The Childhood Obesity Epidem– err, problem.

Recently I read an article about a mother who, after being told by her doctor that her 7 year old daughter was obese, put her child on a Weight Watchers inspired diet. Mother Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote about the experience in Vogue. I tried to find the article by her online, but could not. However, there have been plenty of other articles written about her methods of ‘helping’ her daughter to lose weight, and I found two in particular that present very opposing viewpoints.

The Jezebel article critiques Weiss’ choices in Bea’s weight loss process. The Yahoo parenting article presents the story as one of a mother faced with the difficult task of getting a child to lose weight and sympathizes with Weiss.

It is difficult for me to fully critique the original article since it was not published online and I have no interest in going and purchasing Vogue, but Jezebel’s article pulls a lot more quotes in that show the damaging effects a forcefully imposed, unrealistic-for-any-young-child diet can have on them. Weiss manages to make the issue more about her than Bea, saying:

“I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.”

The doctor who founded the program Weiss followed (which mimics Weight Watchers) expressed distaste for the ways in which Weiss embarrassed her daughter publicly for wanting to eat the treats other children were eating and emphasized that the program has to be run by the children. It cannot be forced on them.

Weiss also used the article space in Vogue to complain about how difficult HER body issues have been and how she has tried countless diets, etc. This excerpt from the Yahoo article discusses that in sympathy with Weiss:

With the help of a childhood-obesity specialist, Weiss put her on a diet. Other parents were shocked at the idea of restricting a child’s eating and even her daughter’s grand parents (who eventually came around) begged to give her larger servings of pasta and junk food. Weiss writes, “Everyone supports the mission but no one seems to approve of my methods.” Not to mention her daughter, who balked and whined about taking her lunch to school and missing out on the processed treats that other children were allowed to eat.

 Weiss recounts that as part of the process, she had address her own issues around food. She admits to having tried every kind of diet including raw food and juice fasting and once “begging a doctor friend to score me a prescription of fen-phen”-after it had been found to have serious side effects. She also acknowledges her approach to her child’s nutrition before she went on a supervised eating plan had been haphazard and inconsistent.

The Yahoo article makes 7 year old Bea sound like a bratty child by using verbs like “balked and whined” to describe her reaction to her mother’s mania. It also makes the ‘supervised eating plan’ sound like a Bandaid for Weiss’ own ‘approach to her child’s nutrition.’

I find the differences between these two articles interesting and vast. Jezebel is not a perfect website, nor do they always report in a manner I find fair, but their article on this mother and daughter relies much more heavily on facts, contacting of professionals, and includes many more direct quotes, including one from Bea (who has, in the last year, grown 2 inches and lost 16 pounds). Bea is now 8 and has likely barely begun to scratch the surface of puberty. My opinion on this issue is likely clear– and I think that Bea’s mother (and father!) should have engaged her in more fun physical activity and healthy eating as a family.

Also– take note of the picture Yahoo uses. It is of a toddler on a scale. The caption is “how healthy is baby fat?” The poor three year old in the picture. Being overweight is difficult. In a society that has no problem fat-shaming, especially for women, parents facing terms like ‘clinically obese’ need education, and more engagement with their children, not a plan designed to make their kids feel like shit. If we live in a world where Kate Winslet, Adele, and Jennifer Hudson are derided for their beautiful bodies, I am quickly losing interesting in that ‘ideal’ we are supposed to be working towards.


4 thoughts on “The Childhood Obesity Epidem– err, problem.

  1. Oh my god, those two articles were of the same situation?! I thought that they were two separate cases altogether. Holy jeez.

    The quotations from Jezebel made her out to be some borderline schizophrenic who’s given her daughter a roadmap to every eating disorder she’ll ever have, while the Yahoo! news article made it seem that she was just a mother who was trying to get her child to eat healthily and failing because everyone else was pushing snacks on her daughter.

    (Note that Yahoo! has a vested interest in you feeling like shit – they have the Shine section – celebrities – and a vast health section with a huge array of merchandise from different guest bloggers and video appearances. While Jezebel doesn’t exactly push merchandise and advertising, they too have the agenda you stated: to be controversial and generally rage-y. I’d say the honesty scales still tip (unintended pun) toward Jezebel, however, as the quotes in Jezebel seemed directly out of a Vogue article, whereas Yahoo seemed like it got an interview afterward. Maybe the mother’s psychosis has lessened – it would explain the duality of the two presented cases)

    I’ve done a lot of thought and research on this topic lately, and it just pisses me off. Weight is a medical problem, but it’s also a social stigma. Weight is becoming a concern in children, but they’re aware of it by as young as three these days. We can’t tell people that they need to lose weight because it’s socially stigmatized and it makes them feel like shit. If we simply removed the stigma, we could deal with what we ACTUALLY have: a medical condition. (Note that many people who actually do fat-shaming say this because they don’t understand the stigma, or they refuse to admit that they do.)

    If you’re mentally healthy, the body’s weight will naturally follow. This, of course, bars specific conditions that cause considerable weight gain, but if you’re mentally healthy, eat right, and are mobile, then that’s a good sign for your doctor that there is something else at play. I haven’t met a single person with weight issues – myself included – that didn’t have an underlying issue attached, no matter how small. I also meet many “normal weight” and “underweight” individuals who have their own underlying issues – sometimes they manifest themselves as weight; sometimes they don’t. Ultimately, though, if you see a loved one put on a few pounds, or find out that they’re “clinically obese,” you should probably ask, “Hey, how have you been feeling lately? Are you stressed out? Do you want to talk about it?” versus “How much have you been eating?!”

    Specifically with eating disorders, they say “It’s not about the food…but it’s about the food.” This little girl is being affected by a mom with seemingly disordered eating, so she’s sadly probably going to understand that statement soon.

    (P.S. I know that doctors are being hyper-vigilant about childhood obesity, but from what I’ve noticed anecdotally…you can’t predict future weight TOO well with youthful weight. She’s very young, so I can understand the concern, but 4’4″ and 93 lbs. at age seven? Puberty starts younger and younger now, and you CAN “gain your weight” before you “grow” into it. The idea of attempting to adapt the BMI, a caveman-like equation by today’s standards, to children is ridiculous.)

  2. If you want to read the original Vogue article, all you have to do is go to a library. You can find it at a public library, at Magrath Library on the St. Paul campus, or online through the U Library’s website.

  3. Pingback: Jobs in the $120 Billion Dollar a Year Childhood Obesity Prevention Industry |

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