A few months ago I read a book called ‘The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl’ by Shauna Reid. She is an Australian woman, a couple of years younger than me, now living in Scotland. She wrote the book (and the blog it started out as) to chronicle her weight loss ‘adventure’ and it was a hilarious, touching story. She began her diet when she was tipping the scales at 351lbs and now weighs literally half that at 175.5lbs. I don’t read a lot of diet books so I can’t say whether or not this is not your average diet book, but I suspect it isn’t your average diet book. There’s a lot more to Shauna’s life than her battle with her weight, and all that extra stuff makes for some hilarious passages in her book. I could go on but I don’t want to sound too much like her pimp.
One of the things she talks about is her relationship with food as a young child, and the role her parents played in her weight gain. I’ve watched enough episodes of Oprah and Dr Phil to know that ‘eating issues’ are often established in childhood, and I have family members and school friends who can trace their weight problems back to their parents’ insistence that they finish everything on their plate before they could leave the table.
Point being, there are plenty of adult ‘survivors’ of childhood obesity who feel their parents made it difficult for them to start their lives as anything but rotund and permanently in search of their next salty, greasy snack. There are surely exceptions, but given that nutritionists and dietitians are telling us that childhood obesity is a result of poor diet and lack of exercise, and given that parents are responsible for their children’s diet and lifestyle… well, you do the math.
Shauna tells of the heartache of being a fat kid and a fat teenager and a fat young woman and not being able to control her desire for still more food. My little sister was overweight until she got to high school when she made an abrupt decision to lose the weight and did, through good ol’ exercise and portion control and in spite of my mother’s attempts to keep her chubby. It wasn’t until my sister told me about the teasing from other girls (and, shamefully, from me and my other siblings) that I realised how bloody miserable she had been for all those years. Reading Shauna’s warts-and-all book just made it all that more real to me. My sister has accepted my apology for those years of torment but I don’t deserve her forgiveness.
There are a handful of obese children at my daughters’ school. I have worked in the school cafeteria and served them both at morning tea time and again at lunch. They line up with their fists full of coins (or, sometimes, ten dollar bills), and they stare at the racks of potato chips behind the counter like a grizzly bear just out of hibernation might eye off a stream full of salmon. Our school cafeteria has a healthy-food focus but there will always be versions of fats and salts and artificial colourings and flavourings. The trick is to have these once a while, not every single day. It breaks my heart to hand over the junk food to these children, as the homemade muffins and bowls of fresh fruit go untouched. I can’t help it; I have to wonder why these kids are being sent to school with fists full of cash and not lunchboxes full of healthy alternatives?
There are still more chubby kids at weekend soccer. I have seen the parents buy them sweets and chocolate and hotdogs after the game as a reward for half an hour of exercise. There is so much wrong with the picture, it makes me want to scream.
If I see a child being smacked in public, or out on a freezing cold winter day without a jacket, or playing perilously close to a busy road without an adult nearby, I just want to grab them and do something, you know? I think the vast majority of parents probably feel this way when they see a child suffering or in danger because of the questionable choices of their parents. But we hold back, it’s not our place to interfere… up to a point, of course. But now I am wondering – how do I feel about parents who feed their children so much junk food that they are obese, morbidly obese, before they are ten years old? How do I feel about parents who are setting their children up for a lifetime of physical illness (the list of problems associated with childhood obesity is long and well-documented) as well as the psychological anguish that authors like Shauna Reid write about?
How do I feel? I feel extremely angry. Angry that the parents’ choices, or their laziness, or their apathy, or whatever it is, is literally making their kids fat. Angry that there’s nothing I can do about it. If these kids were being beaten by their parents on the sidelines at soccer, I wouldn’t hesitate to swoop in and grab them, and call the police. Because that kind of abuse is unacceptable to society and outlawed in most civilised communities. But what can I do other than stand by and watch the parent hand their child a ten dollar bill and send them off to the snack bar for junk food, or buy it for them so it’s there when they come off the field at the end of the game? What can I do? Nothing, it seems.
I have wondered what I might say to a parent like that, if I had the opportunity. Hey, did you know that your child is overweight, or do you just not see it? I was wondering, are you concerned about Susie’s weight gain? Do you think his chronic knee injury might have something to do with his weight? Have you thought about going to a pediatric dietitian? Do you have any idea what your kids are in for when they get to high school? Do you?!
My kids are healthy and I put this down to genetics, lots of exercise, and a good diet. We don’t eat a lot of junk food. The kids used to have McDonalds once a month, if that, but it was a treat, and these days we only buy it if we’re passing McDonald’s on a long road trip. I cook dinner for them every night of the week, and I use recipes that call for fresh ingredients and I don’t fry anything and I don’t give them too much and force them to finish it. If we get takeaway, it’s something from the local Noodle House, not pizza. The last time we had fish & chips, none of us could eat the batter from the fish simply because we are unaccustomed to that amount of grease in our diet. We don’t have the appetite for it. If they have dessert, it’s usually fruit, or icecream and fruit. These are simple choices that we have made and at the risk of sounding righteous and condescending and sanctimonious I don’t understand why other people can’t make these choices as well, when we’re talking about the health of their children. Please, feel free to enlighten me.
There’s all this stuff in the media about making it the Government’s responsibility to keep the population healthy. I think it’s the responsibility of the parents. It’s not as though there isn’t a lot of information out there on how to feed your kids well.
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