I can remember when there was only one “chubby” kid per class. Now one in three, by my informal survey and the government’s official tally, would be in this category. Actually, one child in ten is considered morbidly obese and the other two in ten are just obese or overweight.
It’s not just the couch potato, chip-munching, remote-controlled kids with the problem. I see plenty of active, fat kids at sports, soccer tournaments, and swim races. Many have normal-weight parents who are active themselves in sports.
So what are the causes?
You’re probably going to blame the fast food industry, cars, and a lack of physical activity for our children. Initially, I thought that too. But when I really thought about these excuses I realized the causes are still the same as they were forty years ago when I started to get overweight.
After all, didn’t we have cakes, pies, and chips to eat in the seventies and eighties? Ice cream and potato chips aren’t new. Plus, people used full cream, butter, and sugar in all the treats. I’ve ridden in cars my whole life too.
Here is what may be the real secret to all the “big and bulky” kids circling around the last piece of pizza. They are emotionally empty, not their stomachs. Families are spread out or absent. Children are left to fend for themselves for meals and entertainment. They get bored, stressed out, and use food as a comfort just like adults. Often, parents are in denial that a problem even exists. My weight gain during my teens which I spent with little support from my parents who were too busy running a chuech, was no accident. It just wasn’t discussed.
Also, with the increase in divorce and muti-household families (my term!), kids tend to get shuttled from one home to another and this often can mean different rules and different environments. Especially with the divorce rate at over 50% the so-called blended family requires much adapting by the child. Extended families often don’t live nearby. Frequent job transfers, larger homes, and two car payments force both parents to work full time. The idea of sacrificing, saving, and delayed gratification went the way of the fifties and sixties – into history and forgotten.
With so much work and so many bills parents often arrive home emotionally drained. It is easier to let kids eat whatever they want, watch whatever they want, and listen to whatever they want. It takes more energy to be a parent enforcing rules and boundaries. The average father only spends 20 minutes a day interacting with his child! Instead of picnics at the park, hiking, and kicking or throwing a ball around, families opt for a video and pizza.
Sadly, sometimes that is the only meal of the week they get to have together!
So what can we do? Treat the problem, not the symptom.
Children need to feel valued. If you ask them whether they would rather have a new car or spend more time with you, the answer will be evident. Listen to your child more, and talk less. Be quick to praise, and slow to criticize. Regular family meetings promote feelings of belonging and connection. Everyone has a voice. Eat meals together on a regular basis. Preparing them as a team puts fewer demands on any one person and encourages communication.
Look inward, not outward to help solve a weight problem. Seek professional help early before medical problems and poor body image take hold. Our kids deserve it.