In a recent conversation with my brother, he stated that the topic of food is a dicey one for most people and boy was he right. My own attempts to talk to people about food has unearthed the fact that food is not solely a means of subsistence for these individuals, rather, food provides a link to their past as well as a feeling of independence. What people choose to ingest is a highly personal affair that most will defend at all costs, and while many acknowledge that their food choices are poor, they nonetheless remain steadfast in their right to eat as poorly as they choose. These defensive tactics exponentially increase when the focus shifts from adult to child. Unlike most adults, most children do not have the control over what they eat. Caregivers are typically at the center of the food that is shaping the type of diet that is contributing to the growing childhood obesity rates in the U.S. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation reports that about 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese. Busy parents who state that they do not have the time to prepare healthy meals for their children is just one of the causes fingered for the rising obesity rates in children. Limited or no daily scheduled physical activity among school aged children, school vending machines loaded with junk food, and the increased time spent by children in front of the TV are also targeted as major contributing factors to the rising obesity rates among children in the U.S.
Dipping his oar into the choppy obesity debate is Harvard pediatric professor David Ludwig who in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association article suggested that extremely obese children facing life- threatening complications resulting from their obesity be taken away from their parents and placed into foster care. The idea to place extremely obese children into foster care first blossomed when a then 3 year old girl weighing 90 lbs appeared at Ludwig’s obesity clinic. By the age of 12, the girl reached 400 lbs and had developed diabetes and cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea. In this specific case, the state intervened and placed this young girl into foster care where she was placed with a family who gave her 3 balanced meals a day, a snack or two, and placed the girl into activities where moderate physical activity was involved. Over the course of a year, this young girl lost 130 pounds. While Ludwig cheers the success thus far garnered in this case, he is quick to say that the government should not get in the business of “swooping in” to remove obese children from their parents. The goal, Ludwig says, should be to create an environment that makes it easier for everyone to avoid the types of situations that lead to obesity. ” Ludwig adds that “intermediate options such as in-home social supports, parenting training, counseling, and financial assistance” should be explored prior to the drastic measure of removing a child from his/her parents” (Time magazine article, Should Parents Lose Custody of Their Extremely Obese Kids?) http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/13/should-parents-lose-custody-of-their-very-obese-kids/
Waves of sadness and anger wash over me whenever I see an obese child. I am saddened by the sight of children who struggle to walk because of all of the extra weight heaped on them by the cheeseburgers, fries, sodas, cookies, and all varieties of unhealthy food supplied to them by a whole host of sources. Admittedly, I have directed much of my anger regarding these children against the parents I see who fuel their children’s junk food lust at nearly every turn. I cannot pretend to know what types of pressures and demands are involved with being a parent. I believe most parents want the best for their children which includes good health. Like David Ludwig, I believe measures to educate parents about healthy food choices and preparation should be explored prior to any decision to remove a child from their home. The foster care system is no bed of roses and shouldn’t be thought of as the premiere measure to fight against childhood obesity. As overburdened as many parents are, they must simply roll up their sleeves and take a more active role in the health of their children which may mean less hours in the day to sleep and more time scouring the internet for healthy food recipes and coupons. For those who have no internet access, it may mean scheduling trips to the library to check out cookbooks and/or log onto the internet. Perhaps buying in bulk may help and/or cooking large meals to be refrigerated and eaten throughout the week, coupled with scheduling more physical activity for their children (i.e. turning off the TV and video game console).
The solution to curb childhood obesity is a multifaceted one that will look different for each family/child. Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time on extreme measures like removing obese children from their homes, attention needs to be placed on the variety of strategies recommended to curtail the problem of obesity among children. One does not become obese overnight. Just as it takes time to become obese, it will take time to tackle obesity in a healthy and safe manner. Parents and children alike need all of the support they can get from family members, medical professionals, schools, etc. Feelings of anger (my angry feelings included) must be brushed aside to tackle this issue that is threatening the health and well- being of way too many children. The health complications and disease’s associated with obesity are far too alarming to get stuck on looking for people or things to blame. Children rely on the adults around them to carve out pockets of safety for them. Educating ourselves and children about healthy living is a vital step forward in the right direction in the fight against childhood obesity.