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Parents and their overweight children

Here's a really insightful piece from a former chubby child who grew up to be a psychologist with expertise in eating disorders. Jane Shure of Philadelphia says she believes she was spared developing an eating disorder largely because her mother kept quiet about her daughter's weight, never criticizing or nagging.

Shure grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, before obesity became one of America's greatest public health concerns. A recent estimate by an international group of economics-watchers projects that fully three-quarters of Americans will be obese in 2020. And obesity's not just a physical problem: A study released last week tallied the lifetime monetary costs of being an obese person, and they were substantial. Because the obesity crisis looms so large, all kinds of initiatives are underway to help combat it.


Parents of overweight and obese children must help children navigate a world where thin is in but food tempts from every corner. (Carol Guzy-The Washington Post)

It remains to be seen whether those big efforts pay off. Meanwhile, parents of overweight and obese children are left with the day-to-day task of figuring out how best to help their children navigate through life in a world where thin is in but food tempts from every corner.

As we enter the final week of national Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, I'd like to ask parents to share, in the Comments section, their suggestions for supporting and guiding an overweight child. I'd also like to hear from overweight kids, or adults who were overweight as children, about what your parents said and did about your weight -- and how it affected you.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | September 27, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Childhood obesity, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity, Parenting, Teens  
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Next: Aack! Has comic-strip 'Cathy' shaped your body image?

Comments

Children hear so many words, but it seems the most effective way to teach them is through action. When parents are careful with what they eat and exercise regularly, children learn this and are armed with the example and tools to do the same. I believe the key to the childhood obesity challenge is to take care of the adult obesity challenge!! I have lost 25+ pounds and am sure my son is watching. I work with other men at www.BigDaddyClub.com, a team men's weight loss site every week. We are Dads (and Granddads!) who have admitted that we have a weight problem and have done the hard work to change their weight, their lives and hopefully the lives of their children!

You want to help the kids? Get the Dads on board!! What Dad doesn't want to be in the proper shape to run and play with their children and grandchildren?

Posted by: taylosco | September 27, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

I think you should note that 75% of Americans will be overweight OR obese, not obese. Although the article you linked to has an incorrect headline, if you read the text of it, it states overweight or obese.

Posted by: neer32 | September 27, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for sharing that piece. I'm a 30 year old female who is obsessed with my weight and I have a horrible body image. I've struggled with my weight my entire life. My mother constantly talked about how she wanted to lose 10-20lbs and I took that to mean that I should want the same. Although my parents were never aggressively critical of my weight, things my mother weighed heavily on me. She was able to drop the baby weight from my older sister with ease, with me, she gained 50lbs and she never got rid of it. To this day, I still feel guilty and responsible for the weight she gained. I know it's not logical but children do not have the mental capacity to distinguish between fact/truth and rueful self-deprication. It doesn't matter how much I know that it's not my fault or that I should accept myself as is, I'll always think I need to shed 15-20lbs.

Posted by: misc1997 | September 27, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

What a child puts into his/her mouth is his/her own business. What foods are brought into the home is the parents' business. Don't allow any carbonated drinks, candy, chips, cookies, or junk food. Do have plenty of the kinds of foods you want them to be eating easily available. When the kids say "I'm hungary," the parents say "There's the kitchen, knock yourself out." That way the kids can eat whatever they want whenever they want and the parents do have to nag them about eating better. For those parents that say their kids only eat mac and cheese, when they get hungry enough, they will find something they like.

Posted by: orange97531 | September 27, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

What a child puts into his/her mouth is his/her own business. What foods are brought into the home is the parents' business. Don't allow any carbonated drinks, candy, chips, cookies, or junk food. Do have plenty of the kinds of foods you want them to be eating easily available. When the kids say "I'm hungary," the parents say "There's the kitchen, knock yourself out." That way the kids can eat whatever they want whenever they want and the parents do have to nag them about eating better. For those parents that say their kids only eat mac and cheese, when they get hungry enough, they will find something they like.

Posted by: orange97531 | September 27, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article, and I appreciated the reference to Jane Shure's column. Shaming fat children doesn't help them lose weight; in fact, the effect is more likely the opposite. And the current focus on kids' having the "right" BMI is drawing attention away from what's really important: Teaching them good eating and exercise habits that will last a lifetime.

I was declared "fat" at age 12, and spent the next 25 years dieting, with mixed results. Finally I ran across a photo of myself at age 12. I wasn't fat, but I'd passed puberty and developed more curves than my doctor and my mother thought were appropriate for a 12-year-old, so they thought they could make me diet away my body type.

I'm still struggling with my weight nearly 30 years later, and I've come to the following conclusions:

(1) Diets make you fat -- your body gets used to subsisting on fewer calories, so you don't keep the weight off, and you regain it more easily than if you'd never dieted.

(2) All fat people are not lazy overeaters. Many of them struggle constantly to keep their weight under control (see 1). Also, some medications cause rapid, irreversible weight gain, e.g., antidepressants and asthma drugs. You think it's helpful to tell a person who put on 50 lbs after starting on antidepressants that they're "lazy" and "undisciplined"?

(3) An "overweight" person who exercises and eats sensibly is usually healthier than a thin person who doesn't exercise and eats all the wrong foods. So it's important to inculcate these habits in ALL children -- not just the natural athletes or, conversely, the chubby ones.

(4) You can't fight your genes. Some women will have ample curves no matter how much they starve themselves. Some men will always be large. Focus on the person's overall health rather than on the BMI tables.

(5) One of the comments on Jane Shure's column was that often we interpret overweight as a *moral* failing. I couldn't agree more -- just post a fat-positive item on most newspaper websites and watch the trolls come out of their lairs. Again, as with "shaming," this doesn't help fat people get thinner; it just makes them unhappy, self-critical, and sometimes depressed fat people.

Posted by: PLozar | September 28, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

Feed your children real food, cook together and shop wisely (take them to a farmer's market). When kids are exposed to delicious, healthy foods at a young age, they will grow up eating those foods. Sure, they may also love French fries and potato chips but they can understand that junk food is occasional food, not the daily fare. Offer dessert but make it a real dessert, not something that Keebler made in a factory 3 months ago. Keep introducing new foods and focus on eating well for energy, to feel good, etc, not on weight. Also, don't obssess over your own weight. Your kids are paying attention.

Posted by: kennapj | September 28, 2010 6:23 AM | Report abuse

So much to say! After having my daughter I lost 90 lbs (I had gained only a few being pregnant). I had been obese my whole life and suffered the vast emotional toll that comes along with it; tried lots of diets and non consistent exercise. Every lb I lost I gained back- every time.

I had the best mother in the whole world with only one "flaw." She didn't love herself. She didn't love herself enough to show the example of taking care of herself and she was always trying to lose weight. I grew up eating "diet" foods -- because that is what my mother ate, and I dropped out of ballet at 4 because I thought my thighs were too fat.

This time I was more determined as my goal was to give my daughter a shot at a healthy self esteem. Understanding the messages she would inevitably receive from the world about her body and worth, I knew the only way I could combat this was from being a positive role model. I started eating healthy (real, whole foods -- "clean eating"), exercising and am now a personal trainer.

My daughter, now 2, goes to the gym with me everyday. Her favorite foods are sweet potatoes and salmon. She also likes ice cream and cookies.

In my home we don't focus on "good and bad" when it comes to food/weight/size etc. We focus on feeling healthy and strong.

Will my daughter one day obsess over the shape of her thighs? Probably. Unfortunately as a culture we over-emphasize the importance of appearance and specifically being thin. She will probably not escape having some ill feelings toward her body. But when that day comes we will both be armed with her entire lifetime of healthy habits being observed and formed. She'll have healthy coping skills in exercise. She will have years of her family telling her how beautiful, strong, fast, capable she is. It's the very best we can do.

I'm really happy to see this post... and the subsequent comments. Being a positive example is what it's ALL about!

If interested I do "fit with mama" programs as well as distance training. I only work with people who are motivated by health and self love (or aspirations of it). fitmamatraining.com

Posted by: erinbreeden | September 28, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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