At the beginning of this year, media was abuzz with criticisms of a billboard advertisement used in Georgia by the Strong 4 Life campaign. This ad was viewed by many as offensive, shameful, and downright wrong. The ad and the campaign both neglect to consider one common cause of childhood obesity: eating disorders.
So why did the Strong 4 Life decide to put out these ads? Because they thought simply stating the facts about childhood obesity – such as 70% of obese minors have at least one risk factor for heart disease, obese children and adolescents have greater rates of pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea – wasn’t enough. They didn’t want to “sugarcoat” this issue any more. Instead, they thought that fat-shaming would pique interest and provide a slap in the face for parents and children to get healthy. Do you think that worked?
Doctors, dietitians, and other health professionals are often “brain-washed” with what the weight loss and diet industry puts into our heads. Just eat less and move more and everything will be okay, you’ll lose weight, and you’ll be happy. But as I said in the introduction of this article, they are all missing the big picture – many children who struggle with overweight and obesity are also struggling with mental illness; they are struggling with eating disorders. They are using food to cope with emotions; they are using food when they are bored. They have an unhealthy relationship with food, and it will only hurt them more to restrict their food choices by putting them on a diet.
Many of our clients at Inner Door Center® reflect that they were overweight or obese as a child. And they tell us about all of the shaming they went through – people poking at their “fat”, calling them names, and saying things like “Should you really be eating that?” The fact of the matter is – people come in all shapes and sizes. While the BMI and the growth charts can be a useful tool, not every person is going to fit inside that tiny little box. And when children are expected to fit a certain “ideal” and they don’t, the bullies (not just kids at school, but even their health care team, or parents) who shame them only fuel this eating disorder further.
So yes, childhood obesity is dangerous. Yes, the facts are that obese children are more at risk for developing chronic diseases in adulthood such as diabetes, heart disease, etc. But trying to solve this issue by shaming children with ads, or forcing them to go on diets and exercise regimens will only make the problem worse. It is important to look at the relationship an obese child has with food – WHY are they overeating? WHY aren’t they going out and playing with their friends? What is really going on?
Inner Door Center® has great therapists and dietitians who work with children and eating disorders. If your child is struggling with overweight or obesity, please contact us at (248) 336-2868 or visit our website www.reconnectwithfood.com.