Challenging Obesity v Preventing Body Image Issues

February 9, 2016 Published by

Can we ever get the balance right?

Those of you who caught the Sheila Foggarty Show on LBC earlier today will have heard our own Dr Gummer explaining the complexities of the issue, but can we ever get it right?lbc-radio-logo

We asked Dr Gummer for a bit more insight into the issue. Here’s what she has to say….   

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK and, due to the serious nature of the health conditions that are associated with it, we need to confront it head on. However, children as young as 6 are saying they are fat or want to go on a diet and this worries me just a much as children who are overweight.

Whilst I am against nanny-state interference in family life, government agencies such as health and education do have a role to play in informing parents of best practice and supporting them in helping their child grow up successfully, and that includes having a healthy weight. I am a big advocate of empowering parents and giving them the tools and information to parent according to their own values but as the population gets bigger and models in glossy magazines seem increasingly thin, how are parents expected to know what is ‘normal’ and what is cause for concern - at either end of the weight scale? There needs to be monitoring of children’s weight to allow early intervention before a child becomes obese, but it must be delivered in a way that supports and empowers parents, not that stigmatises and disempowers them and certainly not in a way that makes young children overly conscious of their body image.

The issue I have with the Cornish school sending home a letter about the child’s weight via the child is that it puts it onto the child’s radar and this is actually a parenting and public health issue, not something that a child should be involved in. Messages to children from weening onwards need to be about having a balanced, healthy diet because it’s good for them, not because of how they will look, and children of 5 are not sufficiently cognitively or emotionally developed to be able to self-regulate their diets so it’s not helpful to raise their awareness of it beyond reinforcing the healthy eating messages and habits.

Parents need to take back control of the family diet and not give in to toddler demands for certain foods, but it’s not always easy and, given the availability of cheap, nutritionally poor food, is it surprising that parents find it difficult to manage their children’s weight.

The danger is that children’s weight will become such a stigmatised social issue that normal childhood weight changes will become sources of anxiety and parents will be dis-empowered to the point where they become worried about giving a child an extra slice of birthday cake. Food should be a positive part of family life, not a source of stress and stigma. Parents do need to take responsibility for their children’s diets and general health, but they also need more support from government in having access to information and the nutritious food that is so important.

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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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