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March 28, 2012

A mom fights obesity at home: would you do the same?

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

It starts as a rather common tale: woman grows up yo-yo dieting, bouncing up and down in weight and between mass-marketed diets throughout her teens, college, and early adulthood. When she has a daughter, she’s terrified that poor body image and high BMI will haunt the child like an evil legacy. And by the time the little girl turns 6, her fears are confirmed: her daughter has a weight problem.

Last fall, I wrote about a new study that revealed that many parents find talking about weight with their kids more embarrassing and frightening  than talking about sex or drugs. I also cited a stat that 37 percent of parents are worried that at least one of their children will be overweight. So I was interested to learn that the April 2012 issue of Vogue (not exactly known for promoting healthy body image, but bear with me), featured mother and writer Dara-Lynn Weiss’ story of fearing, acknowledging, and tackling her 7-year-old daughter Bea’s weight problem.

Before I saw the article, I read the reactions to it. True to form, the New York Magazine article responding to Weiss’ four-page confession was well written and compelling. After reading it I was convinced, as the anonymous writer put it, that “Weiss just handed her daughter a road map to all her future eating disorders.” I was persuaded, too, that the conclusion - “There's only one possible bright side to this maternal travesty: Years from now, when Bea is in therapy, she won't have to waste those early sessions explaining herself because she'll just be able to hand over that article and say, "SEE WHAT I HAD TO DEAL WITH?" - summed up the whole sad situation perfectly.

Other blogs and comments from BabyCenter to Jezebel make Weiss sound like a monster. “Call CPS!” one commenter proclaimed. Others lamented that adults always push their issues onto their kids.

But Weiss isn’t just projecting her own flaws. A child is “obese” if his or her BMI is in the 95th percentile for their height and age – and Weiss' daughter was in the 99th percentile. The child's doctor said the girl’s weight was a problem. Overweight kids face greater risk of debilitating health issues, like type 2 diabetes, and psychological issues, like depression and low self-esteem. One study Weiss cites found that 80 percent of kids who are overweight in adolescence remain heavy at age 25. And the kicker: “If a child becomes overweight before age eight,” Weiss writes, “his or her obesity in adulthood will be even more severe.”

Most parents want to do everything in their power to help their children live happy, healthy lives. We know the scary facts and stats about obesity – and we know that living with these challenges can hamper both health and happiness. Further, despite this article’s publication in Vogue (which typically covers only high-class “problems”), everyone from Congress to Michelle Obama is taking note of the childhood obesity epidemic and searching for solutions – some drastic. Just last year CPS intervened in a childhood obesity case – and removed an overweight child from his mother’s care. So what’s a parent to do?

Weiss is bruisingly honest about her efforts to help Bea lose weight. Sure, they saw a child obesity specialist weekly and followed a diet-for-kids regimen aimed at regulating Bea’s eating while teaching her about nutrition. But Weiss also candidly shares her public, heated responses to friends, family, and even strangers when they’ve offered Bea unaccounted-for treats, proffered Weiss unsolicited advice, or failed to provide nutritional info (in one example, Weiss angrily threw a Starbuck’s hot chocolate in the trash when a barista couldn’t tell her the exact calorie count). It has not been a happy journey, for mother or child. Weiss sounds unhinged at times – and admits her lack of perfection as a parent and as an eating/weight role model. But she also names the countless ways that parents don’t have control over their kids’ diets – especially at school, where a healthy snack of nuts is prohibited to protect allergic kids, but any number of birthday cupcakes, pizza parties, and school lunches with zero nutritional info are the norm.

I’ll admit it: I’m part of the 37 percent of adults worried that my kids will have weight problems. In fact, I think 37 percent is actually low. The more we learn about weight-related health problems (not to mention the acceptance of weight-related mocking, intolerance, and discrimination) and the inexorable memories of our fat cells, the more crucial it seems for kids to have healthy eating habits from the start. So I don’t think Weiss is a monster. I wish 7- and 8-year-olds didn’t have to worry about weight, but some do. After a year, Bea lost 16 pounds. Weiss has taught her child to think of her weight problem as a condition like asthma that she’ll have to deal with for life. It’s easy to judge - but if it were your child, what would you do?


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I haven't read the article. But there is a simple correlation between what a person puts in their mouth and how many calories are expended.

A parent can't make it an issue for his or her child, but a parent can set a good example by MOVING. Walking to the grocery store. Taking a bike ride around the community. Getting rid of the cable and the video games. Only having healthy snacks in the house. And de-emphasizing the idea of constantly needing snacks.

Sorry, but if the kid is heavy why on earth would you even go into Starbucks for a hot chocolate? Why not take a walk to the park and let the kid play to celebrate a good day?

At times, my kids have both been heavier than I'd like (and I'm not svelte either), but thankfully offering plenty of exercise activities and even making vegetarian and vegan dinner nights has helped over the years.

It's too late once a child is already at the 99th percentile (they're already getting bullied at school--and the schools are now required to do things at certain grade levels like height/weight/BMI), but even activities like bowling or walking the dog are physical until they can get it under control.

It is a life-long conscientious pattern, but it need not be a struggle.

I read about this mother just other day. My thoughts are she was abusive to her daughter and took wrong steps approaching the issue. She should have led by example not using her daughter as an example to gain public recognition and be on cover of a magazine. This outrages me the embarrassment she placed on this child. She denied her food while allowing the son to partake in sweets. She should have just changed entire fams eating habits and began bonding using outdoor activities for them all.

@Angel Any successful diet allows you the occasional treat, and maybe the kid had room on her diet for a 110 calorie drink (though not 220). Her mom obviously didn't handle it well (at ALL), but personally I think we should be more indignant that the barista was unable to give the information he's legally required to provide.

I was a college athlete, part of a NCAA championship team and am still active, but I've been struggling with my weight since my early 20s and it drives me crazy when people talk about how simple it is to stay fit and healthy. I'm especially sensitive to this right now as I'm caring for my 9 month old and miserably wishing away the 20 lbs of excess weight.

I'm inclined to think this mom is dealing with everything pretty badly, but I can understand her frustration and fears. And since I haven't read the thing, I'm going to go ahead and hold off on labeling her an abusive psychotic.

Show your kids this 15 second slide show of the US obesity trends in America from the CDC; the best visual aids I've seen on this issue;

Kids are short on listening to lectures, and families with overeating disorders often pass this behavior on to their kids. This new generation needs to turn this around, as past generations have reversed other health issues. It's in your hands (and mouths), kids.

I have not read the article but I will definatly say I AGREE WITH THIS MOTHER. I myself have an eating disorder. If you think that anorexia and bulmia is dangerous and unhealthy, well I got news for you Over Eating is just as bad. Dont pass judgement untill you have been there.

The mother sounds a little too emotional which is the first mistake when it comes to teaching kids about food and enjoying it. Eating should be pleasurable, not a punishment or used as a reward system. Let the kid have the hot chocolate but then make sure she doesn't have dessert that night. Be reasonable. And for godssake stop saying certain foods are "bad." Here's what's bad: eating half a pizza by yourself and a pint of ice cream. If people simply followed serving sizes, most people could solve their obesity issues.

I for one would never ever publicly talk about my child's shortcomings. If this became a problem, though I would have nipped it in the bud, I would have changed things around in the house to help her and keep it such that my daughter may not even know that it is for her. I would begin by packing her lunch. Who said she has to eat what the cafeteria gives her. I would experiment with snacks and foods that she likes AND are healthy. I would make it a game for everyone in the house and not just for her. Perhaps we would go for long walks and strengthen the mom-daughter bond. We could participate in 5k marathons. Imagine her thrill in completing marathons and winning medals! Now I would publicly write about THAT and notbher weight. The basic management principle applies here for sure...praise in public and reprimand in private.

I think the Mom he is herself confused and does not know what to do and is hence unable to guide her child.

Mom of a 9 yr old daughter and 6 yr old son

I was a college athlete, part of a NCAA championship team and am still active, but I've been struggling with my weight since my early 20s and it drives me crazy when people talk about how simple it is to stay fit and healthy.

If you think that anorexia and bulmia is dangerous and unhealthy, well I got news for you Over Eating is just as bad. Dont pass judgement untill you have been there.

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