Fit kids come in all shapes and sizes, just as fit adults do. And many
experts say we should keep this foremost in mind when it comes to children who
aren't thin, but who eat healthfully, have lots of energy, and exercise almost
It's crucial, they say, that in concern for their overweight or obese child,
parents first do no harm.
By Sari HarrarWant your kids to eat healthy, exercise, and enjoy it? Here's how parents in
Somerville, MA, turned the kid-obesity epidemic around.
Five-year-old Ben Tull pulled a big, ripe apple out of his Bob the Builder
backpack one afternoon three years ago — and launched a health revolution at
"The school cafeteria had given kids — even kindergartners — whole fruit
at lunch, and Ben was so excited he brought his home to share with his brother,
his dad, and me. He called it 'The Family...
"Frankly, I am frightened by all the media attention regarding a child
obesity epidemic," says Kathy Kater, LICSW, a national expert on healthy
body image. "If you limit the food needed to satiate hunger completely, it
will backfire, triggering preoccupation with food and, ultimately, an
overeating or compulsive eating response."
If you ask Ellyn Satter MS, RD, LCSW, today's crisis is not one simply of
overweight children, but also of parenting and feeding.
"Jobs, money, and social advancement compete in importance with raising
children, and parents aren't encouraged to keep their priorities straight,"
says Satter, author of Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming.
"As a result, a high proportion of today's children are anxious and
depressed. As a society, we are abominable about feeding ourselves, only
marginally better about feeding our children, and obsessed with
Some say our society's obsession with dieting and weight has hurt more than
it has helped. One recent study from the University of California-Berkeley
showed that frequent dieting may lead to weight gain. Of the 149 obese
women studied (with an average age of 46), those who had dieted before age 14
were more than twice as likely to have dieted 20 times or more, and to have the
highest BMIs (body mass indexes).
Even worse, this obsession appears to have extended to our children. Studies
show that 5- to 9-year-olds who get the message that they're overweight feel
flawed in every way -- that they're not smart, not physically capable, and not
worthy, says Satter. At the same time, she says, equally heavy children who
haven't gotten that message feel fine.
"Overweight diagnoses create the very problems they are intended to
address when parents restrict food and then the food-deprived -- and therefore
food-preoccupied -- child overeats and gains too much weight," says