As a physician caring for children in a pediatric obesity clinic, I spend a large amount of time listening to parents explain why their children are not eating healthy foods or exercising enough. One theme that emerges across all cultures and socioeconomic classes is that food is an expression of love. A grandfather may indulge his grandson in a daily ice cream from the neighborhood ice cream truck. A mother bakes or buys cookies as an afterschool snack. Families and friends get together and celebrate with platters of goodies and plenty to drink.
Food is a primal need and has not always been easy to obtain. Civilizations have usually thrived and advanced most in areas and times of abundant food stores. While there are parts of the world where famine is still a problem, we are now at a time when the problem of obesity affects more people worldwide than starvation. According to the World Health Organization, one billion people are overweight while 800 million people are underweight. Even with the recent rise in food prices, food has never been more abundant or accessible than it is today.
Families that have grown up with food insecurity usually for financial reasons are particularly vulnerable to food abundance. Many parents report that they feel they were deprived as children and want to ensure that their children have whatever they want to eat. Studies show that such families actually often have fully stocked kitchens, but the nutrition content of these foods may be poor, which is most likely related to the fact that nutritious foods are often more expensive or difficult to find in the families' neighborhood.
Many people also consider food an affordable luxury. Fancy lattes are available in many neighborhoods. French fries and milkshakes are the pediatric equivalent. Extra cheese on a burger or pizza is cheap and more appetizing. However, these extra calories add up to pounds of excess weight that come with severe consequences. In fact, one in three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese which increases the risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Loving our children often means making decisions that we know are best for them even if those decisions are not popular with them. We make our children go to school and do homework so that they will become productive adults. We do not let them drink or smoke until they are adults because of the associated dangers. The same should be true of what we feed our children.
I have yet to meet any parent who wants his child to be overweight, have diabetes or heart disease, or even worse, to die before the parent. We all want our children to grow up to be happy and healthy adults. We can show our children that we love them by teaching them to make healthy dietary choices and to save that piece of candy or ice cream as a treat for a special occasion.
Published On: October 01, 2008