Baby Fat?

Recently, a great deal of concern has been expressed over the growing epidemic of childhood obesity.  With all of the hoopla surrounding this subject, how then have we let our children become overweight? Oddly enough, a sort of “love is blind” phenomena referred to as optimistic bias exists between parents and children in which the parent just cannot perceive that their child is overweight and/or at risk of developing serious health problems. 

Obesity tends to be in the eye of the beholder and many parents are reluctant to behold that their children are in fact, overweight.  One study revealed that among mothers and fathers whose children clearly met the criteria for obesity, 35 percent of those parents did not perceive their children as having a weight problem at all.  They did however, recognize that obesity is a problem in general and could cause serious health problems, but did not recognize obesity in their own children.

Denial is common in both mothers and fathers.  Some parents try to convince themselves that their child’s extra weight is due to big bones or a healthy appetite.  Parents frequently rationalize their children’s weight problems by saying that they aren’t really overweight but rather carry a lot of baby fat and will eventually outgrow it.

Single parenthood often complicates this phenomenon. Many single parents make the subconscious decision to overlook or ignore their children’s weight because they feel guilty.  They may feel that they are the ones to blame for their children’s poor eating habits.  Sometimes food is given as a reward. Special fattening treats for good behavior or good grades can add additional pounds.  If single parents are overweight themselves, they may feel helpless or hypocritical when addressing weight problems in their children.

Some single parents believe that since others in the family have weight problems, their children are simply genetically pre-disposed to obesity. He’s built like his father, or she’s built like her mother is a common thought pattern that discourages interference. Parents may be reluctant to involve themselves or their children in what they may see as a useless struggle against destiny.

Among other single parents, there is a certain amount of fear that drawing attention to their children’s weight will backfire, leading to eating disorders, dangerous diet practices and/or low self esteem.  However, while 33 percent of children are overweight or obese, anorexia affects only about 1-200 children between the ages of 12 and 18, most of them girls according to WebMd. As for low self esteem, self concept will increase with each positive step towards a healthier lifestyle and overall improved physical appearance.  Non food rewards can be incorporated as milestones into weight loss programs to encourage the development of increased self esteem as progress is made.

Additionally, it is a sad and ugly truth. It is more cost effective to purchase unhealthy food than healthy food. If a family is on a tight budget, sometimes healthy foods take a back seat to the more cost effective unhealthy foods.

Finally, it is not uncommon for single parents to avoid addressing a child’s weight problem because they feel powerless to change it or they are already overwhelmed in their role as single parent.  When choosing battles, sometimes, this one is viewed as one not really worth fighting and is an easy one to avoid since the negative repercussions are sometimes not seen until it is too late. However, with the increased risk of negative health repercussions, it is time for single parents to get on the frontlines against this potential risk to their children.

What to do:

  1. Ask your pediatrician if your child is overweight. Your pediatrician should be your first source for information for anything relating to your child’s health.  Do not hesitate to ask for an assessment of your child’s weight as part of an overall physical examination. This can forestall the development of health complications related to obesity, such as Diabetes II which is increasing in the youth population.
  2. If your child is overweight, keep your pediatrician involved.  Ask for their help in developing a plan to get your child’s weight under control.
  3. Be a role model – practice the healthy eating habits and exercise regimen you would like your child to follow.  Get the entire family involved as you all devote yourselves to living a more active, healthier lifestyle that incorporates sound nutritional practices.
  4. Encourage exercise and cut down on sedentary activities.  Numerous studies have linked obesity to the amount of time children spend in front of the television.  Send them outside to play, ride bikes and walk instead of watching television, playing video games and sitting in front of the computer.
  5. Buy only what you want them to eat. Stock the house with nutritious foods that don’t encourage added pounds but promote a well balanced healthy diet including the appropriate amount of fruits and vegetables.
  6. Take heart. Nutritional foods can be affordable. Cooking healthy can be as well.   Plan ahead, comparison shop and shop for healthy items while on sale and before you know it, your shopping habits will have changed for the better without your budget having paid the price.

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Baby Fat?