Parents, educators, and health care professionals are alarmed by the problem of obesity in children. There are many good reasons for being alarmed, including young children being diagnosed with serious, chronic diseases that have been thought to be “adult diseases.”
While we search to find a way to manage and avoid childhood obesity it’s possible that we are pushing some children into obesity in self-defense.
I am not talking about the over-the-top efforts of some parents and legislators trying to make children slim and fit through public school lunch programs and heavy handed policies outlawing bake sales and celebrating classmates’ birthdays with cupcakes. I’m not talking about how children who feel overwhelmed by “food police” turn to closet-eating.
It’s my belief, and there are statistics to back it up, that these draconian measures create more problems than they solve. Most notably, they take away a child’s ability to establish self-control and balance, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m not talking about a pressure on children by the food/scale police.
I’m talking about a different and massive pressure under which some children suffer. So many parents have unrealistic expectations for their kids and it’s exacerbated by social media. A two-year old does a good job of dancing to Uptown Funk and the next thing you know it’s blowing up on YouTube. Now the parents of that child are convinced the kid will be an entertainer and make billions of dollars he will share with his doting parents.
Meanwhile other parents of two-year-olds are viewing the YouTube clip thinking, “my kid is as cute as that kid and more talented. I want my kid to blow up on YouTube and maybe even get us on the Ellen show!”
Parents are pushing kids to be stronger, faster, smarter, better dancers, better singers, simply just better. Kids getting pushed too hard by their parents may not know how to deal with the pressure. Food can be their answer.
Many stressed adults find comfort in food. So do children. Kids can learn to use food to cope. That alone can result in a child ignoring inner signals of satiety so that he or she consistently overeats. The food not only can help a child cope with the stress, but the results of too much food can also relieve the pressure as the child gains weight.
In our increasingly fat-biased and phobic culture, being fat has become strongly associated with undesirable traits like being lazy, stupid, mean and more likely to steal. These beliefs are by no means limited to the fatty bigots but by preschoolers and even physicians.
Rolls of blubber can shield a child from the unrealistic expectations of her parents. If a little girl doesn’t want to “dance like Maddie Ziegler” gaining an extra 30 or 40 pounds should ensure that her parents don’t expect her to be getting a call from producers of a Sia video anytime soon. Mom and Dad can stop dreaming about their fat little boy who likes to play baseball of ever becoming another Derek Jeter.
It can be a vicious cycle. The more the kid is pushed, the more he eats. The more he eats, the more his parents try to police what he eats. Mom and Dad can’t be with him every minute of every day leaving the boy with lots of time to eat without their interference. Eventually the kid gains enough weight so that his parents back off and let him off the “superstar hook.”
Kids should be allowed to be kids. If a kid likes to sing, dance or is particularly athletic all the child needs is support and encouragement to enjoy his or her talents. No pressure!