The Weighty Effects Of Childhood Obesity

Bullying kids into losing weight won’t work. Emphasis on intuitive eating and a healthy body can mitigate the effects of childhood obesity.

| July/August 2012

  • Kids-Illustration
    In a social climate where larger bodies are increasingly suspect, kids like my daughter are becoming public targets of disapproval, discrimination, and overt disgust.
  • Kids-Illustration-2
    Let’s not pretend that our singular standard of beauty is the same thing as health.

  • Kids-Illustration
  • Kids-Illustration-2

When I was 10 or 11 years old my parents sat me down to tell me that I was getting too fat. I don’t remember the details—I know it was summer, I know it was just before bed, I know we were in the family room—but I do remember my intense shame and the way my vision tunneled, as if I were looking through the wrong end of binoculars. I remember that I left the room differently than I entered it, as if my parts were strung together wrong and I didn’t know how to operate my arms and legs.

My parents’ loving intervention did more harm than good. I became more self-conscious and less likely to want to be physical in the world. I was afraid people were secretly judging me. This led to chaotic eating in my teens, when I alternately starved, binged, and exercised my way into a perfect size eight but could never believe what I saw in the mirror. My thinking around food became distorted. I lost my ability to know when I was hungry or when I was full or what I wanted to eat. In my mind, there was food that was good for you and food that tasted good but I didn’t know how to manage either.

In my twenties I met my husband and slowly I put weight on by eating regular meals again while my exercise routine became more realistic. Today I am fat and forty and still struggling, but closer, to finding peace in my own skin.

I revisit those childhood feelings of disequilibrium more often since I became a mother fifteen years ago and particularly since I became the mother of a daughter whose pediatrician wanted to put her on a diet at three months old. At that well-baby check-up almost eight years ago it was clear she was growing at the top edges of the standard height and weight charts.

“A lot of parents think it’s easier to stick a bottle in her mouth than attend to their child’s emotional needs,” she told me, while I stood stricken. “But you’re not doing her any favors in the long run.”

I often think about that moment. I think how fortunate it is that my daughter is adopted. It’s easy for me to see her birth mother in her and to accept and value the size and shape of her birth mom’s body. If she had been born to me, I think I would have accepted the doctor’s condemnation without question. I am used to thinking that my body is wrong; if my daughter had been born with a body that mirrored mine, I don’t think I would have had the fortitude to challenge the doctor’s thinking.

7/18/2012 1:51:03 AM

I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) and other written guidelines/resources to assist you looking at programs. The total health of our nation's children is a serious responsibility. The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. Additionally, the CATK lists resources available to parents and educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:

Amanda Kraft
7/16/2012 2:22:56 PM

‘I’m 12 years old and I can’t lose weight but it never occurred to me that I could still be happy.' Yes, that also made me feel a bit tearful. I was 14 when my mother told me I looked 'disgusting'. Actually, with hindsight, I was a perfectly normal size and weight - but my mother had a great fear of fat. So I starved myself, became bulimic, damaged myself. More than 35 years later, I still don't believe that I am allowed to be happy while overweight - and I am still battling with weight. I rage sometimes at how much of my own life I have wasted.

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