What About The Children?

A lot of articles and studies have been written on the rising levels of childhood obesity.  I’m not going to try and analyze each of those studies, for people far wiser than myself have done excellent jobs. I wanted to bring it down from the academic level to the practical, and get your opinions and thoughts on the subject.

When we lived in Florida there was a young family who sometimes sat in front of us in church on Sunday mornings. They were very nice people. Pleasant, happy, and friendly. They appeared to be the model family, except all three of them were morbidly obese. The mom, the dad, and the 10 year old little girl. She was a beautiful little girl, always smiling and talkative. Our church, like most, had a time of singing that lasted for approximately 15 minutes. But by the end of the 15 minutes, the mom and dad were hanging onto the pew in front of them, and the little girl ended up sitting down about mid-way through the singing time.  One time the mom turned to her sweet little girl and said, “What are you doing?” The little girl said, “I’m resting.” The mom nodded knowingly, turned back around and hung onto the pew for dear life.

Every pore of my being ached for all of them, but the little girl in particular.  I wanted to show them a picture of how I used to look and tell them, “Look, you can change your life.” But of course I didn’t say a word about weight. It wasn’t my place.

Or was it?

As I was writing this morning, this wasn’t the direction I intended to take, but it’s where I keep drifting back to. What are your feelings concerning personal responsibility and childhood obesity? Do we have any responsibilities as functioning members of society?

I am not an advocate of the government regulating every detail of our lives. So often they have good intentions, but somewhere along the way, the path to good intentions gets political. And sometimes, the good intentions get watered down and derailed. So I keep coming back to personal responsibility. What is my responsibility to help overcome the epidemic of childhood obesity?

For me, realizing that I can’t save everyone, and that not everyone wants to be saved was the first step. No matter how my heart ached for that family, and their daughter, I couldn’t change the fact that they were morbidly obese. But I could work hard on communicating healthy eating to the people I have in my circle of influence. And when I got to thinking about it, my circle of influence is larger than I thought.

Of course my little immediate circle is large because of the seven children I have, but I also have extended family, friends, acquaintances, facebook friends, email buddies, blogging friends, and more. And many of those people have children in their lives. Every opportunity I have to set a good example is another chance I have to influence my circle in a positive way.

I work hard at teaching my own children how to prepare healthy meals, find healthy snacks, and be mindful of their activity levels. I don’t always succeed, but I try and model healthy living.  But how do we influence people outside of our immediate family, or can we?  Here’s one thing I’ve decided to do differently. When I’m asked to bring a dessert or dish to a function, I’m going to bring something that is healthy and delicious, rather than just making my favorite cake. That way I can show other people that healthy food isn’t tasteless and boring, but rather delicious and fun! I often have to bring a dish for one of my children’s activities, so I will have the chance to show children and teen-agers that healthy food is “cool!” 

It’s a small step, but often it is many small steps that add up to big change. Behind every overweight child is a family. To change childhood obesity, we might need to influence the family as a whole, one small step at a time. Is there anything you can do to influence your circle? Any thoughts on the solution to this very real problem?  Diane

37 thoughts on “What About The Children?

  1. vickie says:

    I was all ready to write and say – Ummm, Diane you wrote a posting about taking COOKIES to functions this very week – until I got to the next to the last paragraph and you addressed it yourself.

    My kids are VERY upset when we are somewhere and see the type of family you describe. Where the food education level of the parents is SERIOUSLY lacking.

    I think it is incredibly painful to see when they all look EXACTLY the same – the large version, the slightly smaller version, and so on. Same builds, same faces, same really bad habits. Like those Russian nesting dolls.

    I think about this passing down the incredibly bad habits – the exact same way that I think about parents inflicting second hand smoke on their kids. Inflicting disordered thinking/habits – REALLY WRONG on so many levels. And I do wonder if their medical ‘team’ is working with them on it – calling them out on it – or if they just ignore it.
    .-= vickie´s last blog ..(a couple of you are going to love this one) Yes, someone asked me to take off my clothes =-.

  2. 266 says:

    This is one of the main reasons I wanted to undertake this journey in the serious manner in which I finally have. My husband and I will be trying for children sometime in the near future and I don’t want to pass along my (prior) bad habits to them. I want to learn the tools that it takes to lead a healthy life now so that when kids come I can teach them and model the proper way to care for the body.
    .-= 266´s last blog ..A Little Less Scale Stagnation, A Little More Action Please =-.

  3. Bearfriend says:

    Hi Diane. Childhood obesity is such a difficult problem. When a child is overweight a huge amount of damage can be inflicted on their psyche if parents or other adults really focus in on it. But where a whole family is overweight the parents really need to take responsibility and focus firstly on their OWN problem. The benefit of this is that it will naturally filter down to the children and improve their lives. The children should never be made to feel that they are at fault but just subtly encouraged in the right direction.

    I think your idea of taking healthy food to gatherings is excellent. Too often at such occasions the cakes and biscuits come out and we are made me feel that this should be the norm and feel bad if we can’t join in. Healthy eating should be the norm.

    Best wishes,
    Bearfriend xx
    .-= Bearfriend´s last blog ..Shame and Guilt =-.

  4. Monica says:

    Oh, this post struck my heart. I wasn’t obese as a child, but chubby. As I got older the obesity came. I want to be healthy for my children and for others.

    It will take me time to lose weight, but no time to set a good example.

    • Diane says:

      @vickie – I know – practice what I preach. That’s why I decided to make the commitment to bringing healthy food places from now on. I make healthy food at home, why not take it all the time!

      @266 – Planning your life for the future generations is so wise. It’s one reason I’m so glad I lost the weight before my kids were old enough to see my bad habits and emulate them.

      @MizFit – Thank you and I know this is a passion of yours.

      @Bearfriend – It is a huge problem. The parents do need to take responsibility. Sometimes I think it’s hard for parents to do so, because of their own issues.

      @Monica – I have that desire for you to be healthy for your children as well. You can do this Monica.

  5. Tyler says:

    I had to jump in an say that I was overweight as a child and am still overweight. I wish that someone had really told me what could happen as I got older, but instead everyone kept feeding me.

    I won’t do that to my kids when I have some.

  6. Joanna Sutter says:

    I do not have children but I must imagine it must be very difficult to be a parent. They watch and learn everything their parents do, eat, and say.

    My good habits started around the dinner table as a child. My siblings and I were given a choice of milk or water to drink, and a protein and a vegetable was plated every night. And, while we begged for sugar cereal, it never entered our home.

    I was lucky. (and still am!)
    .-= Joanna Sutter´s last blog ..Secret Sauce =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Tyler – I wish someone had been there to guide you too. It would have made your journey now easier.

      @Joanna – I see my own children watching me and oftentimes imitating my behaviors. I’m always so aware of everything I say and do, knowing they are like little sponges. You were lucky to have parents who set such a great example! I want to be like your parents.

  7. Ka says:

    Diane, this is such an important and sensitive subject. It was the main reason why my husband and I decided to adopt a healthier health style this year, eating better (and less) and exercising more. As parents to a 5 yr-old boy and a 3 yr-old girl, we didn’t want to become a family like the one you mentioned. We realize we’re ultimately responsible for the health of our children, and didn’t want them to follow our steps. After losing about 50lb each, we’re in much better shape, feel much better about ourselves, have lots of energy for the children and, most of all, we can be role models for them.
    And talking not only about children, I started having the same feelings you mentioned regarding obese people I meet. I feel deep inside an urge to go tell them ‘if I could, you can do as well, you can change your life’, but I know it’s not my place, so I resist and only say anything about this when I’m asked.

  8. Janet says:

    I just about never voluntarily offer advise on weight loss or nutrition, I think it comes across as being “preachy” and it is usually unwelcome. If somebody ASKS me for advice, that is a whole different thing, and I love nothing more than to help by sharing my tips and tricks!

    It breaks my heart when I see overweight children. Children (especially young children) eat the food that is provided for them by their parents/caregivers, so you know when you see overweight children that there is an adult in their life that is not making the best choices on their behalf… and that is heartbreaking…
    .-= Janet´s last blog ..Day 129 – When You Get Sick… =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Ka – Congratulations on the amazing weight loss you and your husband have experienced. That will serve your children so well in the future, that you are showing them by example healthy living, and not just talking about it.

      @Janet – I don’t either. (Except in my blog!) The children get to me too. I just want to fix it, but know there really isn’t much I can do.

  9. Lori says:

    In my family, I was actually the only overweight one. My brother was an athlete, and kept in shape. My dad was a tad overweight, but not obsese. My mom was average weight. But I think, b/c my family valued food so much, and there were so many emotional ties to it, it helped with developing my food issues.
    There’s a family at my church that I see the developing obesity of their children as well. Mom and Dad are both overweight. They have 3 children and two of them are starting to be heavy. It’s kind of funny that their 3rd child is average weight, and is not overweight. Maybe that is where the genes take in effect. Not sure.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Sore and Stiff =-.

    • Diane says:

      @Lori – I’m not sure about the genes issue either, but I would guess that there is definitely a physical tendency for some people to gain weight easier than others. It’s interesting about your family. In my family we were all normal sized. I didn’t gain a substantial amount of weight until I got married (and then pregnant).

      @Steve – There is no easy answer. That’s why I think it’s important to talk about it, and try and come up with something that each of us can do to make a difference. Just like you did with your challenge!

  10. Amy H. says:

    My children’s elementary school has a fruit & veggie snack policy. They don’t celebrate birthdays with food at school. At first I was very disappointed in this policy, as I really wanted to show off and make some scrumptious desserts. However, it’s been really great in getting my kids to eat right. When they get treats at home, at least I know they haven’t been eating junk at school, too.

    My husband & I try to live by example – we’re leading active, healthy lives and our children see that & will want it for themselves.
    .-= Amy H.´s last blog ..Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup =-.

  11. Jody - Fit at 51 says:

    I, too, am so torn & hate to see obese children & by looking at the parents, it is obvious that it starts in the home. Parents need to take personal responsibility for themselves & more so for their kids!

    I have blogged about this before as you know Diane so I could go on forever! It is such a pet peeve of mine!

    I try to do what you do & bring healthy dishes to get togethers. Also, all my family & friends see that I continue to eat my own type of food no matter what the occasion. I don’t just eat because it is another “special occasion” which can practically be every day! I just hope it rubs off on people & if it is just one person, better than nobody!

    Great question & things to think about for us all!

    PS: I loved this statement: “It’s a small step, but often it is many small steps that add up to big change.”
    .-= Jody – Fit at 51´s last blog ..Health, Fitness & The Fashion Police! =-.

  12. Diane says:

    @Amy H – Our schools in Florida had that too. My friends didn’t like it, but they did appreciate how it forced their kids to eat healthier foods during the day! One of my friends though, had an obese child, even though the rest of her family was average sized.

    @Jody – It will add up. The more people that become aware and committed to changing the health of the children, the more of a chance we have to make a real difference.

  13. Kris S. says:

    I’ve not commented before, but really felt that I just wanted to jump in and tell you that I so admire all you are doing. Not only the fact you lost ALL that weight, but have kept it off and are now really trying to make a difference.

    I was overweight as a little girl, and continued to gain. I’ve lost about 30 pounds to date, and am trying to make a change for my hubby and my children.

  14. Mary says:

    Hi Diane,
    Thank you so much for visiting my blog because now I have found a new blog for inspiration. I think the best a person can do is lead by example. Along that vein, someone once told me “I’d rather SEE a sermon than listen to one.” Nothing inspires me more than seeing someone who has done it.
    Thank you for finding me!


  15. natalie says:

    I hate to see this kind of thing. It make me hurt so bad for the child. I just came across your blog and am so impressed with you and where you have come from. You are an inspriation! thank you!

  16. Michelle @ A Shade of Gray says:

    Oh this is a subject that can get my pulse racing. My girls and I were at Red Robin the other night and our server and I started talking about this very problem after she informed me that the kids meals came w/ “free refills” and I replied, “Are you joking!? The original portion is big enough to feed a grown man!” Of course we both laughed and I made light of it and she started telling me about how much food people (and their children) order and consume in one sitting.

    PARENTS are where childhood obesity ends. WE are responsible for what goes into their mouths and how much activity they get in. I am very conscience about teaching my girls “balance”. Hopefully one day when they are on their own, these lessons will stick with them.

    SOCIETY is also responsible. The food choices are poor; the portions too big. I was horrified when my daughter said her school offered a “Breakfast Pizza”. We are talking a processed, white crust pizza w/ meatballs on it! To start the day!!!

    Anyhoo, I could go on and on about all the HFCS and partially hydrogenated oils in food products geared toward kids but I won’t …
    .-= Michelle @ A Shade of Gray´s last blog ..Nurturing Balance in Action: September 2009 =-.

  17. Sarah says:

    I really worry about my own two kids and how they’re going to grow up because both their father and I are fat and until now, they’ve never seen any kind of healthy behavior modeled for them. At the same that I worry, however, I see how easily and happily they’ve picked up the changes around our house — no more food rewards, small portions of treats, more activity — and that gives me great hope. To me, modeling seems like the way to have most influence. Certainly lecturing isn’t going to be what changes anything, but if I can show people that they can change themselves, and not only can they change themselves but that they can have fun doing it, well, that seems like it could be pretty powerful.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Awe =-.

  18. Leah says:

    The obesity rate in adults and children alike has been on my mind a lot lately. I am saddened when I see the obese children, because I feel someone is not concerned enough about their health to cut back the food and/or offer healthier options.

    I was a chubby girl growing up; however, my mom always told me as an adult that she didn’t let me just eat and eat. I was allowed treats and then had to stop. I wasn’t ever as big as some of the children I see today.

    My own children are blessed with faster metabolisms and have never had weight issues. Plus they love to be active and I’ve always tried to offer them healthier choices/limit the sweets. (I just didn’t follow my own advice..I know.. that’s changing now.)

    This is definitely a post that has given me some food for thought on what I can do to help this situation in our world.

  19. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    Another great, thought-provoking post, Diane!

    I think setting a good example is so important, for my own children as well as for others. I think you can have healthy food at a party and enjoy it. I made only healthy dishes for our last party and bought a healthy cake. Everyone enjoyed the food, even some of our friends who usually stay away from healthy food…

    I think you are right when you point out that our influence is greater than we realize as we often bring food to many functions (work, school, sports, church…).

    But for me the problem is what do you do when people have really bad habits and feed their children very bad food. I actually have some friends who do that, and I always try to somehow bring up “new” foods I found that are healthier than the versions they eat. I really try to be sensitive and talk about myself and what I used to do and what I’m doing now. I really don’t want them to feel badly, but I want them to make healthier choices… But when it comes to people I don’t know well, I just don’t think it’s my place to say anything…

    Also, I think setting a good example is really important, but it’s also important to prepare our kids for “real” life. My teenager is going off to college soon, and I know he’ll be surrounded by not very healthy food. My goal is for him to realize that he can have a burger once in a while if he so chooses but that he can eat healthy, nutritious food the rest of the time. I think in the end it’s all about balance. And I think a cookie once in a while can fit into any healthy diet, and it’s important for our kids to know that so that they can “function” in the “real” world.

  20. Wendy says:

    The tipping point for me in my own weight loss was when I saw my husband give my then-4 year old son nine chicken nuggets. That was a huge serving for an adult, much less a 4 year old. I had been talking to him about portion sizes but felt like a nag. I decided instead of talking about healthy living, I needed to DO it, to be an example to my husband and kids. It’s worked, and I’ve lost 110 lbs and he’s lost 75. Best of all, our kids are still normal sized and healthy.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Mistakes Were Made =-.

  21. Robin says:

    Part of me feels that if people can’t take care of themselves maybe they arean’t ready to have children but that’s me. My parents did not teach me anything about nutrition, I’m only really learning it now. I mean, my mom doesn’t even realize that water, a lot of it, is important everyday.
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..Erik McMuffin =-.

  22. Pam says:

    Wow. My heart ached for that little girl, too. My parents are raising my brother’s children now (my brother died a few years ago, and obesity contributed it his early death), and the two boys are getting up there – the 17 year old was 330 pounds, and thank heavens he’s down to 285, which is still so big for a teenager, and the 11 year old – just turned 11, is 110 pounds. I hurt for them every time I see them , because I know what they are headed for. I just which I knew what to do to help.
    When they come here for dinner, they get healthy food, and they eat it. Thanksgiving is at my house this year, and they will get it. I bake a lot for Christmas, so everyone will be getting it – all healthy, all tasty. I want very badly to prove a point to all of our loved ones that healthy doesn’t mean boring. Hope it works!
    .-= Pam´s last blog ..Odds and Ends =-.

  23. Dr. J says:

    It’s painful for me to see obese kids! But then, kids are people too, and therein lies the problem. Personally, I think it’s child abuse. I believe that the only way to ever combat this problem is to remove the unhealthy foods from being available, but we do not want to give up our addictive freedoms. Of course, the rare individual can be healthy and fit, but until the trough is improved it will only annoy the eater if it is changed. That’s why it is a tide that cannot be turned 🙁

  24. Hadley says:

    This post made me think of this NYTimes Magazine article from not too long back. In essence, by living healthy lifestyles, we actually do impact those around us.

    Still, it’s tough question. You can’t, really, just tell people. If you do they’d be horrified and offended, and you’d seem like a jerk. It’s just a tough situation.
    .-= Hadley´s last blog ..Ten Things =-.

  25. Sweetie Pie says:

    This is so tricky, and this post brought a lot of things to my mind. I was that obese little girl, and my mother and grandmother were right there with me. Because both of my parents had to work, I started taking care of my younger brother when I was about nine years old, and I was often in charge of preparing food for him during the day (in the summers) and for making dinner for the family at night. While I’ve always loved to cook, and I typically didn’t get any complaints, I’m sure that the food I made was about as far away from healthy as it could have been. I grew up in the south– land of pork fat, gravy and pie, which probably didn’t help much either.

    Now that I’m in my 30s and have gone from a 340 pound 30 something to an overweight (and happy to be just overweight) 30 something, I have given a lot of thought to my earlier years. Comments on my weight, which was always a problem, only made me feel bad about myself and led to more eating. I firmly believe that modeling proper behaviors, rather than lecturing about them, is the best way to go.

    That little brother of mine has always had weight problems too, and is currently dangerously overweight. I started my blog earlier this year, in part, because I hoped he would read it. We don’t live close to one another so that’s as close as I can get to showing him the changes I’ve made. I think many morbidly obese people don’t believe they can lose the weight. I wonder if morbidly obese parents project that belief onto their kids. I think my brother sees weight loss as a hopeless and unpleasant proposition. I want him to see that I eat healthy food most of the time, but I haven’t completely given up treats. I want him to know how much I love biking and kickboxing and doing all of the active things that I can do now. I know that if I said anything to him about his weight, it would upset him and be badly received. Setting an example is my way of communicating without using what could be viewed as hurtful words.

    I’m really enjoying your blog, by the way. I just found it a few days ago. I’m glad I did. You provide great food for thought.

  26. erin says:

    One of my biggest fears about having children is that my children will be overweight like I was when I was a child. I am determined to get my own problems with food worked out so I can be a healthy model for whatever children come our way in the future.
    .-= erin´s last blog ..How People Find My Blog =-.

  27. Leah @ L4L says:

    Great, thought-provoking post. You are so much more eloquent than I am! I have a very difficult time seeing obese children. Very difficult. It makes me mad. Mad at their parents. Mad at the government. Mad at our schools. Mad at our healthcare system. But no, I don’t think it is my place to say a thing about it. I don’t plan on ever having children but if I did, embracing an overall healthy lifestyle would be a huge emphasis on their upbringing.

  28. MackAttack says:

    I work in government and I do think that government has a role. But, that’s in conjunction with personal responsibility. I’m not skinny yet, so I don’t feel like I have a leg to stand on, but I try to show people through my actions by making good choices.
    .-= MackAttack´s last blog ..Pete and Repeat… =-.

  29. Rebecca Hoover says:

    I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here and say that overweight parents raising overweight children does not equal child abuse. Far from it! And when you see a child that has been beat, burned, and tortured than you can see that difference. That said, it’s a huge problem that needs to be tackled from a multitude of angles ie., school, government, how about those damn corn subsidies? My husband and I were quite obese and I was constantly worried about my slightly chubby little girl. I talked to her doctor and was assured that she was fine but it wasn’t until I changed my diet that I was even able to begin the process of helping her. And when she became upset, we took action by joining Weight Watchers, I had already lost my weight but I hadn’t been able to really help her the way that this program did. And while it was thrilling for her to go to meetings with mostly older ladies, even at 12 she understood that we all shared a common bond. Now, at 15 she is thin and healthy, but more importantly she has a good understanding of nutrition and can make good choices wherever she goes. We need to offer help and understanding to parents and children who suffer from obesity. I commend you for deciding to take healthy choices when you’re invited places, I like the idea of living by example. Education and good examples can go a long way. Whew, I feel better. 🙂

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