Broaching the Childhood Obesity Topic

Highschool Art Class

There are several different ways to compile and compare obesity statistics, and even different ways to measure obesity. Often a researcher will zero in on a particular group. In general, something like 16% of 2-19 year-olds are in serious need of different habits and less body mass. For the Herald-Tribune, Barbara Peters Smith interviewed dietician Kim Gorman from the Colorado Center for Health and Wellness. Gorman says that, back in the 70s, that 16% number was more like 5%.

But then all hell broke loose. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) phrases it like this:

Public health experts spotted the first signs of trouble in the 1980s. After hovering in the single digits for more than a generation, childhood obesity rates suddenly spiked — first doubling, then tripling, then even quadrupling among some age groups. By 2000, nearly one-third of children in the United States were obese or overweight. An epidemic had spiraled out of control.

The chief reasons identified by the RWJF so far are the increasing availability and affordability of unhealthy foods, the tendency to serve larger portions, the decrease or elimination of physical education in schools, and the ascendancy of cars over feet or bicycles for everyday travel.

And all it took was the seemingly small surplus of 110-165 calories per child per day, piling up relentlessly over the years. That gap between energy intake and energy expenditure behaves somewhat like compound interest, creating one of the vicious circles or cycles that the obesity’s “big picture” spawns so many of. Once a child starts carrying around a few extra pounds, the tendency to exercise is less, and then the weight increases, and the idea of running around and getting sweaty is even less attractive… and so on.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has put $500 million on the line, vowing to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015, a year that is not very distant.

But getting back to Kim Gorman, the dietician told Smith that we have lost the concept of how normal is supposed to look. (Childhood Obesity News recently quoted Dr. Joanna Dolgoff saying the same thing: “We don’t understand what a normal child looks like any more.”)

Several studies have shown that parents are often unable to realize that their kids are overweight — they literally can’t see it — and the selective blindness has become so prevalent that people have even lost the ability to see it when their pets are overweight.

Somebody has to be the one to point out the unhappy fact of an overweight child, and Gorman suggests starting with a very basic conversational ploy. When a doctor or other professional talks with parents, the first step is to simply ask permission to discuss the child’s weight. This puts the subject on the table without actually saying anything, and a parent’s reaction to this first question might provide a clue as to how to proceed. And as the conversation goes on, Gorman says, she speaks in terms of overall health and performance rather than concentrating on the “overweight” angle.

If it’s hard for a professional to tell parents that their children are overweight or obese, guess how much more difficult it is to get the idea across that addiction is involved? Which is, of course, Dr. Pretlow’s central theme. In Overweight: What Kids Say, we find this passage:

Comfort eating and the notion that overweight kids may be addicted to the pleasure of food is an unpopular paradigm. Many healthcare professionals and parents are offended by the mere suggestion of this. Healthcare professionals have walked away from me in midsentence when I attempted to discuss this with them. Friends have become upset when I explained the notion to them. No one wants to hear the message.

In fact, on one memorable occasion, a woman listener immediately grabbed a cookie and ate it “at” Dr. Pretlow in a mocking, defiant way. Now, there’s a conversation stopper!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How do you talk about a child who’s too fat?,” Herald-Tribune, 03/27/12
Source: “Childhood Obesity: Reversing an Epidemic,”, 04/14/12
Image by MirianaL, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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