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Chubby Kids: Solutions for Every Parent

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Dr. Meg Meeker

She’s too chubby. He’s too scrawny. Does she starve or vomit? Does he overdo the protein shakes in order to bulk up? We have become weight-obsessed, frightened parents and many of us have very valid reasons for our fear. Food obsession- whether it revolves around restriction or indulgence haunts our children. And as such, it haunts each one of us.

I have spent 25 years watching kids grow up in my practice and I have definitely seen a surge in the number of chubby and obese kids who come through my doors. Being overweight is a serious health issue for kids on many levels. It leads to diabetes and heart problems; it causes their self esteem to plummet and makes them vulnerable to bullying. So we need to pull out all the stops, get down to business and help our kids.

Obesity is a complex issue, particularly in the US and I believe there are four primary problems we need to understand in order to fix the problem for our kids.

First, kids can’t handle the onslaught of food choice. They are lured with too much food in too many colors, brands and places to purchase it. They feel overwhelmed, so what do they do? They eat. And no matter how little they choose, relative to what’s available to them, their consumption feels small. Eating a Big Mac and shake, but skipping the fries at MacDonald’s is like going to the mall and buying two skirts on sale rather than three at full price. There’s always more to be eaten or purchased (and kids feel there’s plenty of good reason to do each) so no matter how small the choice, a kid can justify it.

Second, we are illiterate when it comes to handling the feeling of hunger. When a child comes to us and says he’s hungry, what should we say? Dare we deprive our own child the basic necessities in life? This sounds silly, but feeding our children is a profoundly emotional issue for us moms. Most of us respond by telling our kids to get a snack and wait for the next full meal to come. The problem with this is that frequent eating can stimulate more hunger. But which one of us wants to tell our kids to wait until dinner like our moms used to? A new study (August 2010) in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine examined the relationship between a child’s hunger and his health. They concluded that kids who perceive hunger more frequently have poorer health in the long run. Here’s the tricky part for us parents: what is real hunger? I suggest that the majority of time our kids tell us they’re hungry; they really aren’t in need of nutrition. They feel hunger but don’t know how to suppress it.

Third, eating healthier food feels more expensive. Serving organic fruits and vegetables costs more than serving frozen mac and cheese, a side of iceberg lettuce covered in Ranch dressing. But the truth is, it isn’t. That is, if we keep the volume of fruits and veggies to a healthy, normal portion. And if you’ve ever served macaroni and cheese to kids, you know that one serving is rarely enough. Consuming salt and fat makes one only want more.

Fourth, we are total wimps when it comes to kids and electronic screens. Whether it’s an I Phone, hand held video game or laptop, none of us if good enough at telling our kids to put the things down. We know that study after study shows that the more screen time a kid has, the higher his risk of getting fat. That’s just the way it is. The more he sits, the chubbier he gets.

Here’s the good news. We can tackle every one of these problems on our own. No, our kids can’t handle the overwhelming amounts of choice in food and they can’t handle the aggressive campaigns targeting them to buy it. But we can. We can drive by Taco Bell and Burger King. We can walk them around the outside aisles of grocery stores and avoid the boxed-food filled center aisles. Second, we can determine whether or not our kids are really hungry. All kids get the sensation they are hungry all day long, so take a hard look at your child’s weight. If she’s chubby, tell her that her hunger will go away and that feeling her stomach growl is just part of life. She perceives hunger as a problem, so tell her that it isn’t. It is trainable. She can make it go away by not eating until dinner time.

Third, make them eat their colors. If we stick to buying only colorful foods (Faygo pop doesn’t count) we can’t steer them in the wrong direction. Ask them what red food they want today and which orange food tomorrow. Sure, fruits and veggies cost more, but since they satisfy the appetite better than high fat foods, the cost equalizes in the end.

Finally, unplug your kids. Cut cable for the summer months. Set times when cell phones can be used and ditch the video games- for their sake. Get them outside and make them move their wonderful bodies. We parents have been duped into believing that good parenting means satisfying our all of our kids’ cravings. Where in the world did we come by that one? Let’s start to take charge and do for them what they can’t do for themselves. We hold every answer to this obesity problem, so let’s get to it.

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