In the last month, two major media sources (Washington Post and Time magazine) have devoted page upon page to the epidemic of childhood obesity.
Washington Post: Young Lives at Risk: Our Overweight Children
Time: Our Super-Sized Kids
There is no doubt in my mind that there are, indeed, more children who are much heavier today than there were when I was growing up, and that parents of obese children should have access to resources to help them help their child.
What I find disturbing is that the current level of alarm, hysteria and obsession with children's growing waistlines hasn't caused any to pause, step back, and examine the facts. Instead, it seems, the drum beats on to reduce calories, reduce fat, add mroe fruits and vegetables, lots of whole grains and increase activity.
The message is part of a perpetual campaign to convince our population that we must do it "for the children," with an indictment against parents who are said to not see nor do anything about their fat children; that the community, doctors, schools, health organizations, the food industry and the government must lead these wayward parents to understand how to improve both diet and activity levels for their children.
We see and read about extreme cases of childhood obesity, extreme examples of poor eating habits, and extreme lifestyle habits; we're reminded that is how it happens - too much food and not enough activity, the recipe for growing fat children in America today.
But excess accumulation of fat isn't the only problem - we're also hit with the sobering reality that, in addition to heavier children, our children are also growing sick sooner; we're told of children with type II diabetes (once called "adult onset" diabetes since it was virtually unheard of in children or teens), dyslipidemia, PCOS, metabolic syndrome, precocious puberty, high blood pressure, heart disease and more. The statistics are frightening and we're constantly reminded that today's children will likely die earlier than their parents if we don't do something!
The mind-numbing statistics, experts expressing grave concerns, fine examples of poor eating habits, and images of the most extreme cases of obesity in children all work to create a strong sense that we all must do something, that all of our children are at risk, that the future is at stake if we don't do the right thing and do it now!
Is the hype really helping?
Are the solutions on the table going to work not only to prevent childhood obesity, but reverse it in those children whom are already obese?
Considering the solutions presented today is identical to the solutions offered throughout the past three decades, I can only conclude things will get worse not better; the longer it goes on, the stronger the pressure on parents will grow to 'get with the program' and follow the direction of the expert recommendations.
As parents, we have an obligation to protect our children, keep them safe, nurture them and do the best we can as we raise them.
My previous post provided an example of how the current guidelines to use BMI as the gold standard measure of overweight and obesity in children is problematic. The fact that a child can be a normal healthy weight in one month and then overweight or obese in another without any change in weight or height tells us the charts are inaccurate. The fact that the hypothetical child would have dropped from 59th to 52nd percentile for weight on the traditional chart, but went from normal to overweight on the BMI chart, speaks volumes about its deep flaws.
What's telling is that almost all the comments left in the hypothetical 'set-up' of the situation post were the belief the child gained weight. That is understandable, given the repeated message we all hear that overeating and inactivity make you gain weight. If the child now had a BMI indicating she was overweight, she must have gained weight if her BMI just two months ago said she was normal-healthy weight. Too bad it wasn't true.
If we, as parents and a nation, truly wish to resolve the issue of childhood obesity, we must begin to re-examine our assumptions and how we've arrived where we are today. Our children are not only growing fatter, they're growing sicker, and doing the same thing with only the volume turned up on the message isn't going to change this. Throwing medication at the problem isn't going to make it go away. Surgical intervention isn't going to reverse it, and certainly can't prevent it before the fact.
We have the answer, yet we ignore it.
We'll explore that in another post coming soon!
In the meantime, feel free to leave your comments about the issue of childhood obesity, its causes and its solution.