Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News contemplated some of the various discomforts and humiliations of being an obese child or teenager. It seemed like there were a lot — but that wasn’t the end. No, Chapter 3 of Dr. Pretlow’s book Overweight: What Kids Say contains even more examples of potential unhappiness gleaned from the electronic submissions to Weigh2Rock, the website for kids where so many revelations are shared. That last post said a lot about girls, but boys also write in to share their stories, like the 15-year-old who could barely squeeze into his school desk and always felt like people were looking at him.
There was the 16-year-old well on his way to hitting the 400-pound mark, far too heavy even though he was 6’2”. His doctor said his blood pressure had risen to the danger zone, but the worst part was that his coach wouldn’t clear him for the track team. “Track is my way of being with every one,” he lamented. A 15-year-old named Justin had enough of being poked in the belly and of being teased because his weight gave him anatomical features — usually found on females — that jiggled when he walked.
Cherchez la femme
“Cherchez la femme” is a French saying that means if you want to discern the motivation behind something a man does, “look for the woman.” If you want the reason why many young fellows make the decision to reduce their weight, typically it’s to attract girls, and vice versa. Young women, quite naturally, also want to attract young men.
A 12-year-old Weigh2Rock girl mentioned a boy who “likes me a little, and I think if I lost some weight, he would like me even more.” A 14-year-old girl wanted to lose weight so her ex-boyfriend, when the new school year started, would notice how awesome she looked. A slightly older girl wanted to be the kind of girlfriend who would make a guy’s friends jealous. And incidentally, she hoped to become thin enough to sit on a boy’s lap without embarrassment.
Even more ambitiously, a 19-year-old wanted a guy to be able to sweep her off her feet. Generally, a girl or woman is uncomfortable about being heavier than a male companion. According to a Weigh2Rock poll, attracting the opposite sex is what mainly motivates kids to lose weight, and as Dr. Pretlow suggests, “we should keep this in mind in designing weight loss and prevention programs for kids.”
The fly in the ointment
But from the parents’ perspective, this might not be the most enticing marketing ploy. Often, parents don’t particularly want their kids to have sweethearts — not yet anyway, and “yet” can stretch pretty far into the future. Parents are much more concerned about whether a teenager is studying enough, playing sports, practicing team cheers and staying out of car wrecks. Motivation-wise, the promise of increased attention from the opposite sex is fine for adults and for older kids who have discretionary income. But it wouldn’t necessarily be a big selling point for a residential facility where younger kids go to lose weight — especially if there is already plenty of concern about children being away from home.
Dr. Pretlow, discussing unhealthful and addictive foods, writes: “These substances perform as an anesthetic, a painkiller, to soothe feelings of stress, depression, and boredom. Eating comforts the wounded spirit with the worst kind of false comfort, the kind that does more harm.”
Unfortunately, some misguided parents covertly or openly enable their children’s obesity, in the belief that their unattractive girth will prevent trouble in at least one area of life. This sabotage may be unconscious on the parents’ part, but it exists. And whether it is unconscious or deliberate, it can backfire spectacularly. First, it can bring on the very behavior it’s supposed to prevent. Or it might just lead to additional weight gain, as more and more damaging food is consumed in an attempt to compensate for loneliness.
Without going any deeper into these dark waters, one question — has anyone ever considered how much childhood obesity might have been prevented by listening to, instead of firing, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the former surgeon general?
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,” Amazon.com
Image by Kevin Dooley