Thursday, March 11, 2010
Childhood Obesity - Too Far?
Imagine a chubby toddler, a few rolls remaining on her arms and legs from her months as a rolly baby. Little dimples in those legs that sometimes move faster than she can keep up with.
Do you find this picture cute? Normal? Or revolting? Do you think a chubby toddler is unhealthy?
Would you find it more pleasing if the child were described as skinny?
Childhood obesity has been labelled a modern epidemic. We hear about it through all forms of media: radio, television, newspapers, magazines and the internet. The topic is foremost in our brains when we see children, and so we hear it via discussions between parents, carers and families.
Yes, this is the key to solving the issue, wiping out this epidemic in the next generation. Creating awareness, through strong discussion and debate, is the only way to change the habits of a society. Knowledge is not just power, it is a necessity.
But, amidst it all, are we forgetting something?
Envisage this: a healthy, chubby seventeen-month-old toddler enjoying a piece of birthday cake at a party. A rare sweet treat. Surrounded by other parents and children, she devours it with great relish. A comment is made to the mother: "Don't worry. One day she will stop eating so much and then she'll be skinny".
At times like this, it is lucky that toddlers do not have a full understanding of all they hear and see.
When did it become a bad thing for a child to enjoy food? At what point did a chubby toddler begin to be perceived as unhealthy and abnormal? And when did we, as a society, decide it was okay to make this kind of remark?
This is the newest problem with childhood obesity: the parental paranoia, the analysis of every child's weight at first glance and the assumption that 'fat' equals 'bad' while 'skinny' is 'good'.
Parents are experts in knowing their own children. We instinctually know so much about them, and we are taught to know all about their growth, development, learning and overall health. But one should never assume to be an authority on a child from another family. We have the knowledge to raise our own children, not the expertise to know what is 'right' or 'normal' for all others.
Fast forward a short time, where the toddler is a child. She understands more and more, and body image issues can begin with one simple comment, whether it is directed at her or overheard. Such a remark, even meant as a harmless joke, could have serious consequences throughout her life.
Unfortunately, we cannot control everything that our children hear. We cannot stop others from saying thoughtless things. What we can do is ensure that the messages within our own household are clear and positive. Knowledge is a necessity: our children need to know they are loved and accepted. They must be taught the difference between healthy and unhealthy, but this must be done by way of setting the right example.
Our role as parents is to take the focus on weight and place it into the context of our own family situation. Because the emphasis on overweight children must surely be starting to take its toll on the mindset of a generation.
We need to be careful not to turn an international issue into a weight on innocent shoulders, a serious epidemic into an unhealthy obsession with appearance.
Posted at 8:49 AM