I was an obese child. I often wondered why my parents fed me the way that they did. One day, after the fat was gone, my mother and I were looking through a photo album. There I was as a baby, completely naked. Funny thing was, I was skinny. Not “kid with malnutrition” skinny, but very thin. I said, “Look at me! I was a thin baby. What happened?” Mom said, “Oh, I was so upset with you being skinny. I thought you were sick, so I fed you ‘til you looked healthy.”
“You mean the fat was on purpose?”
“Oh, yes, it is amazing how much weight you put on with those milkshakes every night!”
Clearly, other children were not loved as much as I was since they were not getting nightly milkshakes.
I don’t remember any of the other kids in my class being overweight. Let’s just say it set me apart – and not in a good way. Unfortunately, I would have a lot of company today. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Currently, more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.” Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of greater than or equal to the 95th percentile of the CDC growth chart.
Obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being. In the short term, obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, 70% of obese youth (aged 5 to 17 years old) had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
One of the striking developments in pediatrics has been the number of children and adolescents that are being diagnosed with pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, conditions which historically have been associated with the elderly.
In the long term, children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity is associated with increased risk for many types of cancer including cancer of the breast and colon. It is no surprise that children and adolescents who are obese are also at a high risk for social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.
Is this the legacy that we want to leave to our children? I know that my parents felt very badly about my struggles with my weight and by my early teens, mom switched from making me milkshakes to serving me veggies with a low calorie dip!
What can we do to turn this trend?
Here are a few tips to mitigate or prevent excess weight and obesity in your household:
• Encourage healthy eating. Don’t bring processed and fat-filled foods into your household. Don’t buy chips, cookies and sugary drinks. If they are not there, they will not be eaten there.
• Make lunches for your child aiming for lean protein, calcium-rich foods and fruits and veggies. An example of a good lunch would be a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, an apple or grapes, a lower fat yogurt and water.
I have two teenage daughters. I know that this is not easy. I swore to myself that I would not let them suffer the ridicule that I did as an obese kid and certainly would never want to see them unhealthy. Of course, you will get push back. If you start early and are diligent, your children will do to you what mine now do to me: critique my food choices and let me know when I stray off course. Oh, the joys of parenthood.
 Source: Freedman DS, Zuguo M, Srinivasan SR, Berenson GS, Dietz WH. Cardiovascular risk factors and excess adiposity among overweight children and adolescents: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Journal of Pediatrics 2007;150(1):12–17.