Are you a parent in denial or oblivious to the fact that your child is gaining weight too quickly? Are you ignoring the fact that your child’s pant size or dress size is way too large for their height or age? For some time now, I have grappled with parents who refuse to recognize the dire number on the scale when their child is weighed. Dr. David Katz of Yale University, a noted authority on childhood and adult obesity, has coined the term obliviobesity, to clearly identify a problem that is undermining efforts to intercept the burgeoning tide of childhood obesity. The problem it seems is the parents.
I’ve sensed that society as a whole and health professionals in particular, struggle to directly address the significant role that parents have played in escalating rates of obesity. Experts have called it the ‘Goldilocks Syndrome,’ – parents blind to weight problems, clinicians allowing them to persist and as time passes, become less and less sensitive in this case, to the chronic and dangerous health issue.
Sure there is less physical education at school, and television and video gaming and computers have made kids more sedentary, but a number of studies points to the reality that our weight is 80 percent determined by diet and 20 percent determined by exercise, if we leave out other contributing factors. But a child only discovers sweet soda when a parent decides to give it to him. If that happens at age 2, or if parents endlessly fill a baby’s bottle with juice, it’s likely that at some point that baby may begin to develop food and beverage preferences. If chips and candy and processed cereals and baked goods are given to a child on a regular basis by parents, then it’s likely that child will gain too much weight and also use those foods as their food preference. All across America parents are helping to establish these food habits.
Parents are also modeling certain lifestyle behaviors to kids, and it is important to keep this in mind when disregarding the importance of physical activity, eating simple foods, eating mostly for hunger in appropriate portion sizes, and not using food as a reward or emotional coping tool. Even parents of athletes will show up to training sessions and sports events with the worst possible choices of food. If your kid is willingly participating in exercise, why would you corrupt the experience with post workout choices like pizza, sugary drinks, ice cream and other treats? Alternatively, if your kids are generally sedentary, why would you fill your fridge and pantry with massive amounts of cheap, processed foods? That same oblivious and in denial perspective is nudging your kids to obesity.
If your kids and teens don’t themselves recognize that their weight is a health concern, they will be much less likely to be motivated to change their unhealthy habits, says Dr. Katz. A study published in the British Journal of General Practice found that one in three parents underestimated the weight of their kids. Part of the denial may stem from what is the “new norm” in kid sizing. Since more and more kids are overweight, parents may be comparing their kids to other overweight kids. Maybe it’s also wishful thinking or a coping mechanism. It’s also being oblivious.
Parents have balked at school lunch changes that offer kids healthier foods, for fear their child won’t eat. Prents don’t want to be told to stop bringing birthday cakes to school. Parents have pushed back at school BMI reports and recommendations. Heck, the deep fryer has just been reintroduced to Texas schools because the new state agriculture commissioner says that government mandates have failed to make kids healthier. He wants to give schools back “the options.” Here’s a news bulletin – two-thirds of Texans are overweight or obese, and obesity kills. Regularly frying foods is not on the health prescription.
The challenge is to face reality and to have a team of experts – your pediatrician, nutritionist, teachers, friends and family, support you with compassion.** Obesity is a disease and should be handled like a disease. The focus should be health.** Re-training how and what your child (and the family) eats, getting more movement into daily life, emphasizing good sleep habits can help to fix the problem without fixating on it, as Katz would say. Remembering that weight is a vital sign just like pulse rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure can help to alleviate the anxiety associated with this particular measurement. Use these pieces of information to inspire corrective action and not as a measurement of failure or poor parenting. Let’s drop the denial and adopt a positive “I can fix this” attitude. Your child’s life depends on it.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”