice. Unfortunately, it has caused me to struggle with my weight now even as an adult, though I’ve been going to the gym steadily and am just trying to be healthy, not skinny! It’s fun when you don’t pressure yourself to be someone else, just the you that’s been in there all along, kicking ass and taking names :).

    All of this to say: I know it’s not up to me to judge your parenting, but I am really happy that you are going about keeping your kids fit in such a way that won’t loom over them negatively for the rest of their lives. When/if I ever have kids, I will remember this post, and not be like my mom. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Excellent post. I completely agree with everything you said. I also plan to use your approach with my kids. My daughter is almost two, and we let her snack all day long. Yes, she sits with us for meals, but if she’s hungry in between and wants some crackers or a piece of cheese, I generally let her have it. She likes candy, and asks for it frequently, but she doesn’t freak out when I tell her “no” (which I usually do if it’s too close to meal-time, or if she’s had too much sugar already). And she’s doing great with her height, weight and activity level.

    Parents are responsible for their kids, but they also need to let their kids make decisions. Naturally, this should be within reason: I provide my daughter with options for meals, or snacks, or playtime, or even when she watches a video. By giving her options, I’m letting her exercise her will, but I’m providing guidelines. Americans often talk about how important our freedoms are, but we rarely recognize that those freedoms come with responsibilities, or that we’re really limited with how we go about exercising our freedoms. We can’t do just whatever we want, unless we’re willing to accept the consequences.

    Anyway, I’m ranting, to be sure, so I’ll wrap up: love this post.

    And I read a book recently (can’t remember the name, nor can I find the darn thing…) about how sugar, fat and salt (in excessive quantities) can re-wire our brains, rather like drugs or addictive behaviors. So there is something behind the cravings we feel. And it’s not always easy to ignore them. I’m not offering it as an excuse, I’m just saying that there is scientific data behind the claim. Now to find that book…

    Reply

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