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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Childhood Obesity--Mysterious Health Crisis or Parenting Failure?

Just say no.
So I was watching Our America with Lisa Ling--this is the sort of program that purports to tackle the hard-hitting issues but often throws in some sensationalist garbage for shock value. For instance, one show featured couples who broadcast their own internet porn from the comfort of their homes to make ends meet (sensationalist garbage). But often there really ARE important topics and the one that made me stop and listen was a feature on the childhood obesity epidemic.

I'm not going to go into all the details, you can watch it yourself. But the child that stood out was a four-year-old who weighed in at 100 lbs. Are there disorders that make children gain enormous amounts of weight? Yes. Are they common? No. This child had ONE problem, and that is his mother.

If your four-year-old weighs one hundred pounds (almost as much as I weigh, at 36 years old and 5'1"), look in the mirror and take responsibility. This mother was visiting a children's hospital to see an entire team of doctors, psychologists, nurses, nutritionists, and therapists, on YOUR dime, taxpayer. And in the end, the root of the problem was not a mysterious disease, it was a mom who couldn't say no.

I'm no doctor, but I can offer this child a prescription.

No, you may not have another cookie.
No, you may not have a snack, we just ate breakfast.
No, you may not have a snack, it's almost dinner time.
No, you may not sit in front of the TV all day.
No, you may not have Coke, you may have water or milk.
No, you may not have two hamburgers; you are only four--one is more than enough.
No, you may not have an entire candy bar; that's too much for a four-year-old.
No, you may not play video games; go outside and run.
No, you may not have 5 cookies; you are only four--have 2 cookies, IF you eat all your dinner.
No, you may not eat more.

I'm convinced that most instances of childhood obesity aren't a result of poverty or genetics or ignorance or depression. It's poor parenting, plain and simple. If you go to the zoo and your child repeatedly asks to be thrown over the wall to go pet the lions in their habitat, wouldn't you say no, again and again? If your child repeatedly asks for more cookies, more cookies, more cookies, you MUST say no, again and again, because it is YOUR JOB to keep him safe and healthy and well.

When I worked the office at the gym, I was privy to the eating habits of many families. There was the mother that rolled in with Happy Meals, three days a week, for her kids' after school snacks. There was the parent who routinely gave his one-year-old a full size candy bar at dinner time. I have no doubt that these parents love their kids. I know that parenting is not always easy or convenient. But that's lazy parenting. Feeding your child junk is so effortless that it's an easy routine to fall into. If your kid starts to dart toward a busy street, wouldn't you jump to your feet? Part of parenting is taking action and making an effort and teaching your kid NOT to always take the easy way out.

But sure, everyone is guilty of at least a few lapses in parental judgment. Case in point: the traveling toddler snack. When Kid A and Kid B were toddlers, I quickly discovered that the best way to ensure that I could pleasantly meander through the grocery store (or the mall or Target) was to keep plenty of Cheerios (or Goldfish or Gerber puffs) on my person at all times. And you can't have a snack without a sippy cup to go with it.

Kid C comes along, and bless his little heart, his developmental delays mean that he is completely unable to chew or hold a cup. Long story short, you CAN make it through Target without leaving a trail of cereal for the employees to clean up. You CAN leave the house without the threat of apple juice pouring out into your new birthday Coach bag. Kid C and I were in the audience of a school program, sitting next to a lady with very sweet, smart, and well-behaved three-year-old twin girls. So why did she feel the need to haul in a large bag and, without provocation, start handing out enormous sippy cups of chocolate milk and bags of crackers? Food is not entertainment, and food is not discipline, and food is not necessary to shut a child up.

So ditch the traveling snacks. Leave the sippy cup at home. Use common sense. Don't feed a small child the same portion size as an adult. Cut down on fast food. Teach your child that YOU are in charge. Don't tolerate a demanding child. Don't give seconds on dessert. And even if they beg, SAY NO.

Augustus Gloop never heard "NO."