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Most Children Aren't Overweight, But Many Think They Are

Lisa Brennan talks about her son's body image and wonders if there are a lot of children who they are fat when they aren't.

Does your child think he is fat?

A growing number of children, usually pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, believe they are overweight – but they aren’t. This reality came to my attention when my 8, almost 9-year-old son, who weighs 45 pounds, told me he didn’t want to eat his dinner because he did not want to be fat. I was miffed by the comment. Of all the things my son is having to worry about, weight is not a concern I have for him. Actually I monitor him to ensure he is gaining weight (one of the side effects of some of the medication he takes is that it causes a weight decrease at least for his body type).

It turns out that my son is not unique. Some other mothers have heard the same comment from their children aging all the way down to first grade. None of the parents I talked too felt their children’s weight was an issue, but their kids did. All the parents handled the situation in a very similar fashion, of trying to uncover where the rationale comes from and telling the children that they are just who they are supposed to be.

"I think what goes on at home and what comes out of the media are both involved," said Dr. Stephanie Setliff, medical director of the Center for Pediatric Eating Disorders at Children's and assistant professor of Pediatric Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. She has seen girls as young as 6-years-old worrying about their weight.

No longer issues just for the super-model, questions of dieting, obesity and body image are arising on the playground. One study reports that 40 percent of nine-year-olds have admitted to dieting. Results from the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), using measured heights and weights, indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese. Which is indeed a problem, but perhaps all the efforts to help these obese kids is placing ideas into children’s minds that do not have weight concerns. It would be nice if all children can learn to be healthy and not focus on a specific number or idea of body image.

I strongly encourage parents of children of all sizes to discuss a healthy lifestyle with their child. Our children learn so much from their parents, peers, television, and other influences, and I prefer that my son learn healthy habits from me. He is willing to snack on Broccoli after dinner because he likes it that much as opposed to the junk food cabinet. I also would like him to know that he can eat and it’s only when his weight is in excess that he may need to pay attention.

Heather Rayne Geyer April 20, 2011 at 09:27 PM
I sometimes have to discuss this topic with my girls - 11 & 6. The 6 year old is a little advanced socially (not a good thing) simply from hanging around her older sister and watching older kid shows (iCarly, Hannah, etc). Both of them seem concerned with how they look and it is very upsetting to me. At that age, I was playing in the dirt, trees, parks - my clothing or appearance never once entered my mind. I hate that kids this young make an issue of it already. Not only do I want them to realize that appearance should be of no concern, but I also worry about the future. I tell them always that kids need to play, have fun, go to school and do their homework - that is all they should care about. When my step daughter requests a particular brand name clothing or when my 6 year old thinks kids will laugh at her boots...it kills me. But as much as I talk and explain and reassure - outside influences seem to always win out. I mean, look at the clothes they make for kids...bikinis, thongs, push up bras, shorts with words like "hottie" on the butt, heels...I mean COME ON!! Kids are growing up (but not really) WAY too fast. We as parents have to be the ones who say NO because clearly society will not be improving in this capacity. Childhood obesity rates are insane. And I like that RUSD instituted a healthier food policy. I like that they are taught about healthy eating. And I try to always make it clear that it is about health not looks or weight.
Marci Warhaft-Nadler May 06, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Hi Lisa, My name is Marci Warhaft-Nadler and I created a program called "Fit vs Fiction" that I bring to schools, parent and teachers groups in Ontario that tackles this issue! As someone who worked in the fitness industry for 25 years I was disgusted with how fitness has become more about how things "LOOK" than how they really are. As a mother, I found it heartbreaking to hear my kids' friends struggle with their body image and as someone who battled and overcame SEVERE eating disorders for over 20 yrs, I KNEW I had to do something to make a difference! I speak to girls AND boys as young as 7 years old who are feeling like they just don't measure up..to be honest, the focus on obesity these days is making things WORSE, as more and more kids are convincing themselves that they're fat! My workshop gets kids TALKING about how they feel and tells them that fit bodies come in ALL shapes and sizes! Check me out: www.fitvsfiction.com :o)
Heather Asiyanbi (Editor) May 06, 2011 at 07:05 PM
Hi Marci, Thanks for reading Patch! We appreciate your comments, but you cannot solicit business here. If you would like to promote your service by talking about fitness and how important it is for kids, please feel free to sign up for our Local Voices blogging platform on the front page. Thanks!

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