Thursday, December 11, 2008

Are parents responsible when kids are fat?

Katherine Berry at PJM has a column entitled, "Fat Kids Have Their Parents to Blame" with an accompanying caption, "Childhood obesity ultimately comes down to the choices mom and dad make." I am not sure I agree entirely with this.

Parents may be in part to blame for poor choices but I have to ask where these poor choices came from. In a society that makes a mockery of self-discipline (bailouts anyone?), tells us that it's always someone else's fault when something bad happens, tells us that everything is a "right," and we deserve everything we want, what the hell can we expect? Parents are just doing as they are taught by the nanny-staters in this country and passing these "pearls of wisdom" down to their kids. "Self-discipline is for suckers, you deserve the best, you can have it all just because you're you." Why shouldn't these messages translate over to eating? You can have it all, live life with gusto, no need to restrain yourself, discipline is for suckers and abusers etc. Kids get away with anything they want these days and frankly, I have seen parents, teachers and caregivers use food to reward kids because they are not allowed to use any other means of discipline. Just give Johnny a cupcake and maybe he'll behave. It's a vicious cycle. I am not saying that just because of lack of discipline, kids and parents are turning to eating, but I do think it plays a role, one that society contributes to, by not allowing parents to truly parent.

I am troubled by Berry's last 2 paragraphs in the article:

It’s a job that parents of overweight children better get serious about performing, too, or they may lose their kids entirely, and not necessarily due to the dire health consequences they’re allowing their children to suffer. In Britain last year, a child’s excess weight was a factor in over 20 child protection cases, and just this week a six-year-old boy was taken from his parents care solely due to his obesity.

Think it couldn't’t happen here? Then, next time you’re pulling into McDonald’s for dinner (again) or reaching for that microwaveable high-fat, high-calorie dinner-in-a-box, ask yourself which entity requires you to get your kids vaccinated and send them to school for their own good and what would happen to you if you blew off that responsibility because “it’s not convenient.”

So, rather than fight the state for it's draconian laws that take kids from their parents, Berry seems to suggest that parents appease the state by keeping the kids slim? Yes, I do think parents should look after the best interests of their kids by feeding them healthy food. I try to do that myself. However, I think that our society and other cultural issues play just as big a role in keeping our kids fat as parents do. It is much easier for some, I suppose, to point the finger at mom and dad as the main source of the problem, even to the point of taking their kids away. But that hardly seems a suitable solution.



Blogger karrde said...

When I was younger, I knew a family in which one child (of a large family...eight children at the time) was a little corpulent. Not obese, but appearing to tend in that direction.

None of the other children in the family had this problem.

Generally, the family ate together. I doubt that this particular child out-ate the others--but that is conjecture.

After reaching puberty, this child no longer appears corpulent, though is slightly stocky compared to the immediately-younger and immediately-older siblings.

Given this evidence, I suspect that some children will appear overweight before adolescence, and grow out of it (with proper nutrition).

I've been told that there are several body-types. Is there a way to measure obesity against body-type, especially for children early in the development process?

How would the Master Measurers of Child Obesity account for such things? Especially if there is variance of body-type within a family?

12:51 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Terry Foote said...

My girlfriend is a teacher and she has a theory about childhood obesity - she blames many problems on sodas and energy drinks. She says the kids (high school age) drink several a day, and you can track their ingestion habits through the extreme sugar and caffeine highs in the morning, to the ensuing crash in the afternoon. Plus, these things are loaded with calories, and kids exercise less, hence making many of them overweight. I can see her point really.

Admittedly I drank sodas when I was a high schooler but never several a day as her students do. If I had to boil it down to a concept, I'd say we in the United States simply have a culture of unhealthfulness.

Now excuse me, while I finish my 3rd coffee of the day and scarf down some donuts.

12:56 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Jenny said...

I think the age of the child determines how much the parents are to blame. I have a younger cousin who has been fat since the age of five. Not chunky, not baby fat, but truly overweight. And her parents have fed her nothing but copious amounts of junk since she could eat solid food. Her weight is her parents' fault.

1:48 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger HMT said...

Ironically (counter intuitively?) obesity is a big problem in impoverished communities in the US. Fast food is extremely cheap ($/Calories) and fresh vegetables and fruit are expensive. School meals are also very fat and Calorie rich, a problem when it's one of the primary meals for poorer kids. Even within my own non-poor community I see families (sometimes my own) choose fast food or processed garbage from the grocery store. When you're pressed for time or just "Don't feel like cooking" it's very easy to find an unhealthy option.

All that said... It's a hazard of living in the "land of plenty". The more freedom you have the more responsibility you have to figure out the right choice.

1:50 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

I once traveled for a week with a family of three - all were over weight. As we walked down the street we passed a McDonald's. We had eaten only a couple of hours prior and still had a couple of hours to go before it would be dinner time. No one said they were hungry, but the mother immediately asked her chubby son if he wanted something. Naturally, he said, "yes." They didn't skip dinner later.

Some parents are pushers and the kids just get in the habit.

I am convinced that most people are overweight because they are afraid of getting too hungry before the next meal or because their "hunger off-button" is too slow. Kids learn both of these things from the eating habits they grow up with. When I was younger, I could eat truly prodigious amounts of food and never gain weight. Old habits die hard - I got fatter when my metabolism slowed but my fork didn't. Now it's a struggle.

Parents at fault? - yes. But they can't teach what they don't know.

2:24 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

For me the "pressed for time" problem looms large. Nearly every time I go to a fast food restuarant it is for that reason. I don't consider any of my kids obese although, according to the technical definition of height vs. weight, my youngest son may meet the criteria.

The definition is part of the problem. My son is a big kid, plays football, bike rides, snowboards, hikes, camps, fishes, hunts and more. Few kids are more active than he is. But at 6'3" and 245 lbs., he is "heavy."

I worry more about my 12 year old daughter being too skinny. However, she is approximately the same heigth and weight I was at that age (too skinny) and seems to eat OK.

I think as a society, we worry and fret too much about every little thing. We have to be one of the most up-tight, anal retentive societies ever.

2:26 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

Why are kids fat? The same reason adults are fat. Bad diet and lack of exercise. It's not complicated.

Now there are a variety of influences that lead up to people making bad choices. A parent might be rewarding the little tykes with cupcakes. Parents might be pressed for time but not for money so they stop at the drive-thru for their dining choices. Parents want to make sure junior gets to school so they drive them there. Schools might choose to eliminate gym class due to funding or liability issues. Kids might have access to vending machines and money. We don't want to hurt young feelings with words like fat, porker, obese, husky and chunky so we don't use them.

But who has control over the kids? It isn't me, it isn't the schools, it isn't the government, it isn't their friends. Now who is left?

If you have a fat kid there is a reason for it. Go look in the mirror.

2:30 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

"If you have a fat kid there is a reason for it. Go look in the mirror."

Wow, this is confusing for me as I am overweight and my kids are not.

But seriously, Cham, a large percentage of the girls I see that have been sexually abused go through a period of weight gain. Especially if they were abused before puberty. Some of them tell me that they feel safe when they are big, some just say that the food helps them feel good, but it is maybe 33% of them. So this is the parent's fault?

I am all about parental responsibility, when it makes sense. And I certainly can imagine scenarios where I would absolutely be culpable in my child's weight, but I can also think up as many situations in which external forces or simple biology make huge contributions.

So the issue is not so cut and dried as some people make it, but I now feel proud that I parented 4 weight appropriate kids despite my own weight problems. Cause that MUST be my fault!


2:46 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

Yes, TMink, it is the parents fault. If a kid is putting on weight in order to create a permanent costume for themselves, don't you think someone should delve into what that is happening? That challenge would fall to the parents. If kids are eating food merely because it makes them feel good, the parents ought to do something to put a stop to it before junior weighs 300 pounds.

It is up to parents to teach kids about nutrition, moderation and exercise. Looking the other way while your kid blows up like a balloon is criminal.

2:52 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Joe said...

My youngest three children, especially the two boys, are skinny as a rail. My oldest was chunky as a young teenager, but is now quite shapely (well, quite pregnant, but was quite shapely before that.)

It's called....


I was skinny until 25 and started gaining weight, though I'm still in the lower percentile for my age and height. I'm now in my mid-forties and it's very apparent that my pattern of weight gain is identical to... wait for it... wait for it... my father, grandmother, grandfather. Need I go on?

Good God, this is absurd. Nutrition science mostly isn't; it's bullshit piled on bullshit. The valid stuff is constantly ignored (like how overweight people are healthier and live longer and how most vitamin regimens don't do anything) in favor of the politically correct and what sounds good.

3:07 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Terry Foote said...

@Joe - before modern material abundance, viruses in some form or other were the #1 reason for premature death in the US. Now it's heart disease. Broccoli being more nutritious than a Big Mac not unscientific bullshit. It appears that we're genetically best suited to eat mostly vegetables with servings of meat hear and there - there's nothing political about it. It's all common sense, something our mothers told us.

3:59 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Joe said...

Broccoli isn't more nutritious than a Big Mac. It simply is not by any definition of the word "nutritious."

It appears that we're genetically best suited to eat mostly vegetables

Again, statements that are belied by the actual, double-blind studies of science. We are genetically best suited for a mixed diet heavy in protein. There is an evolutionary reason we have canine teeth and jaws and teeth suited for eating meat and not flat teeth suited for eating vegetables.

4:30 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Contrary to popular belief, broccoli aside, genetics is the primary factor in longevity and many other health factors. This is why my cholesterol is in the 140s while I eat too much fried foods, red meat, eggs and more.

4:34 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

Often a class issue. In my state, the fat kids live in towns and cities that are relatively less wealthy than in other areas of the state. In richer areas, the kids and their parents--education?--are usually in much better shape. They do not or very seldom eat at fast food places and they are concerned abut looks, clothes, appearance, etc. Educated parents seem to influence their children's eating habits, and so too, other students at their school. You will find, generally, that overweight is very often associated with education and income levels and that none of this has anything to do with The State.

4:43 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Terry Foote said...


"Broccoli isn't more nutritious than a Big Mac. It simply is not by any definition of the word "nutritious."

Not sure I'm following you here. However, I'd bet the proverbial farm that if you put 100 people on a diet heavy in broccoli, and another group heavy in Big Macs, the majority the former would outlive the latter, all things other factors being equal.

"Again, statements that are belied by the actual, double-blind studies of science."

There's a study proving or disproving pretty much anything we want. We only going on best guesses here. Obviously we disagree on which best guess to agree with.

"We are genetically best suited for a mixed diet heavy in protein."

Why? Evolutionarily we're still in the cave, despite great advances in civilization. Meat is scarce and difficult to come by - that's why wolves, cougars and other strictly carnivores starve to death during the winter. Omnivorousness is a survival mechanism, and that's why we have molars as well - to best chew vegetables.

"There is an evolutionary reason we have canine teeth and jaws and teeth suited for eating meat and not flat teeth suited for eating vegetables."

We have teeth for both. And despite what you may be thinking, or not thinking, I'm not a politically correct vegan. I love steak and red meat, and eat it with relish. However, I do it with the knowledge that if eaten more than sparingly, it has serious health consequences.

Think of this too - you don't really hear or read too much of vegans coming down with diverticulitis, and other assorted ailments of the gut. Our digestive systems are geared with a strong preference towards vegetables.

5:58 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

Ah, fat kids. I know my slim mother would have loved it if I had been a thinner child and I'm sure she did what she could to encourage that. I always did enjoy food but I also seemed to favor (physically) my Dad's side of the family who were all fat, except the aunts who lived on black coffee and cigs, or the girl cousins who were probably anorexic though I doubt it was called that back in the '60s.

Of course my Polish grandma always had food on the table and her mantra was "eat, eat!"

I wonder how much doctors really talk to their patients about weight. For many years I went to a teaching practice for my yearly exams, so saw a different doctor every time. During that time I was moderately overweight, not obese but not "normal" weight. Not one ever mentioned my weight during the course of an exam. I wonder if they are afraid to offend people (women) so keep quiet about it unless asked. I can only imagine the danger to a doctor who tells a mother that her little darling is too heavy.

But taking the kids away? I guess that will come with socialized medicine.

7:12 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Joe said...

After looking it up, broccoli has a wider range of vitamins and minerals per ounce than a Big Mac. I was wrong there.

However, several recent studies have systematically disproved most anti-cancer, pro-health claims of various vegetables, vitamins and nutrients. There is growing evidence that a protein heavy diet as being the healthiest overall.

7:47 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

You eat what you eat. Then you exercise.

9:43 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Nom dePlume said...

The comments in this thread remind me of debates I've seen regarding depression. Most people have never experienced clinical depression, assume it is comparable to their own sad and blue moments, and impute a variety of moral failings to depressed people who won't just "snap out of it." The reality is that serious depression, aka Major Depressive Disorder, plunges the victim into a hell of emotional agony that resembles normal sadness about as much as multiple compound fractures resemble a scratch from a rose thorn.

Most can indeed "snap out of" normal life disappointments. People with mild to moderate depression can, in a significant number of cases, recover with the help of serious psychotherapeutic techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. People with very serious depression generally require powerful antidepressant medication to function, and even then, not all recover.

So to those who believe that self-control, exercise, and healthy eating can solve all cases of overweight, lighten up. Just as for depression, there is a range of weight issues from mild to severe, for which a range of strategies ranging from healthy living to medication, or surgery, is appropriate. If you are fortunate enough to be able to maintain a good weight without the more serious interventions, count your blessings--and don't equate your experience of food cravings to that experienced by an 800 pound woman who can eat a gallon of ice cream and still be starving.

9:45 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Lindsey said...

I think most people would not need to look up nutritional data to determine broccoli is better for you than a Big Mac.

"You will find, generally, that overweight is very often associated with education and income levels and that none of this has anything to do with The State."

Agricultural subsidies help keep the unhealthy stuff cheap. It's all about the state.

10:20 PM, December 11, 2008  
Blogger Ron Tomlinson said...

The problem with coercing children into eating 'healthy' foods (in quotes because which foods are considered healthy varies considerably according to fashion), is that it is stressful for all concerned.

Many people respond to stress by overeating.

Such coercion also tends to make people think about food instead of more important topics.

Many people will respond to these compulsive thoughts by eating more and/or obsessing about their weight.

1:30 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

dear Lindsey:
I dislike subsidies...esp. since we are a "free market society" right? But junk is junk and oil is subsidized so that does not mean I ought to refuse or accept its use based on the notion that it is subsidized. So, too, peanuts are from subsidized farms...Do I reject all foods that are from farms? The state does not force me to eat crap when there is healthy stuff out there. Fast food is junk. My kids seldom eat it...blaming "the state;' for all our ills is simply oversimplifying. I have a bank account that is insured by "the state." Is that then a horrible thing?

7:17 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to the problem of childhood obesity. Some people seem to be genetically programmed to survive a famine in that their bodies quickly and easily add fat, whereas others could eat the same foods and remain relatively slim.

Some factors to consider are lower physical activity, highly processed foods (I see corn syrup solids as a potential culprit), and easily obtainable calorie dense foods that are very low cost.

What I have noticed, in addition to obesity in children, is that even slender preteen and teenage girls now seem to have belly fat. I wonder if anyone is doing research on that issue.

Parents certainly have a responsibility to provide good nutrition for their children, but poor food is everywhere now, so parents can't control everything their children eat. And there is the allure of "forbidden fruit" to consider.

8:05 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Acksiom said...

A: "There's a study proving or disproving pretty much anything we want. We only going on best guesses here."

B: "I love steak and red meat, and eat it with relish. However, I do it with the knowledge that if eaten more than sparingly, it has serious health consequences."

Am I the only one here who finds that kind of near-immediate self-contradiction to be a hallmark behavior of the low/anti-protein crowd?

8:07 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger zb42 said...

In many traditional cultures, i.e. Italian or Chinese, parents and grandparents giving their children food is a way to show love. In fact, these parents believe that if one doesn't stuff their kids till they bust, they're being bad parents or there's something wrong with the kid.
Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents were constantly feeding me. Because they grew up in impoverished times in their homeland, they wanted to give me what they lacked. If there wasn't some kind of food in my mouth, my mom would ask me, "How come you're not eating?" As a result, I was one pudgy kid. It wasn't until I left for college and started working that I was able to lose weight and keep it off.
So, I agree that parents bear some of the responsibility for children being overweight, but I think with the federal bailouts on everyone's minds that it's a stretch to simply blame the nanny staters for parents not teaching kid impulse control and proper food portions. Ethnic cultures are just as complicit in this regard.

8:17 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Leah said...

An overweight child is not necessarily the parents' fault just as catching a 10 y/o with a cigarette is not necessarily the parents' fault. My mother has a weight problem just like I do and she hounded me about it and frankly, sometimes I over-ate just out of rebellion towards her (and smoked cigarettes too) I later lost weight as I began noticing the boys but gained it all back in my 20's. Fortunately I did quit smoking.

8:40 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Protein is very important in brain development. The Discovery Channel show "Walking with Cavemen" mentions the importance of a meat based, high protein diet in the evolution of the human brain. Do a search for "protein brain development" and you'll find lots of info on the importance.

9:13 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

Cham asked: "don't you think someone should delve into what that is happening?"

That is my job Cham. 8)

Wouldn't it be nice if I or the parents could erase the sexual abuse pain and fear with a magic wand? It is a nice, comfortable wish.

And later wrote: "Looking the other way while your kid blows up like a balloon is criminal."

As I mentioned before, my kids are all slim and healthy. Why are you so fond of referencing my kids Cham?


9:25 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I was rail thin as a child and was a very picky eater. I also was frequently ill with colds, throat infections, etc. It turned out that my tonsils were so swollen that I could barely swallow. Out they came and presto! I could actually swallow food and became a good eater.

I remained very thin until I was about 15 at which time I rapidly started gaining weight. I was literally starving myself (400 calorie a day diet), exercising in excess of 2 hours a day and was not losing weight. I ended up hospitalized for a week when the blood tests revealed that I had such a severe thyroid disorder I should have died. I was put on the right medication and bam the weight came off.

So was it my parents' fault that I was either too thin or too fat? Nope. And considering that I'm adopted, they can't even be blamed for the genetics.

Of course there are parents who either don't teach proper nutrition or who actively teach bad habits. But there are also many genetic factors overseeing weight about which parents have only limited control. To simply blame the parents is simplistic in the extreme.

9:26 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Mark Buehner said...

"Fast food is extremely cheap ($/Calories) and fresh vegetables and fruit are expensive."

Thats something of a misnomer. Fnacy organic foods and preprocessed healthy foods are expensive. Healthy ingrediants remain very cheap, but people don't cook much any more. That is the number one reason for obesity in this country.

Even if your can't cook you can buy a can of condensed soup for about $.60. Match that up nutritionally with anything on the dollar menu at McDs. Now if you make your own stock (after you buy whole poultry and get several meals out of it) and make your own soup... Regardless, prepacked, premade healthy food is expensive. Simple, rustic home made food is the cheapest but most healthy stuff you can find.

9:44 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

Tmink: I wasn't referencing your kids. I'm talking about parents that ignore their child's obesity. If a kid ends up in your office to discuss their problems and do something about them clearly the parent is doing something right and shows concern. I would say that is a good thing and exactly what a parent should be doing.

9:56 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am the overweight child of a woman who was constantly dieting. Dinners were war zones - every morsel I consumed was put under scrutiny. Exercise was mandated. Mom followed every fad diet, so some weeks we lived on grapefruit and the next we gorged on non-fat cookies. Is it any surprise that eating was my escape?

Now, in my 30s, I'm losing weight, getting healthy, and realizing I would have been better off simply eating the real food my grandparents did, without accepting processed replacements that promised quantity over quality.

My teenaged stepson lives with us most of the time. He's had some chubby phases -- both of his parents are overweight and no doubt he has that genetic tendency. Now, he's at a good size. We try to positively reinforce that and help him learn that when his jeans are getting tight, it's not time to buy the next size: it's time to ease off the sweets and exercise portion control. Rather than talk about dieting, we encourage him to appreciate flavors and textures in his food and to recognize when he's full. We're all pretty sedentary, but we make an attempt to walk or ride our bikes when the weather is good.

Then, he goes to his mother's house for the weekend, plays video games for hours on end, drinks gallons of Coke and eats fast food.

If I'm honest, I suspect that when I'm not providing breakfast, packing lunch, and cooking dinner for him, he'll be a fat young adult. He'll eat fast, easy, and cheap foods. For the next couple of years, though, I'll do my best to show him better options. I'm a parent. That's just one small part of my job.

10:03 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

My kids' favorite breakfast food along with eggs and OJ. ;-)

10:08 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger bdog57 said...

A few thoughts:

A lot of it really does come down to the time constraints. You can buy all sorts of filling/edible foodstuffs from the frozen aisle at your local Wal-Mart and arrange these products to qualify as "dinner". Most of said "dinner" being of dubious nutritional value. My oldest gets home at 5 p.m. from school -having left at 7 a.m., no less- and having something less than a 5-course meal provides the time for him to get homework done, play with his dogs, and MAYBE do something that he enjoys. [Some childhood, no?]. Of course, we have 6 children, so our concerns for time are not necessarily everyone else's.

Of course, when reading the previous paragraph, do understand that our snack food menu only includes fruits, chips and salsa, or some other similar "lite" concoctions. No out-and-out junk.

Certainly genetics also plays a factor here. Both my wife and I are still relatively skinny. For me, I pretty much eat whatever I want and still wear 34/32 jeans (with a 2" overhang :P ...but still ). My kids? All skinny.

Coming full-cirle, how does a lot of this junk food end up so cheap? Government subsidies definitely DO come into play here. The missus and I watched an excellent documentary on PBS a few months ago. Two gentlemen bought an acre of land in Iowa to see what it would take to grow corn. Their findings showed that: a) there was no way to turn a profit on a single acre of corn without gov't help; b) a LOT of said corn was used to make high fructose corn syrup; and c) using modern techniques, most of this stuff tasted terrible. The two guys spat out their own crop during a taste test saying that it tasted like "sawdust".

High fructose corn syrup is the #1 ingredient in almost all junk food. That's not all, though; it's even in BREAD nowadays (seriously, go check the label). Cane sugar was relatively expensive in the past. With the farm bill in the '70s, producing copious quantities of corn syrup became easy and inexpensive, thus allowing many junk-food manufacturers to sell their product cheaper. Ergo, more people are going to buy this stuff.

So, the federal gov't has achieved a twofer here: it has killed the family farm and subsidized obesity. Really, is there anything that the State can't screw up?

10:21 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Thor's Dad said...

Wait until the government takes over healthcare - children will not be fat anymore - there will be no more illness. First they will tell us what we can eat - no more McDonald's, no more sweets, no more - you name it - and then when the economy collapses further from government intervention - the famine will take care of the rest of the fat.

10:43 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Kohath said...

Parents are responsible for child obesity simply because it's the parental role to be responsible for children.

And obesity is simply caused by eating too much food. All the rest of the talk about diets and healthy foods and fast foods and stress and everything else is just fog that distracts from the real issue. The issue is eating too much food.

10:43 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Donna B. said...

First, I question that there is a childhood obesity epidemic. Second, I question that there is an adult obesity epidemic.

Third, I know damn well that any kind of government initiative or interference will NOT help anything.

Supposedly, back in the 60s and 70s when I was in high school and could buy as many soft drinks and hamburgers and french fries at the school sponsored outlets, people were always skinny.

But suddenly, when those things are mostly unavailable, people are obese?

Heaven knows I'm obese, but can you explain why my cholesterol numbers are much much better than my thin and very physically fit son-in-law (a soldier, even!)?

Does this mean he's more likely to have a heart attack than I am, even though he's 30 years younger and a "perfect" size?

How does this explain my granddaughter's height and weight? She's at the 90th percentile for height and the 10th percentile for weight... yet her mother and her grandmother are obese? (As are her grandparents on her father's side.)

This granddaughter has an appetite that would astound most people.

I think the "obesity epidemic" is a construction of poor scientific reporting. Maybe there's even an agenda behind it, but it doesn't make any sense to me at all.

11:05 AM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger John Hovig said...

Dr Helen:

Forgive me if this point was already made above and I missed it. I don't understand why you need to say this: "our society and other cultural issues play just as big a role in keeping our kids fat as parents do." Ms Berry's comment is part of "society" too. Ms Berry is speaking from her corner of "society" to send a message that might run counter to the rest of "society." It's not fair to say that there's some amorphous blob out there called "society" -- you may wish to consult Ms Thatcher's views on that subject -- and deny that Ms Berry is simply doing her part, as a member of that same "society." I hope this was clear. Thanks in any event for the thought-provoking entry.

3:10 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Larry Sheldon said...

Short summary:

Yes, parents are responsible for the behaviour of their under-age children.

3:24 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger LZ said...

The only difference between gluttony and lust in America is that the gluttonous can be detected visually.

3:39 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

What a silly piece of nonsene: when govt takes over health care...can you show me any candidate from either party that has advocated govt run health care where the govt would tell you which doctors to go to etc? Try to understand what is being discussed at a national level before dropping silly "I fear the govt" stuff.

4:34 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger Mister Wolf said...

Actually, most scientific medical studies are inherently tainted. In the US, most studies are either funded by the government(Fed or Universities) or a corporations(Pharm, Medical devices, or think tanks). With corporations, the taint is inherent and obvious, they want to max their profits. Therefore, they want scientists who will green light their products or ideas and therefore, those scientists get the funding.

The government funding is tainted too, for much the same reason. Most funding is controlled by government bureaucracies. Bureaucracies by nature propagate themselves in order to try to make it more valuable(at least by perception) and because it's the survival mechanism of a bureaucracy. Therefore, bureaucracies have incentives to give money to people who support the bureaucracy's position.

Now, what does this have to do with the price of tea in china? Simple, I believe that the FDA(and other agencies) have incentives to propagate a "war on obesity" in order to increase their own importance. Therefore, they're more inclined to give money to scientists who support the position. Industry Scientists have no reason to challenge the government funded scientists because now the I.scientists employers can make money off this "war".

Furthermore, us, the public, get our information second-, third-, or fourth-hand. Therefore, it's more like getting told your husband/wife is cheating on you from the biggest liar/gossiper in town.

For instance...let's take it that you get your information from a physician...

Researcher => Science Journal/Committee of Experts => Your Physician => You.

As you can see, there is alot of room for mistakes, omitting, and miscommunication. It can get worse when a PR firm or the media is involved. They're not even remotely experts.

Basically, what I'm getting at is you should overly trust any "expert" or any single piece of information on pretty much anything. Especially when there are financial interests involved. And there are plenty in the weight loss industry(which I have jokingly said is our national religion).

As far as my views on fat, nutrition, and exercise? I say, eat plenty, and exercise plenty. Worry less about your "weight"(which, in my opinion is next to a worthless measurement) and worry more if your fit(meaning that you actually exercise).

Heck, I think the stress from "being fat" is more deadly then being fat in and of itself. Constant fretting that you're not thin enough to be a runway model or Lance's really pitiful. But alas, the god of the church of weight loss shows us the sinners...he made them fat. I guess perfection is nothingness then, eh?

7:38 PM, December 12, 2008  
Blogger TMink said...

"can you show me any candidate from either party that has advocated govt run health care where the govt would tell you which doctors to go to etc?"

What, you mean like the VA system is run?

Nobody will SAY those things because it would be death to say it. Yet, we have some government run health care systems, TriCare and the Medi sisters, Caid and Care. I work with the those systems every week and did a year internship with the VA.

Nathan, you do not want to go to the VA for your health care. Because they tell you which doc to go see etc.

Just because nobody mentions the elephant in the room it does not mean that the elephant shit is not getting high and about to choke everyone.


11:41 AM, December 13, 2008  
Blogger pockosmum said...

I live in Japan and get back to the US every four years or so(a little more often if I'm lucky). My eyes are telling me enough, you can assert that it's about the inaccuracy of studies and reporting, but since the early 90s there are more and more morbidly obese people walking around every time I go back. I noticed it in 1991 for the first time. I went to a conference with a large number of Japanese and a couple of the third day I and one other American were saying 'What's going on here? Do you see this?'

Meal portions in restaurants also doubled over the past 10-15 years, to the point where I cannot eat more than half of a restaurant meal, can't have an h'ors dourve or a dessert, although most people around me do have a full-course meal plus drinks.I'm amazed that someone who has just eaten three small chicken breasts and 10 red potatoes as their entree can then dig into a brownie sundae with probably as many calories as their main dish. If you're there all the time you may not notice the creep....people are becoming or already are used to eating extremely large amounts of food at each meal. Super-sizing started around then as well, didn't it?

The 'more is better' philosophy has been applied to more and more foods until you have things like chocolate turtle marble fudge nut ice cream :-D One flavor isn't enough anymore, look at advertising and see how many times the word 'more' is used....'more cheese' 'more flavor' 'extreme' flavor.

Just look around any time you're out, the number of obese people has really increased. I think that parents do have some responsibility if their children are fat. If the stuff isn't in the house, kids can't eat it. Even if it is genetic, there are measures you can take to be healthy instead of saying 'She has my mother's genes' and leaving it at that.

12:02 AM, December 14, 2008  
Blogger pockosmum said...

A link showing average Japanese meal sizes. These come with about 4 ounces of rice and 1/2 cup of miso soup on the side. Dessert isn't eaten often.

12:35 AM, December 14, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...


I think it is great that the restaurants are offering more food. I have a theory about why they do that. Food became relatively cheap compared to income 20 years ago. So restaurants felt that they had to prepare meals anyway, why not offer the customer a bonus by giving them larger portions. So they did.

The restaurants decided to give the customer what they wanted, American customers enjoy cheap foods like french fries and low quality cuts of meats. The restaurants went light on the expensive fresh vegetables and heavy on the potatoes. That's okay, this became more bang for your buck.

I'd much rather have more food than less food for my dollar. There isn't one nonbuffet restaurant on this planet that is going to demand you clean your plate. All of them will either provide a box for you or wrap your extra food to take home. They are all very nice about it.

I've gone to restaurants and managed to get 3 other meals out of my entree. Americans aren't fat because they are helpless, they aren't fat because of unhealthy school lunches, they aren't fat because there is a Burger King and Taco Bell on every corner, they aren't fat because restaurants serve big portions, Americans are fat because they don't see a problem with being morbidly obese. I wouldn't see a problem with adults being fat either if the fat weren't driving the cost of health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid sky high with all their medical problems. I feel incredibly sorry for the fat children though, they didn't ask to be fat.

8:24 AM, December 14, 2008  
Blogger pockosmum said...

"I've gone to restaurants and managed to get 3 other meals out of my entree."

If everyone else did that, there might not be so many obese people, don't you think?

"There isn't one nonbuffet restaurant on this planet that is going to demand you clean your plate"

True, so then it comes down to self-control I guess. But even so I do not feel that you cannot exclude the availability of huge portions from the equation. Do you ever notice how many people DO clear their plates?

I'll tell you something else I've noticed. Costco, land of huge muffins, came to Amagasaki near Osaka four years ago. Obesity is still not much of a problem in Japan, but....the Japanese who are shopping at Costco are getting bigger...I've seen some seriously obese people there. Cheap food+huge portions ie., eating a huge amount at every meal becomes normal=obesity.

3:38 AM, December 15, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

Studies say that if you have large amounts of food in the home, like those big deals you find at Costco and Sams Club, people will tend to eat it faster than if they don't have cases of food in the home. Perhaps this has something to do with biology as many animals will fatten themselves when food is available during warm weather and thin down during winter. People should know better, it isn't necessary to clear your plate at every meal. It's okay to eat half your food and save the rest for later.

8:26 AM, December 15, 2008  
Blogger Retriever said...

We have stopped shopping at Costco for food as we also noticed how very large the other customers were, and we notice how much greedier we are when we have huge quantities of any particular food or drink in the larder.

A huge factor in kids being overweight is a culture where parents are afraid (often legitimately) to let the kids walk to school, roam the neighborhood two hours after school, playing and raising Cain (no video games in my youth), and where there is no longer an hour long recess to run, play tag, capture the flag etc with friends at school, plus sports everyday. I was forced to play a sport every day throughout school.

Whereas my kids by high school could have gotten away with 2 gym periods a week half the year, plus no recess and lunch in a cafeteria serving fast food (they brought home sandwiches, and hiked and played their own sports). Because I worked, I couldn't drive them to the after school sports programs, even if I could have afforded them.

We don't eat out. Except for a birthday treat if the kid doesn't chose a home cooked feast. That helps (financially as well as weight wise).

I cook from scratch, grow vegetables and fruit, can and preserve, yadda yadda. But, of course, teenagers prefer chips and chocolate and soda, etc.

So, anyone who thinks a parent can totally control a kids' diet obviously isn't a parent. One can nag, cajole, bribe, bully, threaten, and simply not bring fattening junk into the house, but kids are resourceful and find a way to get it. Hmmmm Mom can I go visit Joey? (Joey has bountiful candy and cheddar popcorn and Mountain Dew on tap...)

Both parents in our family are normal weight, but one kid in our house is fat (tho not obese) because of Asperger's and other issues (psychiatric meds are a big factor in many Americans' overweight these days. Atypicals, anybody????) and obsessive preoccupation with fantasy RPGs and other video games, also equally obsessive soda drinking and munching 24/7. Saved from being as obese by his perseverative running in circles in the yard for half and hour at a time every day.

Have researched a fair bit on themes of disordered appetites generally, and it seems pretty clear that eating (tho essential) gets out of whack for some very complicated reasons that prescriptions and bullying school nurses can't do much to change. I wouldn't cheapen the concept of addiction to say much eating is a kind of addiction, but I would say that it is often driven, shaped by inner demons quite as much as by the deliciousness of COffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream. Interestingly, kids who ravenously devour soda and sweets often end up addicted to drugs and/or alcohol later in life. It's some kind of marker, IMHO. Perhaps not any biochemical difference from people who can eat moderately, but a sign of an inner hunger and longing to be satisfied.

10:08 PM, December 17, 2008  
Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

Disordered appetites can also, perhaps, be related to not having a refined sense of what is worth eating, and what it's like to cook with that in mind. All of which is relatively absent today in the West, I fear; the sense that we're too busy too cook ties in with the idea that food is just fuel and the sense that portion control means eating til the container is empty.

I posted a few thoughts relating loosely to that just today.

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