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To combat obesity, start with the moms

If we're really serious about tackling obesity, it's high time we focused on helping women -- particularly mothers -- manage their weight.

That's the message from the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, one of 20 groups getting together in D.C. tomorrow under the aegis of STOP's Task Force on Women to discuss ways to remove the barriers that make maintaining a healthful weight so challenging for so many American women.

According to STOP (which operates out of George Washington University), more than 65 million American women are obese or overweight. Teaching them to overcome obstacles that complicate their weight management should have a trickle-down effect on their children, the group says. Moreover, campaigns such as Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative depend in large part on mothers' steering their children toward better eating and exercise habits. If the mothers don't have a good grasp on those habits themselves, STOP argues, how can they teach them to their kids?

Here's the group's official statement:

There is an information gap and a general lack of understanding of obesity's unique and disproportionate impact on women in the United States. Obesity in women must be addressed at the federal, state, community and individual levels to help them overcome weight and chronic disease issues and improve their overall health. Because women play such an influential role in American families, addressing this issue now may reap significant and immediate benefits in reducing the risks and consequences of obesity for the health and well being of women and their families
.

(As I blogged yesterday, parental involvement in kids' obesity and their efforts -- or lack thereof -- to help their children maintain a healthful weight has become a controversial issue.)

STOP and the its task force cite four kinds of barriers that get in women's way:

  • Biological, cultural, socioeconomic and psychological factors affecting women at various points in their lives
  • Pervasive racial and ethnic disparities
  • Systemic and gender biases women encounter in various settings
  • Confusion over what defines successful weight loss

Like many others paying attention to obesity issues -- and particularly to the links between excess weight and such chronic conditions as heart disease and diabetes -- I believe it's going to take a major, groundswell movement to turn the tide on obesity in this country. I happen to prefer approaches that emphasize personal behaviors and decision-making processes over broad governmental actions, so I'll be curious to see what kinds of solutions this task force offers up. I'll post again after they meet and let you know.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 20, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Childhood obesity , Family Health , General Health , Health Policy , Nutrition and Fitness , Obesity , Women's Health  
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Comments

Instead of counting calories, Michelle O. should start speaking about changing food quality standards. ALL food in America is genetically modified: meats, farm fish, fruits, veggies. In Europe ALL food is organic. They do not dare violate national health standards. Nobody here speaks about the danger. Afraid? Maybe obesity is the beginning of human genetic mutation. Michelle, with all your dietitians and expert cooks you do not look slim to me either. Do something worthy for us all. Thank you.

Posted by: tsarinalla | July 20, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

tsarinalla, you had me until you started insulting the first lady's physique. She is not overweight, and has great muscle tone. While I get bummed out that rather than take personal responsibility, overweight and obese folks would rather have me "accept," we as a society need to understand that healthy comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Posted by: MzFitz | July 20, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Yes, teaching parents how to feed their children would be helpful. Parents need to learn that they can say what, where and when to eat, but children get to say how much and whether to eat. No one should force feed a child or get children to deny their natural hunger cues by asking them to clean their plates. Children should be given small portions as then given seconds as desired. Treats should be treats, not an every day thing and that includes soda. Children also need to be outside and active with safe places to play. We as a society should demand playgrounds and parks to be interesting. No dumbing down of playground equipment, but stuff that older active children want to do as not every child wants to be on a sports team. It goes hand-in-hand.

Posted by: queen522 | July 20, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I find this whole thing very chilling ... "we should DEMAND that parks be interesting", "they do not DARE violate national food standards...". We have enough rules telling us what and how to do things(and now telling how we should order our health insurance needs)are we going to have checkout police making us put the cookies back?

Sorry folks, but this is truly about PESONAL responsibility. Society as a whole woefully underestimates our excersize and calorie needs at every economic level (you should have seen how many overweight PARENTS were at my son's college orientation). If you're going to be fat, be fat, but be fully aware of what you've done to yourself. And yes, MO is very hippy, she just has designer clothes to camouflage it.

Posted by: gwynny | July 20, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't disagree with the focus on supporting mothers in the hope of empowering them to help their children to maintain a healthy weight.

However, as Jennifer La Huget's article today on eating in Italy makes clear ("Italians have a healthier attitude about food than Americans do"), a healthy weight is the outcome of a healthy lifestyle which is the result of a culture of integrated values.

Here in America our culture, although it has many positive elements, is not balanced nor is it humane. Rather, it is saturated in competitiveness. We have an underlying belief that rewards--in this case, social approval and an actuary's version of the good life--are sufficient for people to do what is best (for themselves, for society, for their children). This is a skewed, limited view of what human beings need.

Weight, as snarky comments here and elsewhere indicate, is becoming just one more tool for judging and rejecting people, as if true Healthiness could be measured by the amount and distribution of fat on a person's body at any moment in their life span. How ridiculous!

Better for Jen, Rob, STOP, and other commentators to think about a mother's life holistically. It would be much easier to "manage" one's weight if a mother could live a reasonable lifestyle in a society that valued and supported her and her children. Learning and making changes requires time, rest/sleep, a little extra money and leisure, and esp. positive social relationships marked by tolerance and acceptance of imperfection.

This article acknowledges none of the stresses inherent in pregnancy, nursing, and child care, let alone trying to juggle other children, their schooling/daycare, a job, a marriage [if she has one], and the demands and expectations of a culture that gives nothing back except punishment for the competitive failure of B-listers.

Instead it adopts the tone of right-wrong, we-can-measure-it-so-you'd-better-watch-out TRUTH. Obesity is BAD so obese people are BAD and we must fix them. How arrogant!

In the first place, Obesity = BAD is not a great truth. Perhaps it is the lesser of two evils in that person's life-how would an observer like an insurance company or nasty bystander know?

In the second place, hyper-focusing on and nattering endlessly about fat people is no solution since fatness is an outcome, not a chosen goal in nearly all cases. As with a stutter or recalling a memory on demand, increased pressure has the opposite effect.

It would be better if all these weight-obsessed people apply their energy and earnest good intentions instead to working on the more difficult task of creating a culture whose values support the health of human beings and let the outcome of weight follow suit.

Posted by: LearningSpecialist | July 20, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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