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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whose Fault is it When A Child Becomes Obese?

According to recent studies, childhood obesity is on the rise. We know all the facts, the health risks, the statistics, what needs to be done about it, and yet the problem continues to grow.

You and I see it everyday. Children and teens that are 50, 100 sometimes even 150 lbs overweight, accompanied by parents who seem to just look the other way as the child gorges themself on junk food and sugar. You can go into any fast food restaurant and see an entire family of morbidly obese people, unabashedly consuming super size meals and jumbo drinks. What the hell?? Is anybody listening? The parents lead, and of course, the children follow.

The latest trend has been to sue the companies that produce and sell these products we over consume.

Just as recently as a couple years ago, Kellogg and Nickelodeon were being sued over their junk food ad marketing tactics targeting children 8 years and under.
In addition, a child advocate activist group threatened to sue Viacom for using the Sponge Bob image to promote sugary snacks and cereals. In another lawsuit, a mother is suing Nabisco over the trans fat in Oreo cookies, citing that this is one of the causes for her child being obese. Are these lawsuits justified? Is it the fault of these companies for producing and marketing these items, or does the fault lie closer to home?

Even though a new law has passed requiring all restaurants to list the calorie content of all food items on their menus, fast food restaurants are still doing a brisk and steady business. They have complied with the prescribed laws on this matter. Now, if we still decide to go in these places to eat and choose high calorie selections daily, is it really their fault?

If we continue as we have, by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese.

Obesity is now the most prevalent health issue for kids and teens.

So, who's really at fault?

I'm going to take the other side, for a change. I'm usually the one beating up on the parents, but I want to be fair. In defense of the parent's "It's not my fault" claim,
we have these facts:

Most kid's meals at restaurants exceed recommended daily calorie limit

Few healthy items are found in kid's meals at many restaurants

Food is the most advertised kid product during children's programs

Soda and candy machines can be readily found in most junior high and high schools

Fast food chains heavily target children, and use toy giveaways and games to attract them to their products

You can't watch your kid 24-7

So, what do you think? Is allowing a child to become morbidly obese a form of child abuse? Should child protective services or some other agency become involved when a child's weight goes to such an extreme level that it becomes life threatening?
I know how I feel about it. Pass me the hand cuffs! What's your opinion?


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Hot Rocks said...

I think it is the parents responsibility to teach your children healthy eating habits from an early age. Pack nutritious school lunches, with fruits, veggies... once in awhile a treat is ok. I make homemade oatmeal cookies or banana bread, then I know what ingredients are going into these treats. Eat homecooked meals together at home, and make eating out a special treat..not a routine. I allow my son 1 can of pop a week, on Saturday during family movie night. If you teach your children to eat healthy, I believe they will make wise choices on their own when the time comes.

Matthew S. Urdan said...

This is a very complicated issue that I feel very strongly about since it's directly affecting my niece and nephews.

First, I have to say primary responsibility belongs with the parents. When you see those morbidly obese kids in fast food restaurants and all you can eat buffets like Ryan's and Golden Corral, it's the parents fault. Look at the parents. The lion's share of those parents will be morbidly obese as well. Maybe they don't give a damn about themselves, but to allow their children to get that way is a crime.

Second, I'm going to call a double whammy on the parents. When I was growing up, we ate out a lot, or ordered pizza in, etc. But we also ate most of our meals at home. We had cereal for breakfast. We had lunches that we took to school--peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches, bologna sandwiches and we bought milk in the school lunch line. Finally, most of our meals were around the dinner table.

Parents who allow their kids to get all their meals eating out are doing a disservice to their children. There is no control on what they eat. And that's a crime.

Next, I'm going to call a triple whammy on the parents. Most of the issue when you're a kid is your activity level. Kids are just biological furnaces. They are meant to be outside, active and to burn calories. When I was a kid, we played all day in the yard, we rode our bikes around the neighborhood and to the store and to school. We played on the neighbors jungle gyms. We played in sandboxes. We took hikes in the summer along the lake shore, we went to camp, we played kick the can and red rover red rover let janie come over. What do kids play today? Video games. Do they ride their bikes or play games that require exercise and physical exertion? Do they take hikes in the woods? No, they surf the internet.

Yes, times have changed; however any parent that does not provide play time outdoors, or provide an alternative because it's not safe to leave your kids out doors and unattended, is just setting up an unhealthy lifestyle for their children.

My niece is a little chubbier than I like to see--she doesn't want for anything...Literally, in addition to the four food groups in her refrigerator and pantry there are entire shelves with organized chocolate--snickers bars, reeses peanut butter cups, etc....That is not bad. I had all that stuff as a kid and so did my brothers. But we also had exercise. My oldest nephew plays competitive youth hockey. The kid burns calories like Michael Phelps. All the sugar he eats might not be so great, but it's balanced with activities that burn it and the good foods that he eats.

Parents just have to be more creative and committed to ensuring that kids can get the exercise they need and be more responsible over the food they eat at school and when dining out or eating in. I know it's hard, but no one ever said parenting would be easy.

And then, after that, our society gets a big dose of responsibility as well.

I do not want to blame our society so much because parents have to insist on what's right. But when I was a kid, Presidential fitness awards were sought after certificates for us in gym classes in middle school and high school. Excelling at gym was both fun and competitive because of the creativity of our gym teachers. I'm not sure such competitions are valued anymore or that gym classes are required. I think it's too easy for students to opt out of gym classes, so I would guess the change in the school system is partly responsible for a deemphasis on the exercise we were once guaranteed to get in gym. Part of it also may be based on school district and what resources the schools have to provide for kids in their district. That's a societal issue and goes to the heart of property tax school funding, vouchers, private schools, and all of its related issues.

But mostly, where society is to blame is how it has changed and how we have lost our sense of personal responsbility and look to others to blame. Just because McDonalds is out there pouring advertising money everywhere does not mean parents need to allow their kids to eat at McDonalds 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. Just because cable television has 200+ channels to watch 24.7 doesn't mean parents should allow it. Just because Reeses has candy bars, cereals, breakfast bars in addition to peanut butter cups does not mean parents need to purchase everything Reeses. And just because kids are blogging and interacting with the world on the internet does not mean that the internet should become a surrogate or a substitute for all free time activity.

Society puts pressure on us to raise our families correctly and challenges us to be creative in ensuring we get our children what they need to develop healthy habits and lifestyles. But it really is up to the parents to want a healthy life for their children and to demand what is necessary to achieve it.

Your Health Reporter said...

The keyword is moderation, imho. We can allow our kids to eat these 'junk' and we can just as easily tell them that if they eat too much of it they won't fit into their new clothes.

It's not entirely true that most obese adults start out as obese kids, as some other factors may have played out during adolescence and college.

Suing these businesses won't hide these foodstuffs from kids in the long run, so why bother? It's parental guilt driving the movement and nothing more.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm sort of on the fence, here. As a parent, I know how hard this issue is. Yet somehow, my kids are skinny. What am I doing right? Is it me? Is it genetics?

I do know that I remind them all the time to eat their fruits and vegetables. I don't think anything of saying no when they want cookies for an after-school snack. And I shut off the TV and make them put down the books and go outside on days as gorgeous as today.

But you're right. When we go out to eat, sometimes, there aren't healthy choices on the menu for them. (or if they are, they don't exercise those options) Portions can be huge -- but sometimes, they can be too small, too. What is too big for a preschooler is often not enough for my third grader.

It's not an easy thing to navigate. All we parents can do is be active with our kids and let them see us making the same tough food choices.

The Fitness Diva said...

I think you're all right, and it's not easy, for sure. You can give all the good influence you want, but at some point, your child will have other influences.

By the way, i think that suing the food and restaurant companies is ridiculous! I mean, come on!
Nobody drags you to McDonald's, and no one forces you to buy Oreo's at gunpoint. At least not that I've ever heard! ;)

The Fitness Diva said...

OMG, Matthew, remember Kick the Can?
That was a GREAT game!! :)

lala said...

It's 90% parents' fault. If you give your child junk food from an early age, that's all he's going to want. For that sake of convenience, parents now hit the drive thru instead of taking the time to fix something nutritious. Same with snacks, sugary snakes, fattening snacks, quick snacks, have replaced fresh fruit and healthier options.

The parents decide what their child will eat. No one forces a parent to take their kid to McDonald's. And for that matter, places such as McDonald's and Wendy's are offering up healthier childrens' meals, that include fruit and yogurt.

Plus parents need to encourage their kids to get out of the house and get exercise. I would imagine a lot of the jump in obesity has to do with kids now sitting inside for long hours on the computer or playing video games.

Eh, just my two cents. LOL

Natural said...

first i would check to make sure there is no medical problem. if not then it's the parents fault a child is obese.

The Fitness Diva said...

lala, I think parents are forgetting who has the authority in the parent-child relationship. I remember seeing on a talk show about seriously obese toddlers a little boy who was already 100 lbs at the age of 4. His mother was saying "he will only eat Orange chicken", and they showed video of this kid refusing to eat anything except orange chicken from the local Chinese restaurant. I was like, 'who's the parent here?'
Kids will eat what you make them eat...eventually.

I have yet to hear about the child that allowed himself to starve to death instead of eating what Mommy makes.
I remember not having much of a choice. When did parents forget how to parent?

I agree, Natural, but it's a small percentage that have a medical problem. Most with medical problems have those problems as a result of their obesity, and not the other way around.
I know that for some, hormone and insulin levels are off, and play a part in how much the child wants to eat, but in most cases, it's lack of supervision by the parents and parents' refusal to put their foot down and make the kids eat right.

ImitationAngel said...

Good question. To be honest you can't place blame on specific people in this situation. In a case like this everyone is to blame. The parents for allowing their kids to eat the food without any type of restriction and the kids for not practicing self control.

I'm not going to blame the restaurants because it's not their fault (my opinion). People have the choice to not eat there. People know what they're getting into when they go for that "quick meal" so if people said no once in a while a lot of calories can be avoided.

Nothing wrong with a little junk food. Like they say "everything in moderation" so that's the motto to live by. If you replace a real meal with cookies and chips then you know where you'll end up.

Now I'm the product of an obese/overweight family and was an obese child and adult. Do I blame my parents? Somewhat but I also blame myself for not saying no more than I did.

*lynne* said...

there's no one culprit, there's no one person/thing to point at in blame... like everything else, it's a combination of all sorts of factors, like those you already mention.


I do think early exposure to good healthy eating habits (and attitudes towards food!) will do wonders in the long term behaviour of the kids.

PaulsHealthBlog.com said...

Obesity is learned behavior.

So when the parents set a poor example, their kids unfortunately learn from it.


I have to say that I think that the parents have a responsibility to teach their children to eat healthy and not allow their children to eat junk food and amazingly large portions. It is very sad to see an obese child b/c you know that cannot be easy on them.

Robin said...

Hi Fitness Diva,
I don't think we should allow our children to become morbidly obese. It can be a different form of child abuse. We should never let our kids weight get into a life threatening state. If you truly love your children you will help them, before it is to late. The government should step in and try to educate the family first. I really don't like someone taking your kids away from you. If the family still doesn't care about the health of their children, then action should be taken. Is it genetics? I know of a whole family side that are overweight and look a like. I'm sure unhealthy food choices didn't help matters.


", by 2015, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese."

Oh my!!! 75%???

iWalk said...

It's also a topic about abstinence. People emphasize too much about freedom and random today.

I also think parents should do something to change the bad habit of themselves, Then influence their children.

Kelly said...

I think the fault lies on many.

The food industry needs to take responsibility in truthfully and clearly labeling food. Grocery and restaurant food, that is.

They also need to be held to higher standards for amounts of sodium and sugar (high fructose corn syrup, for one - don't let those commercials fool you, it is not natural by any means) as well as quality.

Ultimately, it is the parents job to teach healthy eating to their kids. Insisting on a balanced diet rather than letting kids gorge themselves on chips and candy whenever they want.

Not that they can never have these things, but limit it. Use them as a treat, not a regular part of their diet.

Also, the school systems no longer have PE, which we had no choice about when I was a kid. They also have vending machines with soda and chips, candy and other bad food choices in schools.

Between the food issue and the lack of movement, kids are set up for failure in this department.


The Fitness Diva said...

I find it absolutely crazy that many schools no longer have gym classes.
Forgot about that one! Definitely contributes to the problem!

Matthew S. Urdan said...

I don't know, I was forced to take part in an Oreo Eating Contest at gunpoint once. ;)

Yeah, Kick the Can was awesome, so was all the games the neighborhood kids played outside. We slept better at night. We burned more calories. We were more physically fit as kids.

Our culture has really shifted from physical-outside oriented play to indoor videogame, Playstation and computer-oriented play. Snack on oreos while you surf the web and you're not burning any of those calories.

Maritzia said...

I call bunk on all of you. I'm what you would call "morbidly obese". So were my parents and so are my sister and brother.

We rarely ate out as kids (we were too poor for more than very occasional fast food and other restaurants were totally out of the question).

We rarely had soda, we rarely had desserts.

We were all active.

But we're all fat.

Don't you think that there might be something else going on besides nutrition?

When you see a fat family at McDonald's, do you assume they eat there all the time? See them at the buffet, do they eat there all the time? How do you know? Perhaps that is an occasional indulgence for them? After all, you're there, too. Should we assume you eat there all the time?

What you are doing is making a judgment. Because they are fat, then obviously all they do is eat huge amounts of high fat food. But you don't know that is the case.

I'm not saying that there aren't people who are fat because they overeat and under exercise. I'm just saying you can't look at someone and know what their habits are based on one incident.

Sorry, but I've fought this kind of blind judgment all of my life, and I refuse to let you people keep abusing another generation of fat people. If you were talking about a racial group this way, you'd be called racists, but because you judge fat people, then you're ok.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

The Fitness Diva said...

I'm sorry that my post has offended you, Maritzia. I do, however, feel that this is something that does need to be examined, and thereby discussed. It's a question that many people have, whether they voice it or not. While I'm sure there are many exceptions to the bad eating/no exercise theory, such as you and your family seem to fit, there's no mistake that the child obesity problem is reaching epidemic levels.

It can't be that all of a sudden, everyone's genetic makeup is the cause, not when you can connect what you see going on in today's society to the problem.
While you and your family did not eat badly and were active, I can point you to another 20 whose obesity can be attributed to exactly that.

Is it judgement? I guess on some level it is, but my objective is to expose the problem for what it mostly is. Of course there are exceptions. But I don't have to be a physician, or a fly on the wall in someone's home to guess, and I did say GUESS, at what the problem could be.
It's only through discussion and the airing out of ideas that a better understanding of all things can be reached.
And sure, there are plenty of posts, articles and blogs devoted to racial slurs, profiling, stereotyping, and negatively judging people of all races. In my opinion, those are opportunities to jump in and try to educate those that think the things that they wrongly do.

As for being ashamed, no, I don't think anyone should be ashamed for questioning things and forming an opinion based on what they've personally seen and learned.

I do thank you for your input and your response. Definitely, it gives everyone the opportunity to see and try to understand a different point of view on the subject.

Nancy Ellyn said...

Here's the thing....The parents have to do their best to provide healthy foods to their kids. They need to set an example regarding exercise/diet and healthy living. Children model your behavior, no matter what you SAY to them. In this case, your actions DO speak louder than words.

However, the children will be provided many treats when the parents are not around. I think, if you tell them they cannot have sugar, they will want more sugar. So....treats in moderation and healthy food for most of the time. It worked for my kids.

Treat fast food and birthday cakes, other treats, candy etc like Christmas. It's wonderful to have a taste, but you would not want it everyday, because you would lose the fun and the magic. A kid is never gonna prefer an orange to a sprinkled cone or a happy meal, with a toy, but we have to make it
a rare treat and not a daily thing.

I knew these people who forbid their children to have sugar, soft drinks, fast food, etc. and anytime the kid was away from their parents they went nuts. Asking for thirds on birthday cake and drinking copious amounts of soda or punch.

Very disturbing. Moderation at home and education with regard to nutrition and health seems to be the best answer...... A happy medium, as it were! xxoo

Daisy said...

I wish kids would be encouraged to be more physically active. Running and jumping and playing and riding bikes and having outdoor fun instead of playing video games all the time.

your "Health Assistant" said...

definitely its the parents fault on what may children become it their responsibility to watch and take care of there kids specially in their eating habits.

Allure said...

The adults! When I was a kid, my grandma told me not to drink water when eating because I might feel full already!!!! grrrr!

Suddenly slimmer said...

It's an issue in Jakarta (Indonesia),I see gorgeous mommies,slim,rich and just had tummy tuck with obese child/children with the nanny. The moms very food conscious while she's feeding the children with junk food and high sugar.
I think they become obese because they are spoiled.

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