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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fat or Not

Infant and toddler obesity. Wow. That doesn't even sound like something we should be worrying about. But according to this article from Reuter's, it's something all parents should be concerned with.

Infants who gain too much weight as babies are more likely to grow into obese toddlers, showing the importance of early eating habits, researchers said on

Watching children while they eat for cues about when they are full and encouraging them to drink plenty of water may help control their weight, according to two studies in the journal Pediatrics.

Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the last 20 years, and almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese. The epidemic of obesity is linked to a host of health problems such as higher risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancer...

Okay. Here's my thing: As an overweight woman, with a lot of overweight family members, I really do understand why it's important for us to be aware and concerned about raising overweight (fat) children. But seriously, 5 million children a year die from malnutrition. This is a worry only in lands of plenty, like ours. However, I think it's important to talk about the opposite. What about underweight children in this skinny-obssessed society?

The New York Times began publishing articles about 20 years ago regarding moms in New York City who were feeding their babies and toddlers skim milk, because they were so worried their children would get fat. In a later article, they reported that girls who growing slowly are referred to specialists about half as often as are boys. Girls are supposed to be "little" after all. But, it is really dangerous having an underweight baby or toddler: one whose height and weight are completely disproportionate, has slower than average weight gain, is below the 5th percentile, etc. Development can be halted, or at least slowed, when the child isn't getting proper nutrition.

We live in a thin-obsessed society, which is not the same thing as being "healthy." Now, I'm not saying all thin women have eating disorders, however, I am saying that our attitudes about food are apparent to our kids. Recent statistics have shown 1 in every 200 American women suffers from anorexia.There have been many studies that suggest anorexia is a trans-generational problem.

Looking at underweight/anorexia statistics next to those of overweight/obesity, I know they're barely comparable. My point is that I have known many parents (living in an urban center - even though it's in the Midwest - where people go to the gym like it's a religion) who are worried about having "the fat kid." Let's raise the healthy kid! That child will be a lot happier than one who is worried about being too fat or too thin.


AJU5's Mom said...

My BIL said our daughter was fat because she had a belly (note: he is only 20 and has no clue about babies...). So, I could easily see how parents who are overly obsessed with being skinny could hurt their children unintentionally by not feeding them enough. It is really sad when either happens - the baby is fed too much or not enough...

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating post. I have been wondering for a long time if our low-fat obsessed culture is leading to the increase in autism/asperger's. We know that children *need* fat for brain development, but we're still encouraging parents to worry about obesity. There HAS to be a happy medium here, doesn't there?

Shannon said...

Great post! I agree that the media is sending very mixed signals to parents. I believe it is much more important what we feed our children compared to how much they eat. If we provide mostly healthy and appropriate options, then how much they eat is hardly even a concern. Children don't become obese eating a well balanced diet or the occasional cookie. I also find it scary that some parents might deny their child food because they don't understand that at the baby/toddler age they need a large amount of calories and fat. I think relying too much on convenience foods is a real problem. I would be willing to bet that most obese (and underweight) children are also malnourished.

summer and adam said...

I couldn't agree with you more. It really worries me to see the way people now equate "skinny" to "healthy." BMI should NOT dictate what is healthy either, because it doesn't take in to account muscle.

I believe that healthy eating habits should be taught early-- meaning that there should be more fruits and veggies eaten than pizza and burgers. I also think that good healthy activities are important for kids, not just for their physical health, but for their mental health as well.

I few years ago I taught at a private school with no PE program and no sports or extracirriculars. So I made a point to never assign extra homework so when they got home they could have time to go play outside and BE KIDS. They had to take anything they didn't get done in class home, but that was it. I'm so tired of schools that forget that kids need to run around, act crazy and play stupid games. It's good for them physically and emotionally.

Great post! You really got me thinking!-- Oh and you're welcome in my backyard anytime!