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June 24, 2009

A Fat Chance: 150lb four year old story

The image of a 150lb four year old on the Dr. Phil show in February 2006 shocked millions of viewers across North America. It brought attention to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. The most controversial element of the show, however, was the suggestion that custodial parents of these children were guilty of a new and very different form of child abuse.

According to Stats Canada, 26% of 2-17 year olds were overweight or obese in 2004. Not only do obese children develop numerous health problems, they also suffer from low self-esteem and social prejudice. As more of Canada’s children are getting fatter, we must question who is responsible. Ultimately, what can be done to reverse this damaging trend?

The experts on this subject are divided in their opinions about the cause of obesity. Many argue that weight gain is an effect of genetic makeup and hormones, and the only way to control it is through medication, or more drastically – surgery. The opposition insists it is controllable environmental and lifestyle factors; that the medical industry is essentially trying to kill the proverbial birds with one stone. By excusing us from responsibility, we turn to miracle drugs or gastric bypass, and they continue to make millions of dollars.

Our need to be so politically correct has caused society to become too accepting of conditions that are doing physical and emotional harm.

The fact that more than 40% of commercials on television directed at young children are candy, snacks, and fast food, tells us there is a huge market out there for these unhealthy products. Parents are buying this food for their children and ignoring the obvious impact poor diet is having.  But the reality is we are an educated society well aware of the links between diet and health. For parents to claim ignorance is irresponsible.  Too many parents use food as a reward or bribe for good behavior – not surprising given our society’s inclination towards instant gratification.

Also at the heart of this debate is the fact that many children are just too inactive! Excess weight gain in children is the result of poor dietary choices and increased ‘screen time’ (watching TV, playing video games, and using a computer). It can be difficult to convince technologically savvy kids to put down their electronics to go play outside.

The most devastating issue overweight children are faced with is the social fallout they experience. Western culture places so much emphasis on beauty, even small children are aware when another falls short of our standards. Children especially can be brutally “honest” and cruel to their peers. Overweight kids are often teased, bullied, and left out of social activities. Those who eat for emotional comfort usually end up eating more to numb their pain. Childhood is supposed to be fun and care free, and all children have the right to live safe and comfortable lives. It’s a time to run, play, and laugh; not having to worry about being made fun of or bullied because of the way they look.  

Parents have the responsibility of providing their children with love, comfort, and protection from known sources of harm. Endangering a child’s physical and emotional health by feeding them to death is just as bad as starving them. It is up to parents and guardians to ensure proper nutrition and adequate exercise.

Perhaps as more charges of child abuse are pressed against parents of morbidly obese children (without an underlying medical condition), we’ll begin to accept responsibility for the health of our children and make the choice to change.

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1 Comment(s)

  1. weight loss surgery | Nov 14, 2012 | Reply

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