Who among us does not have an overweight child in our lives–if not our own child, then a niece or nephew, godchild, or friend’s kid? But, in truth, few parents are doing much about it. Indeed, their inaction or inattention is what landed their kid at their unhealthy weight in the first place. The consequences are grim: over 1/3 of American children are obese, and childhood obesity, as we are constantly reminded, can lead to lifelong disease and disability.
So I recently read with much interest a NYT piece on Dara-Lynn Weiss, a mom who decided to really take action and turn her daughter Bea’s bad eating habits around. She was very strict, including a refusal to serve Bea dinner following a high-calorie French feast at school that afternoon. Ms. Weiss is getting a lot of negative attention—especially having just scored a book deal—and all the do-gooders are warning of Bea’s inevitable eating disorders.
I think that Ms. Weiss is in the right. She herself is at fault for allowing her daughter to go down that unhealthy road in the first instance, but to her credit, she made drastic and critical changes in that path as soon as she realized what she’d done. Do any parents out there with increasingly heavy kids have a better plan? Mostly what I see are parents turning a blind eye, hoping that reality will somehow become other than it is.
It’s our job as parents to educate our children nutritionally. They aren’t born knowing how to nourish their bodies, any more than they’re born knowing how to multiply and divide. We all do have certain natural instincts when it comes to eating; for example, unless it is overridden by constant overeating, our body will tell us when we’re full and should stop eating. We also feel lousy when we eat crap, not to mention gain weight. But these signals are easily weakened and overrun by poor habits, and they certainly do not supplant our obligation to teach our kids how and what and when and how much to eat. This isn’t (just) about aesthetics: kids are getting really sick at really young ages, and it is our moral obligation to protect them.
I will follow up on Bea Weiss’s progress with great interest. Perhaps her mother was overly harsh and set Bea on the road to eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Or, perhaps her mother had the guts and courage to guide her daughter toward a lifetime of wellness and fitness.