Monday, May 9, 2011

The Childhood Obesity `Epidemic`

I am going to start this post (a rather ranty post, so I apologize in advance) by getting something off my chest.

Hearing people talk about the so-called "obesity epidemic" (teh fatz it iz contagious!1!) makes me want to stab myself in the ear.

But I am going to talk about it for the next few hundred words or so, and while I am not going to be happy about it, I think there are some rather important things that need to be said on the subject.

All the fear and anxiety surrounding child obesity rates in North America may not be unfounded, or even exaggerated. According to this article I read a few years back, one in four Canadian children are overweight or obese. Even when we keep in mind that the relationship between weight and health varies greatly from person to person, these numbers look pretty scary. This fear puts a lot of pressure on parents to do all sorts of things, and sends them reeling through endless amounts of often conflicting information.

  • Let them snack/don't let them snack. 
  • Put them in sports/encourage more free play. 
  • Feed on demand/feed on a schedule. 
  • Make them eat what is on their plates/don't force the issue. 
  • Don't ever turn on a TV or video game/encourage limited screen time to teach moderation. 
  • Don't let them eat foods x,y,z/make sure they get lots of foods x,y,z!

No one wants their children to be unhealthy, and no one wants to deal with, or have their children deal with, the stigma that comes from being over weight in a society which views fat as a disease, an 'epidemic'.

I don't blame people for being afraid. Making decisions that could effect your children's future health should not be taken lightly, and anxiety over getting the 'right' answer is only natural when people are throwing around words like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

By all means, please take steps, if you can, to ensure that your child has access to healthy and wholesome foods. Research and talk to your family's health care provider about nutrition. Encourage your children to be active, and make physical activity a part of your family routine.

But don't be fooled by all the parent shaming buzz out there that would have you believe that the 'obesity epidemic' is all YOUR fault. That parents are the only ones to blame for the deteriorating over-all health (Obesity is only ONE health issue facing our children) of the next generation.

This hype is counter productive. It forces parents into reactionary and fear based approaches that take away from the amount and value of time families have together by creating power struggles and passing un-needed stress an anxiety on to young children. What's more it makes it that much easier for us all to forget about the real roots of these problems.

Our children are unhealthy because our culture is unhealthy!

On an individual level you may be able improve your child's lifetime health and reduce their risk of suffering from certain health conditions. But on a whole, shaming parents into being hyper-vigilant about nutrition and food intake, and anxious to the point of obsession with their children's activity level (or seeking pharmaceutical `cures`) is NOT the answer to the very serious public health issues facing our children.

I believe the answers to public health issues need to be addressed by everyone in our society.

We need to evaluate the messages we and our children are receiving about health and food from their schools, friends, and the media.

We need to address the fact that family friendly and easily accessible green spaces are becoming fewer and further between in urban centers, encouraging more families to spend more time in doors and 'plugged in' for entertainment.

We need to evaluate the intricate systems in place that make processed junk food more accessible then health food for many families, and find workable solutions to make sure that ALL families have access to fresh, safe, and nutritious foods.

We need to recognize that the products we use and manufacture with little forethought or safety testing now will have far reaching effects on the health and well being of future generations.

We need to address the marketing frenzies of companies that try to muddy the waters by making phony health claims about their processed convenience foods.

We need to make accurate and unbiased (meaning not sponsored by nestle) health and nutrition information more available to the general public.

We need to do more to ensure that products are clearly labeled so that families can make informed choices about the items in their shopping carts.

We need to think about the accessibility of fitness programs and sports activities, and perhaps think about how we could lessen the impact of modern sedentary desk work.

We need to stop subsidizing industries that create processed foods and chemicals that are bad for our health.

We need to start funding our public schools.

We need to stop scaring and shaming parents, and more importantly, we need to STOP scaring and shaming kids. Because families are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to health.


Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

I love that you wrote this! Thank you so much!

Tara said... [Reply to comment]

Such a valuable and intelligent point that our kids are unhealthy because our culture is! Kids do encounter a lot of mixed messages and they learn from the adults around them - so can we blame school vending machines when they watch their parents drink endless cans of soda at home? If parents ate their vegetables eagerly would they have to manipulate their kids? Fantastic piece!

TenderHeartMom said... [Reply to comment]

I think its not a simple as people thing, like you pointed out. There are many things people need to be aware of that are making our kids sick

Stephanie @ Confessions of a Trophy Wife said... [Reply to comment]

I couldn't agree more with this post! People don't really understand what causes obesity or what it really means. Obese individuals are quickly becoming the next group to be discriminated against, but because it's so politically charged, it's somehow okay for this to happen.

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