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Marci Warhaft-Nadler Headshot

Child Obesity Is Not the Problem

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There, I said it. And I'll say it again: Childhood obesity is not the problem.

While it's become nearly impossible to turn on a TV or read a newspaper without hearing about the obesity epidemic and it seems like there are anti-obesity campaigns popping up everywhere, I believe we are focusing our energy on the wrong problem.

Is obesity a serious issue? Yes. But obesity is just one symptom of the real issue which is unhealthy living. By focusing solely on obesity, we are turning a "lifestyle" issue into a "fat" one and are completely missing out on giving people the information they need to be truly healthy.

The dangerous part about this is that instead of encouraging people to get healthy we are demanding that they get skinny and the truth is, skinny is not always synonymous with healthy.

Our "war on obesity" is creating a generation of kids who are terrified of being overweight and because of our society's obsession with thinness, they don't even know what being overweight truly looks like! Watching TV or reading magazines and being inundated with unrealistic images of unattainable physiques can have most kids feeling inadequate within minutes. When the media is telling them that they need to be skinny to be beautiful and anti-obesity campaigns are telling them they need to be skinny to be healthy, the only message they're hearing is: YOU NEED TO BE SKINNY!

Here's a shocker: You can't always tell how fit or unfit a person is simply by what they look like. Being a little overweight and active is healthier than skinny and sedentary. Weight is not the ONLY factor in a person's overall health.

Dangers:

1.Thin kids become apathetic
There are kids who can eat as much junk food as they want and do very little physical activity without gaining any weight. Healthy? Nope. However, if they're constantly being told that obesity is the issue, they won't see the risks related to their present lifestyles.

2. Skinny at all cost
How about the kids who are so afraid of gaining weight that they become overly concerned with everything they eat? I get e-mails from parents of kids as young as five-years-old who are already struggling with eating disorders! While it wouldn't be surprising to hear our toddlers worry about imaginary monsters, hearing them cry because they feel they look fat in their snowsuits is something most parents are not prepared for. Young kids are putting their health at risk through dangerous behaviour to lose weight and a huge part of that is because of our society's fat phobia!

Recently, many schools have started implementing their own anti-obesity programs.

Unfortunately, in an effort to solve one problem, they are inadvertently creating a bigger one by encouraging disordered eating and negative body image. While numbers and charts may offer some insight into a person's health status, they can be drastically misleading if other important factors are ignored.

Take for example, the recent story about the 10-year-old Massachusetts boy who was sent home from school with a letter saying he was obese. This boy's athletic (healthy) build was considered obese by the BMI rating his school was using to measure their students body weight. Personally, I'm against any kind of program that has school faculty measuring a child's weight and the fact that they'd use such an inaccurate system to do it, makes it all the more frustrating.

Schools need to educate, not humiliate.

3.It's become okay to point fingers at the chubby kid.

You'd think that with all the talk about bullying going on these days, we'd be able to recognize when we're doing it ourselves, but here's another example of good intentions lost on bad execution. By singling out the "overweight" kids we're making them easier targets to be picked on. Some might argue that if they're overweight, they're probably already being picked on, but the difference is that they've now got school staff agreeing with the bullies. This kind of negativity will only make them feel less worthy of respect from others and themselves. HOW does that help??

We all want our kids to grow up as healthy as possible, but we have to be very careful about how we go about doing that.

Eating with balance and moderation and being physically active shouldn't be something we feel forced to do because we hate our bodies, but something we want to do because we love and respect them. We can't lose weight in order to like ourselves, we have to first like ourselves in order to lose weight.

Fat isn't a bad word. It's a nutrient necessary for good health. Why have we turned it into an insult? Teaching kids that fat is "bad", can be a dangerous lesson. However, educating them about the benefits and risks related to different kinds of fats can be extremely helpful without being judgmental.

A truly healthy child is one that is healthy physically, emotionally and psychologically. By focusing simply on the physical, we risk damaging everything else.

The question I'm asking is: Do we want healthy kids or just skinny ones?

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