This is the second article in our series on childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the US; so is fat-shaming. The juxtaposition of these two problems is a tricky one. We don’t want our kids to suffer from the dangers of obesity; we also don’t want to call them fat. In fact, a recent article in the Washington Post claims that 95 percent of parents think their overweight young children look ‘just right.’*
This is disturbing for two reasons. The first is that our perception has changed and overweight in children has been somewhat normalized – when so many kids are overweight, yours does not stand out as unusual. The second troubling thing about parents turning a blind eye to the excess weight of their children is that overweight pre-schoolers tend to become overweight elementary-schoolers. The weight often follows them into adulthood.
Another dangerous trend is that kids are less self-aware. “A team of researchers at Georgia Southern University found an alarming rise in the lack of self-awareness among children and teenagers in the United States. Specifically, way more overweight adolescents are oblivious today to the fact that they ought to lose weight than were in decades past.” Based on answers given to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, “Far fewer kids believe that they are overweight today, even though many more of them should.”**
This predicament is as dangerous as it is complicated. Childhood obesity poses significant health risks including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems, liver disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and osteoarthritis, joint problems, and musculoskeletal discomfort. The complicated part is that “obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.” (health.ucsd.edu/specialties/surgery/bariatric/weight-loss-surgery/adolescent-weight-loss/Pages/health-risks.aspx) Fat-shaming exacerbates these social and psychological problems.
So how do you tell your kid he is fat? You don’t.
Research shows that children whose parents comment about their weight are more likely to suffer from self-image problems and eating disorders later in life. Instead, we’ve got to learn how to help our children feel good about themselves. “Helping kids feel good about their bodies in this fat-phobic culture isn’t easy, and we need to be able to talk about body size in an open and non-judgmental way. Children are like sponges! Not only will they be exposed to messages in the media and on the playground, as members of this weight shaming culture, parents often their own attitudes toward weight that are passed down – often unintentionally – to their children. ” (thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/9-common-mistakes-parents-make-about-their-kids-weight/)
In the next article in our series on childhood obesity, we’ll explore fostering self-acceptance and developing a healthy relationship with food.