Reflections on Vogue Mom's Stuggle with Her Daughter's Obesity

Health & Wellness on 03.26.12
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An article by a Vogue writer about putting her daughter on a diet is generating hateful ripples across the blogosphere. We don't want to join those tearing the poor woman to pieces, but it does seem like a good opportunity to open discussion about how to do it better.

On the positive side, Vogue writer Dara Lynn-Weiss was not forcing a healthy daughter to be thinner. She was told by her pediatrician that her daughter needed a diet; at 4'4" and 93 pounds, the seven-year-old was off the CDC Growth Chart for the United States. Links between obesity and disease make it hard to take a "big is beautiful" approach, especially when it comes to setting lifetime habits for our children.

Weiss admits being unsuited to the task of teaching her daughter about health body image:

I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight.

And that is the main complaint against Weiss: that her approach succeeded only in perpetuating a roller-coaster relationship with food, rather than giving her daughter the resources to make good eating decisions for life. In a world full of crazy ideas like a child obesity tax or foster care for overweight children, is there a better way? Can we approach body weight as a disease while sparing body image?

Focus on Fun

Maintaining our weight can easily be a struggle for hard-working parents, chained to a desk chair by bills and the fear of soaring education costs. But maintaining a healthy weight should be a game for kids.

Getting your kids out to play starts young. Find the sports they like, help them build the sports skills that will help them continue to enjoy activity throughout their lives. Not every kid needs to be the quarterback or soccer star -- gardening and bicycling are lifetime activities too.

Don't Bear the Bad News

Kids need to hear from their parents that they are beautiful, no matter what kind of package they come in. We need to be aware that young girls, especially, and young boys, increasingly, are told by the world at large that they do not comply with the idealized form in vogue at the moment, pun intended. Any harsh words from Mom or Dad, even well-intentioned, will lurk in their psyche a lifetime long.

Concentrate instead on the positive side of healthy eating: help give your kids the knowledge about which foods are good for them, and which are dirty marketing lies. Make a game out of deciding which foods are a trick and which foods are really food.

Never bribe your kids with food. It impressed me when we moved to Germany with our two young daughters that you never see a child there munching on foods marketed to kids. Many times we witnessed mothers handing their kids a piece of dry bread to munch on, with a half-apple juice, half-water mixture to wet it down.  

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