I Don’t Think Terrorizing & Shaming Parents Will Help The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

childhood obesityHas it really come to this, people? Do we really need to tell parents that they are “sentencing their children to disease” if they let them have more than two hours of screen time a day? I realize that inactivity and childhood obesity are very serious issues. I think there needs to be more honest discussion about these problems between parents and pediatricians. But it’s ridiculous to think that patronizing and insulting parents is going to do anything to help solve this growing problem.

An intensely hyperbolic piece in the Daily Mail today warns parents that they are sentencing their sedentary kids to cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It then goes on to spew a litany of statistics showing just how dangerous inactivity and obesity are, citing plenty of studies linking the problems to every disease under the sun.

Listen, parents know that limiting screen time and providing a nutritious diet are important. We’ve gotten that message. The problem is that there is so much sanctimony floating around, it’s difficult to have an honest conversation about this issue.

It is really simply to sit behind my computer and talk about all the ways that I want to keep my daughter healthy. It’s easy to brag that we eat green beans all the time and go on weekly hikes all summer long. Parents feel a big pat on the back every time we get to share just how healthy our family can be.

But you know what? It’s a lot harder to admit that daughter doesn’t just love green beans, she also loves french fries. She can’t get enough of them! The grease gives her a horrible stomach ache and she still begs for them. And every once in a while, I bake french fries for her. It’s a lot harder to say that even though she’ll spend an hour tonight at gymnastics class, she’ll probably come home and watch an episode of Scooby Doo while I get dinner around.

We spend a lot of time getting holier-than-thou about health. We spend much less time being realistic about children, activity and food. We spend less time supporting one another through what can be a difficult battle for many parents.

Maybe if professionals and parenting media spent less time telling parents that they’re condemning their children to a life of misery and more time giving realistic, positive advice, we could really help some parents who have a hard time making homemade meals or shutting off the television. We could help parents explain health issues to their children, so that they feel empowered to make their own good choices.

Instead of citing more studies, let’s give parents some quick, east recipes that their kids will actually eat. Instead of shaming screen time, let’s talk about how to integrate it into physical activities. Let’s provide more ideas and less guilt.

Maybe then, all this talk about screen time and obesity will actually help make the problem more manageable.

(Photo: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock)

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  • Lawcat

    I think the “Daily Fail” has a pretty good reputation as being hyperbolic.

    However, this struck me: ” Listen, parents know that limiting screen time and providing a nutritious diet are important. We’ve gotten that message.”

    You know what? You know that. I know that. And some other parents may know that. But obviously not “Parents” as a defined group do. I think a lot of that depends on your income level, education, location, culture, and other demographics.

    I frequently see on Facebook an acquaintance I went to high school with joking about the sleeve of Oreos her clearly overweight 2 year old just put down while watching a Bubble Guppies marathon. And then you get 10 other parents chiming in that its no big deal and their kids do the same thing and isn’t it just crazy how much kids loves sugar and that they know it’s but you gotta give them what they want, because, hey they’re good kids and they deserve it!

    And as much as I am in awe of the insanity of situation, I know that it’s just a cycle. They’ve learned their eating habits from their parents and they’re backed up by like minded people in the community. The reality is that these people DON’T know that TV is harmful or that unlimited amounts of junk food is bad for you. In fact, they try and justify it as really “not that bad” or that “fats are good thing.”

    • ashlec

      Dude, I totally agree. The last time I visited her, my cousin let her two year old drink about a bottle’s worth of Mtn. Dew in one sitting. They also told me I should add Crystal Light to my son’s water, so he’ll like drinking it. My son’s nine months old, he drinks what I put in front of him! I think it’s easy to forget how some people out there truly don’t understand how to give themselves or their kids proper nutrition and sometimes it has to be almost beaten into their heads. They shouldn’t be shamed or made to feel like they’re pariahs, but it’s naive to think there aren’t plenty of people out there who need a wake-up call about how harmful this stuff is for kids.

    • Justme

      That Facebook interaction sounds PERFECT for STFU Parents. Of course children love sugar! I love wine and cigarettes (even though I did quit smoking five years ago) but just because I’m a “good” adult doesn’t mean that I deserve unlimited access to those things.

  • AlbinoWino

    I agree that this sort of things thrown in people’s face all day is just a bit silly. I mean, if anything, is has the potential to make us a bit desensitized. I feel like everything under the sun gets linked to cancer at some point.

  • Blueathena623

    I have some pretty strong opinions on this matter, and they’re not what people would expect from me (not that y’all actually know me or my personality).
    I grew up as a pudgy kid who became a fat middle schooler and an obese high schooler and morbidly obese college student. I finally got the weight off in my 20s. I love my mom, who, being obese herself, clearly has issues with food, but there is a part of me that is bitter about my childhood. I’ve never had the guts to approach her on the topic, but I want to ask her “why did you let me get that way?” Yes, personal responsibility kicks in at college and somewhat in high school, but it would have been a hell of a lot easier to get in shape and lose 10 lbs as a 7 year old compared to 150 as an adult. My mom isn’t dumb either, so I don’t know what the deal was. But the point is, maybe scare tactics would have worked on her.

    • Lawcat

      I agree, it’s generational. I would guess 75% of those on my mother’s side of the family are obese. They believe it’s “genetics” but it’s clearly the food they are consuming and lack of exercise.

      My great-grandparents and grandparents grew up in rural WV with country cooking. They later moved, but continued cooking each day like they had just put in 12 hours at the farm. The food they were cooking wasn’t healthy by any means. My mom learned how to cook from her mother. What she views as “healthy” and what is *actually* healthy are two different things.

      The problem is, once eating habits are formed, it’s hard to break them and children pick up eating habits from their parents.

      The only thing that made my mom ever really think about changing her diet and exercise was a doctor telling her she would not be alive in 10-15 years if she kept doing what she was doing. Scare tactic? Maybe. But it worked. But at 50+, it’s much harder for her to make that adjustment than in her 20′s or if she had developed healthy eating habits in her childhood.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      My mom’s the same way. She thinks she’s cooking healthy because there’s a veggie on the plate, but the meals are based around calorie dense stuff like pasta more often than not and usually served with a fairly heavy sauce.

  • Kate


  • Lori B.

    Although it does not feel good, the shaming kinda works. I rarely have soda in my house and on the off occassion that we do have it, my daughter and I don’t drink it. However, when my daughter was about 1 1/2 I was visiting with my brother and his family and we had lunch at a burger place. Again, I rarely drink soda, not for any sanctimonious reason, but because when I do the carbonation makes me feel very uncomfortable. However, there are very few drink choices when you are at a burger place, and quite frankly, I do enjoy the taste of soda from time to time, so I ordered a sprite for myself. My daughter was on my lap eating her snacks and reached for my soda. I let her try a sip, probably her first sip at that point. I truly did not feel like reaching for her sippy cup and was simply trying to appease my daughter while enjoying a somewhat hot burger. My niece, who is year older than my daughter, asked for some soda, which I am sure put my brother and his wife in an awkward parenting situation when they had to tell her know and explain why my daughter could have some. This was not the problem. Later that day, our father basically cursed out a woman in the American Girl Store, which was hysterical and shocking. My brother later commented to my father that he did not know what was the biggest surprise of the day, the fact that I let my daughter drink soda or that my father cursed out a woman in a totally wholesome store. The two incidents were on two completely different levels as far as I was concerned and I felt so ashamed that my brother thought I fed my daughter unhealthy foods. But you know what, my daughter has maybe had one other taste of soda in the two years since then:/ No it didn’t feel great at the time, but it did help me figure out alternatives to soda in similar situations.

  • LiteBrite

    Sadly, sometimes shaming is needed. There are parents who are in complete denial about their children’s eating habits. They form all sorts of excuses about how it’s “only once in awhile” or “a little sugar won’t kill them”, when the truth is it’s not “once in awhile” or “a little bit.” Their kids’ eating habits suck all the time, and the parents are just too blind (and sometimes even too lazy) to see it.

    I’m not exempt from this mindset. My son is a picky eater. After working a full day and having a boatload of stuff to do during the evening, sometimes it’s easier to just give in and feed the kid a hot dog and some chips rather than take the time to fight with him about eating carrots. At least that’s the way it was for quite awhile. Then, my son started attending part-time kindergarten and spending his mornings and afternoons in an on-site daycare where the kids seemed to eat far healthier. Frankly, even though it was unintentional, it shamed me enough to start really pushing healthier things on my son. I stopped using my busy schedule as an excuse and started trying to find ways to feed our family healthier meals and pack healthier lunches for our son. We still struggle (DH is incredibly picky too, so he’s a roadblock sometimes), but I can say that with effort it’s getting better.

    I still agree with all of your suggestions about creating a supportive environment, offering quick, easy recipes, talking to your kids about healthy choices, etc. I just think that sometimes a little shaming is a necessary wake-up call to get people to that point.

  • K.

    This is a class issue. Yes, we all might know a couple people on FB whose tubby kids are chowing down on the Cheetos in front of a video game while Mom takes pictures, and fine, shame all you want.

    I think that’s a waste of energy though.

    The kids that are at risk for obesity are disproportionately from low-income families and they are at risk because they. don’t. have. a. choice. Most of these kids receive 10 out of 21 meals–almost half–at school through free/reduced breakfast and lunch programs, which typically spend less than .15 for food for each child and define french fries and the tomato sauce on a microwavable pizza as proper vegetables and consider chocolate milk equal to milk when really it’s closer to melted ice-cream. A lot of these kids live in neighborhoods in which it’s dangerous to be outside of their homes–thus, they are sedentary. These kids don’t get to play on the football team or go run around in the park.

    So if you really care about childhood obesity, don’t waste your time shaming other parents just to make yourself feel superior. Put your energy into systemically changing what we feed our schoolchildren and what kinds of foods are available to schoolkids (ie, vending and soda machines), how we fund our school lunch programs (and how much we spend on them), the amount of nutritional education we give to parents and children, the presence of PE programs in schools, how we subsidize our food sources, how we provide access to after school and community youth programming, and get fresh food into stores located in poor communities.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paul.white.3532507 Paul White

      While nothing you said about school lunches is wrong, that still doesn’t mean parents can’t work on what they feed kids at home. I see people feed crap food all the time. And you can talk lacking choice, but when I see people choose to feed their kids skittles and coke…well, even the corner convenience store has healthier options than that.