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Can’t I Just Let My Kid Be Fat and Happy?

Sep 22, 2011 at 3:21 PM Chime in now



Is it ever just OK to relax and let your kid be a bit plump? What if your kid really *does* hate sports and prefers to stay home and read/play video games? Isn’t it more important that they feel secure, confident, and loved? Do we need to point a finger at their shape and tell them they’re not perfect?

Sometimes this whole fixation on childhood obesity feels a bit like picking on the fat kid. Don’t get me wrong: We absolutely need to pay attention to our kids’ health, to educate and encourage them to make healthy choices. But as a woman who grew up in a diet-obsessed household with a scale in the kitchen, it took me until adulthood to grasp the destructive patterns that can arise from focusing too much on weight.

I spoke with Registered Dietician Abi Brodovitch to get her opinion about the obesity-related frenzy in the media and how it relates to kids. Here is her response:

Yes, I do think the focus on obesity is problematic, and in a big way contributing to the problem. I am sure kids who were teased about their weight or struggled with weight have had a long history of people interfering with the way they are and the way they look and I'm sure that those problems are carried through to adulthood.

That said, I think that many parents are inundated with information about health, and that there is an undercurrent of fear around the possibility of being "unhealthy". Often physical appearance of the child is the only marker a parent has to determine their child's health.

The Ability to Self-Regulate
Parents whose children are really thin or really plump tend to take matters into their own hands and start to interfere with how much the child eats: either the child is strongly encouraged to eat more, OR the child is told to limit their intake, eat less, not have desert. Either way, it disrupts the child's innate ability to self-regulate their appetite and trust their instincts and eat amounts that are appropriate to them. What ends up happening is that they become obsessed with food and overeat for fear of having it taken away, or they resist eating and become picky or distrustful of foods their parents think they really should be eating.

Help Them Make Healthy Choices
[We need to] recognize that kids are bombarded with volumes of crappy, low quality, high calorie food. My feeling is that parents need to take responsibility for offering children a variety of foods both "healthy" and "unhealthy" in reasonable balance (favouring the whole, real foods).
What should be encouraged is one meal being served, with a few options. No short order cooking, no habitual offering bowls of cereal or PB&J for dinner because it's easy and that's what the kid likes and at least it's healthy. So, for example, dinner could be baked chicken, rice, salad, yogurt and bread. Some kids may favour the yogurt and bread. That's ok, those are 2 foods that fall within the realm of "normal" for that family's meal, and they are 'natural' foods from 2 food groups. Or, they may only want the rice and chicken.

By offering a variety of foods in one meal, from the 4 food groups, you can let kids eat the things they want and pretty much as much as they want (that doesn't mean they should only eat dessert for dinner, but by this theory even if they did they would eventually get grossed out and stop, if no one paid them any mind).

Regulate the When and Where
Don't let them eat any old time. Offer meals and snacks at regular times. Sure, eat in front of the TV once in a while, but not regularly. I don't think kids should drink much pop (if any) and I think they should drink limited amounts of juice. And yes, if they are a kid who likes to watch TV or read or spend time inside and they are "a little fat", I think that's fine, it doesn't necessarily mean they are unhealthy - they could be just as healthy as the slim kid beside them. I think kids need to be encouraged to be active in ways that they like, though, and not just be video game obsessed. Parents have the right to set limitations to ensure the child is engaged in other activities that help build their self-esteem, too.

Related Stories:
Should Parents of Severely Obese Kids Have Them Taken Away?
Will Losing Weight Really Make You Happy?
Born To Be Fat: Does Chemical Exposure Explain Childhood Obesity?

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