Let’s talk about Childhood Obesity

I’m sitting at my dining room table, on my ample arse, with an ice pack on an elephantine knee from a “traumatic” injury due to slipping on a kids’ dress-up necklace while wearing flip flips, as the kids watch Mulan for the seven thousandth time.

I’m watching (with my jaw unhinged) my tiny 27-lb-soaking-wet two-and-a-half-foot-tall two-year-old Josie inhale her third peanut butter and jam on a hot dog bun sandwich.  That was her snack.  Hardly two hours ago, at lunch time, she ate a full hot dog on a bun, vegetables and dip, half a banana, a large handful of blackberries – for which she cried for more until I offered her a freezie.  Dammit, berries are too expensive right now to be eating cupfuls at a time.  (Especially when you multiply that by the 6 or 8 kids who are normally inhabiting my house during the day.)

say "cheese"!

Not my finest day for impressing healthy eating on my kids.  But what can I say, it’s grocery night.

I wish I could blame it on a growth spurt, but she eats such vast quantities pretty near all the time.  I wonder if I ever had a metabolism like my kids do.  No… they could have only gotten this from hubby’s side of the family – not the “big boned” German farming stock from my side.

Watching her eat like this, I sometimes find it terrifying to think that my kids could end up with weight problems.  We’re not junk food eaters, but that doesn’t seem to matter in my family.  My parents worked hard to instill a great love of healthy food in my brother and I, and while we’ve both always had a better than average level of fitness, I know it’s a struggle for the both of us to maintain a healthy weight (myself more than my brother, but I blame that on the fact that I’ve had 3 kids recently).

We just love to eat food.  Healthy food, yes, but even healthy food has calories and if you eat too much of it…

Food is happiness.  Many of my happiest memories of my family while growing up, were around the dinner table.  It was a safe place where we were all together, every single night.

In my family, it’s almost like we don’t have that “switch” in our brains that tells us we’re full.  Not until we’ve gorged ourselves and are at the point of pulling a Mr. Creosote  (… “It’s only a tiny little thin one.  It’s only wahfer thin.”).

I remember my first meals with my future in-laws.  I was incredibly hungry after dinner because, not wanting to look like a total pig, I only took as much food as everyone else did.  I was still a young 18 years old at the time (and a wee bit chubby, but I hadn’t yet grown out of whatever metabolism I did have) and I was extremely surprised by the smaller quantities of food being consumed.

I’ll never forget my shock as I realized that the portion sizes I had been consuming were significantly larger than what the average person needed.  I was also surprised that I didn’t keel over and die when I didn’t go back for seconds and that I still had some energy left over because it wasn’t all being wasted on processing the gargantuan amounts of food in my gut.

It was a lesson I was glad to learn early, since it wasn’t long before my body became very efficient at processing food.

So how do we prevent weight problems in our kids?  It’s something I’m very passionate about, and something that takes up a significant amount of my brain power.  Being overweight as a child brings about a whole host of problems.  Even if the child is only somewhat overweight, they will often have the same problems though there is a bit of a spectrum.

Overweight kids and teens very often have low self esteem.  It’s a vicious cycle – initially they have a hard time keeping up with other kids physically, which causes them to withdraw socially, which prevents them from actively participating, which usually exacerbates the problem (weight gain).  When the child withdraws socially, they are more susceptible to being teased and bullied and don’t have the self-esteem to properly deal with the attacks, which can lead to depression and more weight gain and eventually, health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes.  A vicious cycle.

Unless the child is very lucky, or the parent intervenes and makes a very serious attempt to rehabilitate the child, the result will often be an overweight, depressed teenager.  Being a teenager is torture enough without bringing in all that excess baggage (literally and figuratively).

Unfortunately, since the “obesity epidemic” has only become a popular cause for concern in the last decade or so, many parents who have children from my generation (a.k.a. the Clean-Your-Plate Generation, also a.k.a. the Snack Food Generation) didn’t have the necessary education or resources to identify that there was a problem at all (“It’s just baby fat – they’ll grow out of it”).  Those who did realize there was a problem, likely had no idea how to deal with it.  And so we have a whole generation of adults who have eating disorders, many of whom are passing those tendencies onto their kids.

And knowing all of this, how the heck do we help our kids?

Apart from feeding kids McDonald’s and junk snacks as infrequently as possible and offering a variety of healthy options, I personally think the key is exercise and activities. Even poor genetics can be mitigated once you’re aware of the problem.  Kids snack more when they are bored, so keeping them mentally challenged is important, as is putting them in sports at an early age to help increase their aerobic conditioning (their stamina and thus, their metabolisms).

Getting kids to exercise, who are not genetically predisposed (like my kids are) to having enormous reserves of energy from birth, is something that would be more of a challenge.  To parents with children who are, like I was as a child, more reserved and observant rather than “joiners”, I plead with you to be even more diligent when serving foods and make more effort to be a good role model for your kids.  Being active with your kids is probably the best way to encourage them to be active.  Take them for long walks, play sports with them, get them out of the house.  Every day.

I’m certainly not the pinnacle of perfect parenting, but I try my best to teach my kids to lead an active lifestyle.  I struggle every. single. day. to keep my kids busy and to help prevent them from having the same difficulties with weight and all its side effects, that I had.  I desperately hope that I succeed.  Because prevention is so much easier than rehabilitation.  That takes a lifetime.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Let’s talk about Childhood Obesity

  1. This is one of my hot-button issues, too. I also grew up in a family that encouraged a love of homemade, healthy food and so I often eat (though it’s generally “healthy,”) far too much and always want to make sure I don’t trap my family in any food pitfalls. I try to teach my kids to be mindful of WHAT they are eating, and to let me know when they are full. It’s so hard when at this age they do seem to just be CONSTANTLY hungry and often for whatever I can get in front of them the fastest. (i.e., pretzels or a tub of applesauce rather than some fresh strawberries or kiwi which take a bit of prep time…) Thanks for writing this!

  2. Pingback: Meme you, Biatch | creatinglittlemonsters

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