Raising a child or helping to care for a grandchild is a difficult enough job, without worrying about their weight and health – so what happens when that child gets teased for their appearance?
Whether you rush to put your child on a diet, or you believe it’s wrong to focus on food at such a young age, it’s been a long-running argument among many families.
Now, Katherine Feeney has sparked a fresh debate on the issue on her ABC Brisbane radio show. She invited listeners across Australia to share their own experiences, or stories of their young family members, who have struggled with their weight from a young age.
“My mum was always on diets as well, she went to Weight Watchers, she had shakes and everything, so I had already started dieting beforehand. I was around 11 when I started to try to lose weight. Then it was a case of me getting ‘too fat’ – and then it’s a shift into ‘we’re all going to watch our diets now’,” she said.
With obesity rates rising around the world, it’s not uncommon to see overweight children filling classrooms in most Western countries. In Australia one in four children and teens is overweight or obese; the problem is worse in the US, where one in three kids is carrying too much weight.
A more sedentary lifestyle and high-sugar diet has been blamed for the ever-expanding waistlines, with kids spending more time indoors and in front of screens than previous generations.
But how do you approach the problem without making a child feel even more insecure about their body?
Reed said calorie-counting diets from big weight-loss companies aren’t the answer.
“They’re not there to help you or you child,” she said. “The other thing is, weight is something that’s very sensitive to us all, when we’re growing up, we internalise even the most well meaning things and it teaches us to hate our bodies. You can’t love or take care of something you loathe. Instead of focusing on the number on a scale, perhaps spend time with your kids and teach them to prepare healthy food in appetising ways.”
Registered nutritionist Anthony Power agreed and advised people to avoid “calorie-counting” programs.
“It’s really important to focus on the whole calorie counting industry. It’s a multi-million dollar industry that doesn’t work.” He insisted: “It’s a broken and flawed system.”
One listener, Barbara, called in to argue that staying slim was easier for the older generation who picked up rationing habits from their parents who lived through the war.
Elsewhere, father Tyrone from Caboolture, added: “I think people think diets are a reactive measure when you’ve already started to put on weight. I see them as proactive, they’re something that you do over your life. My daughter goes between her mother’s house and my house, so I can’t always control what she’s eating.” He said instead, he speaks to her about it, and teaches her about healthy eating from a young age.
Power concluded: “Feed your kids balanced food. Not just concentrating on fruit, veg and packeted food, and not fearing fats, meats, dairy, cheeses. Eggs and steak have almost the same amount of fat, so why is steak bad and eggs are good? Don’t calorie-hunt. Don’t do it to yourself, or your kids. If we can’t understand it, our kids can’t.”