childhood obesity

Childhood Obesity


I was listening to the podcast Freakonomics Radio (it’s really fascinating and worth a listen!) that was discussing the epidemic of childhood obesity. The topic was “Why You Should Bribe Your Kids“. They did experiments with kids and trying to get them to eat healthier. What was the most effective method?

The conclusion was that kids responded best to being “talked at” (i.e. instructed how to eat healthy and make healthy choices) but only if there were incentives attached. In one experiment they bribed kids with toys if they chose the healthier dessert over the sugary-fattening one. The toys weren’t anything special, it was like rubber bracelets and a ball or something. But the researchers found that the incentive worked and something like 80% of the kids chose the healthier dessert option if it meant they got the toy afterward.

This got me thinking about my own upbringing and struggle with weight. I didn’t really struggle with childhood obesity. I didn’t gain my weight until I was 17. Sure I was a little on the chubby side in my teen years, but I wasn’t heavy. I don’t know that I was making great choices as a kid and teen, but apparently I was doing okay.

Things are different now. The podcast said 1 in 5 kids is struggling with obesity now. That made me really sad and I could empathize with the kids and parents dealing with this. It’s so hard not to make food the enemy and a BAD thing. But that doesn’t really teach the kids to make better choices…it leads to binge eating and sneaking food, or restrictive habits that lead to anorexia and bulimia. (If you missed it, read my review of The Heavy— a book about a mother trying to help her young daughter lose weight.)

“They tried several methods to see what would make kids choose fruit over a cookie. The conversation then broadens, addressing the fact that so many people — kids and adults — have a hard time making good short-term decisions that will have a long-term benefit. As List puts it:

LIST: The general point here about all of this is that you have many problems where what you do now affects what happens later, and usually we choose the easier decision or the easier action now. You think about savings for retirement, you think about getting doctor check-ups, you think about going to school, you think about engaging in risky behaviors, you think about adopting green technologies for our houses. In all of these cases we usually choose the bad action. And that action is to do what’s best for us now to the detriment of the future, to the detriment of our future self. And nutritional choices right now are just one of these elements that we face in society where we need kids to recognize the choice that you make now will critically affect your outcome in the future.”

When it comes to food it’s easy to think IN THE MOMENT and not the future. If I eat this piece of cake, I will have instant gratification. I don’t think about how that piece of cake is 500 calories and about the same calories as my lunch should be. So do I skip lunch and just eat cake for those 500 calories? Of course not, we eat both. That leads to weight gain. For me, I try and think about my meals in advance and plan for them so that I am not AS tempted by other things throughout the day. Am I successful? Most of the time. There are definitely days where I am not as successful as I should be!

I do try to use some kind of incentive for myself, even if I’m not naming it. It might be something small, like: “I will skip this candy at work because I’m going out to dinner tonight and want to be able to splurge a little.” That’s an incentive, whether I recognize it or not. You can also use an incentive like: “I want to reach my weight loss goal for this month so I will do my best to resist the temptations to binge.” Thinking of a long term AND a short term goal work much better for me. What about you?

So what kind of incentives work with kids? I’ve written before about how you can’t reward YOURSELF, Rewarding Yourself,  for weight loss with food. It sabotages your efforts. So rewarding yourself with a bunch of cookies after you reach your weekly goal at Weight Watchers just isn’t smart. I think the same thing goes for kids. Rewarding kids for eating healthy foods with treats later, kind of defeats the whole purpose.

I think incentives that would work with kids and still keep with the positive message, is to use ACTIVITIES as rewards and incentives. Perhaps an outing or going to a park, or getting to go to a toy store and pick something. This probably works for really young kids. I imagine it would be harder with teenagers. I found this article, which was really interesting and had a few good tips: 10 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthier. Some other articles I found on the topic encouraged parents to have their kids help them cook the meals. I LOVE this idea. I think it would be beneficial in so many ways. Not only does it get kids involved in making choices, they can take pride in what they created and perhaps they would be more apt to eat it?

Since I don’t have kids, I am just musing here. I would love to hear from other parents who have struggled with this issue, or are using other methods of encouraging their kids to eat healthy. Please share! And check out this post for ideas on how to get kids more active: Should You Lose Weight With Your Kids? And this post about sugar in kid’s foods: 2 Pounds of Sugar?

The Heavy


I almost called this post “How to Give Your Kid an Eating Disorder.” I was turned off by the title of this book: “The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet.” I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book and the topics it brought up. I don’t know if there is a way to discuss the book without coming across as judgmental. So I want to start off by apologizing if I sound that way.

My mixed feelings were hard to decipher. I like weight loss memoirs and as someone who has lost 100 pounds, I can relate to the journey. You would think I’d love this book. Unfortunately, I did not.

The book is about a mother who has an obese child. Bea is about 6 or 7 in the beginning of the book and is classified by her doctor as obese. That’s pretty heavy for a 6 year old. I could relate to Bea feeling self-conscious, embarrassed and sad because of teasing. I wasn’t overweight as a kid–even though I THOUGHT I was. I didn’t gain weight and actually qualify as “overweight” until I was about 17.

“For the prior three decades, I had not attended a party, sat down to a meal, gone to the bathroom, or been physically ill without, on some level, silently calculating how that action would affect my weight. I’d be miserable with the flu, but a little voice inside of me would see the silver lining that the loss of appetite I was suffering meant I might be losing weight.  [pg 28]”

That above quote was by the author, the mother. She went on to describe pretty disordered eating patterns that she had most of her life…juice cleanses, fasting to drop weight quickly, etc etc. She talks about how she struggled with being overweight but she was 115 POUNDS instead of 100. What?!?! What kind of delusions is this woman under? 115 pounds?

“While the occasional peculiarities of my diet weren’t causing me serious physical harm. Bea’s way of eating was legitimately dangerous. She was on track to spend her life being overweight and battling the problems that come with it: high blood pressure, diabetes, difficulty moving, heart disease, poor self-esteem, social isolation, depression. [pg 30]”

This broke my heart so much. I found myself getting really angry with the mother. And this is where the judgmental attitude comes across. I kept thinking “what kind of mother lets her 6 year old daughter eat so much she’s OBESE?”

“But occasionally I’d give in to her please for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. [pg 33]”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Where were MY parents? Trust me, they were there as I was gaining my weight. I think it was the approach and what my parents said that made me rebel and do the exact opposite than what they wanted. I felt criticized and judged; I felt shamed and restricted. I never felt like I was taught the right way to eat, or portion control; I was just taught “food is bad” and food was something to be hidden. Also, to be fair, I was already an adult and moved out of the house when I truly gained the bulk of my weight. That wasn’t really in my parent’s control. I don’t fault them for that, maybe just their approach.

But what about the mother in this book? Was she not aware that her very young daughter was gaining weight so quickly? It was also a turn off that the writer apparently thought her and her husband were perfect parents in every way.

“Jeff strongly believed that the whole family should be in it together. It shouldn’t just be Bea who went to nutrition doctor appointments and adhered to a new eating plan. It should be all of us. So that Bea wouldn’t feel singled out… [pg 42]”


This was actually good. I was glad that the husband suggested the whole family do the weight loss plan together. I think that’s how it should be. It should be a family goal to be healthy and everyone should support each other. I don’t think one family member should be singled out and SHAMED. But of course Bea still felt singled out because her younger brother got to eat a lot more food than she did.

I really hope that someday when I have kids I can teach them healthy eating and exercise without giving them a complex. I don’t want to shame them, or teach them that foods are bad, or make them feel self-conscious about their bodies. I want them to be healthy like I am now.

“‘I want to be able to do it myself,’ she whimpered. ‘I know I need to lose weight, but I wish I could just do it myself.’ [pg 46]”

She’s SEVEN. Seven years old. That’s a weird statement for a seven year old to make. Are they even aware of something like that at that age? I sure wasn’t.


The mother listed out the foods on their new “diet” and one thing that stood out was that her son ate a slice of pizza for an afternoon snack and Bea had homemade s’mores (two chocolate graham crackers and a marshmallow toasted in the oven). “They were delicious and she ate them almost every day. [pg 61]” Hmmm…I don’t know about those snack choices for a pre-dinner meal. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way.

Mid-way through the book, Dara-Lynn said she bought some sugar-free whipped cream to top strawberries with for only 20 calories. She was so excited about it and it made me wretch. Again, I used to be the person that are tons of processed junk food, then I was the person who ate processed LOW-CALORIE junk. Basically, food with chemicals. I’m not that person anymore so the idea of giving a kid fake food filled with chemicals is just gross to me.

“Instead of looking for whole grains and organic ingredients, I now compared calorie content, fat grams and portion sizes….I wasn’t happy that the reduce calorie content also brought with it maltodextrin, aspartame, artificial flavors, red 40, yellow 6 and blue 1. But I accepted them because the snack better served the purposes of our larger goal. [pg 84]”

How do you feel about that statement? Do you disagree or agree it was the right move?

There was a part in the book where Bea had a bunch of treats and food at a school festival and when she got home, the mom made her eat a light dinner. It was a salad with nonfat dressing and fruit for dessert. I felt badly for Bea. Her mom wasn’t teaching her how to eat in a healthy way, she was teaching her that if you go over your calorie allotment for a meal you need to starve yourself at the next meal!

“It was the most severe food-cutting move I’d ever considered, but I went ahead with it. I knew she had ingested more than enough food to make it through the rest of the day. A child who eats 700-800 extra calories at lunch is not going to starve to death if she does not get dinner. [pg 144]”

She then says “The efforts I had to take to steer Bea through these obstacles were overwhelming. I hadn’t signed up for this. [pg 145]” What? Yes you did! You signed up for this when you decided to have children. Parents are supposed to teach their kids to exercise, eat healthy, know their manners and abc’s. It’s all part of it. School certainly doesn’t teach kids the right way to eat. TV doesn’t. Their friends don’t. I so don’t get this woman!

Saturday mornings was when Bea weighed in. She woke up and was hungry and the mother said “Pee, take off your clothes, and weigh yourself first. [pg 161]” The kid threw a tantrum, saying she didn’t want to weigh herself and the mom said “Sorry, you have to.” Man is that disordered. She also ranted about how almonds, yogurt and salmon were unhealthy.

If you can’t tell, I pretty much hated this book. While I found some interesting things in it here and there, most of it made me really angry and really sad for this girl growing up with an unhealthy mindset about food. There was so much about this book that disturbed me and I didn’t even go into it all.

QUESTION: Have you read this book? What did you think?