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Food for thought

How are we feeding our kids?

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I had the pleasure of meeting with a wonderful, insightful, intelligent 17-year-old woman who came to my office for weight-loss counseling. She weighed 345 pounds. She said that her lifelong obesity made her feel that she had been born into debt and had been unable to pay it off.

According to the American Obesity Association, the prevalence of obesity in our children has quadrupled to nearly 16 percent in the last 25 years. We are always searching for the causes of our kids' corpulence in their excesses: fast food, TV, video games, snacks, genetics, laziness. All of these contribute to our nationwide obesity epidemic, but none is its cause.

Food is more than fuel. From breast milk to birthday cakes, foods carry powerful emotional attachments. We use food to express love and approval to our children, to distract or appease them, and sometimes to assuage our parental guilt. Meanwhile, portion sizes in restaurants increase and we deserve a break today to get away from the inescapable reality that when we eat more calories than we use, we get fat.

The cause of childhood obesity is simple. Early on, we teach our kids to disconnect hunger from caloric needs and attach it to emotional needs. They learn to overeat because it feels good. The problem is feeling good is never good enough. The key to treating obesity is to learn what it is we are feeding with all of these extra calories, then to find healthier ways to nourish it. Prevention is better: as our kids learn how to feed themselves, let's love them for knowing when they are full.

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