Childhood Obesity and Parental Responsibility: Not as Easy as Some Would Have It

Huffington Post has a piece up on whether parents of obese children are in denial. Of course, the comments are typical for Huff; there are the usual close-minded asses who assume that all obesity is a result of fat parents "sharing the misery" (as one commentator wrote).

Like most things in life, childhood obesity exists for multiple reasons, and judging these parents to be unloving or abusive misses the complex factors that combine to create obesity in individuals.

I'm the first person to admit I'm obese. I'm not thrilled with that, but I'm absolutely not in denial about it. Unlike some people who judge overweight people to be people with poor self-control and lazy, I know that obesity has nothing to do with a person's value. I don't feel sorry for the person because if he or she just tried harder, the weight would disappear. There's no pity; there's no shame. I'm not going to feel embarrassed about my weight or that I should have to apologize for it. People can deal with it or not; it's not my problem how others feel about the fact that I carry more weight than is healthy.

But what about my responsibility as a parent to my children? Bobby's struggled with his weight since he was nine and placed on risperadol for six months. He went from fifty pounds to over one hundred pounds in that time, and it took us years to get that extra weight off of him. When he reached adulthood and had more control over what he ate and when, it no longer became something I could control--he's gained weight, but he seesaws back and forth within a fifteen pound range. I'm not about to make him feel guilty. We work to have healthy food in the house without depriving ourselves of treats.

I'm trying to teach my children that moderation and movement are key while also promoting the belief that a person's value lies not with his or her looks or weight but instead with who a person is, the character of the person and how he or she treats others.

It would be nice to reduce the obesity problem in children down to parental abuse, but that is not the case. Obesity arises from complex factors, and just because parents are obese doesn't mean they are lazy. Poverty and the reality that the cheapest foods are often the least healthy foods play a role in obesity. The convenience and relative cheapness of fast food also plays a role. Snack foods, candy bars, sodas: the availability of calorie-laden foods is a problem, as is our fast-paced society which places no value on recess or PE for kids in school, that enforces a couch-potato mentality after school, and that makes it difficult for disadvantaged children to partake in private sports teams.

The next time you see an overweight child, rather than be disgusted with the parent, consider the complex factors that may be at play. Don't pity them, don't feel sorry for them, don't judge them. Instead, consider that you might not have all the facts, don't know their situation, and move on, realizing that our society has created this problem and it won't be fixed with dirty looks, nasty comments and removing children from their parents' care.


Cozy in Texas said...

Good post. This is something we need to remember whenever we judge someone. We don't know the whole story.

farmwifetwo said...

Parents send x amount of food to school... school's have "healthy" snacks (since when is pudding, pickles and crackers healthy) and your child eats more than planned.

Children are not allowed to run on school playgrounds. School's ban balls so they don't get hurt. Even playing badminton in gym requires them to wear goggles.

Playsets have no equipment to twirl, run or swing on... children might get hurt.

Children cannot go outside without parental supervision until they are in highschool. Then they are yelled at for being outside.

Parents are shunned for being SAHM/F... only the "state" can raise your child. Cutting back on time to spend with children, making meals etc.

My children too have done the risperdal weight gain. The youngest luckily is losing his through growth... the eldest is smaller than his 2yrs younger bro... it's hard to lose weight or move it around if you aren't growing.

The list goes on and on and on... Society is IMO the biggest problem... not the parent. Yet, society refuses to take responsibility for the "bubble wrap". http://www.macleans.ca/homepage/magazine/article.jsp?content=20070226_102271_102271

kathleen said...

It is a good post. The way that our food is processed has changed things as well. Just because a child is slender-or of average weight doesn't mean that they are healthy either..we put so much stock in appearance here..sigh..I have to say that I have always been lucky as my kids have P.E. twice a week and recess twice a day-where they are encouraged to run..and there is always a big game of kick ball going on.