Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

Childhood obesity is not something to be battled

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Image by Mike Mozart on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

“Disappointed” doesn’t cover how I felt reading this article from the CBC. I’m used to hearing people blame individuals for being overweight. It’s always frustrating. However, it’s enraging to see a director of a Childhood Obesity Foundation laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of parents. He should know better than that.

In the article he says that the government should assume some responsibility for “combating childhood obesity” but that “the buck sort of does stop with the family”. So much no.

Obviously parents want to raise healthy children. Yes, it’s the parents who buy and prepare the food for the household. That doesn’t mean that the onus for “combating childhood obesity” should lie with them.

Our society is designed in such a manner as to make healthy choices incredibly difficult. Forget about combating obesity – can I just say how much I hate that wording? We should be talking about fostering health. The proliferation of cheap calorically dense and nutrient light quick and easy meal options makes the unhealthy choice all too easy. The lack of value on time spent cooking and the over-emphasis on time spent at work makes these options all too appealing. There are myriad reasons that children are overweight and/or unhealthy. Most of which stem from societal issues; not from lack of parents caring and trying to do the best for their children.

Tom Warshawski, the director of the Childhood Obesity Foundation gives three tips for parents to “fight childhood obesity”. The first tip is to “take authority”. Stand-up to the Lunchables and big sodas. Fair enough, until our government stand-up for its citizens and makes these types of food less heavily marketed, affordable and available, it really is down to the parents to try to swim against the tide and limit purchases of such items.

Tip number two, sticking to a recommended diet, is one that makes me cringe a little. It’s that damn four-letter word. Sure, ensuring your child, and you, follow a nutritious diet is important for good health. That doesn’t mean that any specific diet regime need be enforced. Being overly strict about food may backfire and lead to disordered eating later in life. Go for nutritious meals that the family enjoys and let there be treats. Try not to take the pleasure out of eating.

Tip number three is that it’s a family battle. While I wholeheartedly agree that the entire family should be making the same healthy choices, I disagree with the way that this is framed. This is not a battle. If you think about food as a battle then you are always going to lose. Food is not the enemy. Healthy eating isn’t an all or nothing scenario. You don’t all have to give-up chips and pop to be healthy. Parents should lead by example and role model healthy eating behaviours and attitudes. Leading their children into battle against food is not doing this.

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Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

2 thoughts on “Childhood obesity is not something to be battled

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. Someone had to say it. Until we realize this is a multi-pronged, societal problem that we need to come together to solve, nothing will change. You can’t place blame and responsibility solely on parents, who are but one small piece of the puzzle. Most parents DO care, and are doing their very best under the circumstances and environment in which they live. As a parent, I know. I put out the fruits and vegetables for snack time. I try hard to keep sugary treats out of the house except for special occasions. I repeatedly encourage the kids to limit screen time, which is a constant uphill climb.

    If we are to fix this issue, we need government to limit marketing of processed/junk foods, which, much like cigarettes, can hold power over some and the mere sight of these foods can trigger a lapse in willpower. Many processed foods were created using the perfect combination of fat and sugar to have a ‘bliss point,’ designed to have an addictive effect on the brain that is on par with cocaine. We understood that with nicotine in cigarettes, so we banned billboards and we hid them behind curtains in grocery and convenience stores. When are we going to make the correlation to processed/junk foods filled with fat, sugar and sodium? Can you imagine how many smokers we’d still have in Canada today if we sold cigarettes at the grocery store checkout line like we do chocolate bars? How many children tug on their mom’s coats when they see those colorful packages at eye level in the checkout line? How many times can a mother say “NO”? Willpower has its limits after a long, hard day at work with two hours of cooking and cleaning ahead of you.

    On that note, workplaces in Canada could offer shorter work days, understanding the needs of working parents to have adequate time to prepare healthy, nutritious meals at home. This is a public health issue, isn’t it?

    How about placing some responsibility on the shoulders of the food producers/sellers who create and market these addictive foods that have almost no nutritional value and in fact alter the gut bacteria of those who eat their ‘combos’? Their sole motive seems to have been to get people to come back and to increase profits. The health of the people who eat their foods never came into the equation. Don’t they have a responsibility to contribute something positive to society, that actually helps society rather than something that addicts and kills them? Isn’t there any sort of ‘business ethics’ rules these corporations are breaking? If there are no rules/regulations for these corporations, then why not? Surely a company with such a high profile and influence as McDonald’s should hold itself to some sort of ethical standard?

    If our economy is going to continue to be built upon dual income families (if people keep having children at all?) then the need for convenience food isn’t going to go away – so at least the government could step in and require that convenience foods are held to some sort of health standard?

    There is much work that needs to be done and it won’t happen unless we work together to create change. I don’t think people realize how urgent a problem this really is. Our healthcare system {and our lives} depend on it.

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