Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Family Affair

Last year, I was working as the Executive Director of a non-profit trying to raise money for obesity and its resulting diseases, particularly childhood obesity. Plenty of people did not donate because they were sure that if a child was fat, his parents were to blame. And THEY shouldn't have to pay to fix someone else's ignorance or laziness. (These are the same people who think that you can choose to be gay or straight, as if it were a political party you were selecting, or a vacation destination.)

It is very hard to talk to people about obesity. It's a private, personal thing often relegated to the taboo list. Recently, studies showed that people whose friends gained weight were more likely to gain weight themselves. I believe the expression,"socially contagious" was used.

We know that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions. Ironically,we seem to be a nation that is both obese and malnourished. Of course, everyone seems to know a colleague, a neighbor or a cousin whose kid has a weight problem, but try to look the parents of an overweight child in the eye. There is a tremendous amount of guilt, shame and denial out there. Personally, I don't see how it helps. Like the war in Iraq or the health care system in the US, it doesn't really matter how we got here. It doesn't matter whose fault it is. It only matters what we intend to do about it.

There are some worthwhile initiatives to be mentioned. Efforts to raise awareness of healthy eating habits and better food choices are mainstream now. Even the manufacturers of some of the most notoriously bad cereals and snack foods is promising not to market to America's youth anymore. Which is kind of funny if you think about it - it's like cigarette manufacturers subsidizing anti-smoking campaigns. Is it truly an act for the health of our children, or is it just a fancy sugar-coated (pun intended) pr move? I can't imagine in this capitalist land of opportunity, a company foregoing profits for pounds.

Today, I am the director of a wellness center. We have programs that help both individuals and families. I don't know a single person who couldn't benefit from working with a Registered Dietitian. What isn't effective is signing up a child alone in the hopes that an RD can change his or her behaviors. Making an RD the bad guy who tells your child how important vegetables are and the negative effects of too much sugar is a joke and a a waste of money. They're neither hypnotists nor magicians. And isolating a single child from his siblings and parents or putting just that child on a special diet is a surefire way to guarantee failure and create bigger problems. Children do not need diets and they do not need a spotlight shone on their problems. What children need is unconditional love, tremendous support and good role models. Role models are the parents who learn the value of the word NO. Role models are the parents who don't stock the house with temptation and presume that a child will have more will power than the person who couldn't resist buying it. Role models are the parents who value physical activity as much as movie night and who lead the charge, rather than holding the door open. Many of us could use a good overhaul of our lifestyles - both in food and in fun.

Let's face it. As much as my kids rule my house, they are not really in charge. They don't pay the bills, they don't cook the meals and they don't do the shopping. So why is it that they should be stuck solving their own problems with food or obesity? We are family!


Post a Comment

<< Home