Friday, August 1, 2014

Childhood Obesity

As some of you may know, in addition to being a coach/trainer/mom, I am a professor for the ISSA’s online college.  I also teach a seminar designed specifically for trainers and coaches and have written a book on training in the context of the bigger picture and how to utilize your training knowledge in the most effective and compassionate way.  Coming up in October, I will have the privilege of teaching an afternoon seminar on training kids for trainers, parents, and coaches.  I’m really looking forward to this.

In addition to my own kids, I’ve been working with kids in training and teaching situations since I was fifteen years old.  I come from a long line of teachers and education experts and teaching has always come naturally to me whether its teaching kids to ride horses, lift weights, develop sport skills, or improve their math and writing skills.  So, I have a lot of experience with kids.

Yeah, its a problem, a parenting problem.
One of the big subjects that comes up a lot in training personal trainers is the childhood obesity epidemic.  It gets a lot of attention and we all agree that it is a problem.  However, I differ from many of my colleagues in that I think the problem is very different from what most people think it is and I think it needs to be approached from a different perspective.  There really isn’t a good answer to this problem, but a lot of it is the fault of parents and caregivers who just don’t know any better, don’t know how to educate their kids about nutrition, or don’t know how to control their own over-eating issues.  Being straight here, if your kid is overweight and you have junk food in your house, you’re part of the problem.  Overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids and that’s not a genetic issue, it’s a lifestyle issue.  Likewise, parents with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia tend to have children with the same issues.  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen mothers tell their teenage daughters, “maybe you should order a diet soda”, or tell them they are too chunky in the middle of a growth spurt.  Own your own problems, don’t pass them down to your kids.

Obesity may be a problem, I like this much less.
That being said, I think that our society’s obsession with six-pack abs is incredibly unhealthy and expecting children to be lean throughout their development is unrealistic.  Many children are “chubby” before the onset of puberty and that’s completely normal.  Give them a few years and they usually shoot up several inches, or feet, and keeping weight on them becomes the problem.  My youngest son is a lot “softer” than my older son who has had a six-pack since he was two.  It upsets him a great deal and he won’t take his shirt off at the pool.  He’s eight years old and I find this very disturbing.  He’s a big boned strong kid and if he follows in my and my husband’s footsteps, he’ll be a tall, lean adult.  He is active and eats a healthy diet, I don’t see a problem.  But society at large has already made him feel “fat”. 
  
The gal on the right is totally aware of her weight.  No need
to point it out.  It never helps.  Never.
In the case of my son and other heavier children, I have a real problem with some trainers’ need to “diagnose” kids with obesity and treat it like a disease.  Let’s be honest here:  Fat kids know they are fat.  And we can tell they are fat by looking at them.  No need to measure, poke, prod, and make a big deal of it.  Kids are very sensitive about their appearance and making a point to measure exactly how fat they are is kind of cruel.  If obesity is a child’s primary problem, tracking progress is certainly in order, but anything more than a waist measurement and an occasional weigh-in is just not necessary.  I coach a few weight class sports, Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, and I am very careful to not make a big deal out of what weight class a kid is competing in, especially if they are girls.  All I require is focus and hard work and that’s the point of having kids compete in sports.  If they are overweight to the point that it affects their health, again, its mom and dad who need some help with nutrition and making better choices.

Rhinos are awesome and should never judge themselves
based on what unicorns can do.  
And let’s talk about genetic variation.  Humans come in all shapes and sizes.  Making a child feel like she needs to be a dainty princess when she is built like a bulldog just isn’t fair.  Likewise, making a kid feel like he should look like he’s chiseled out of marble when it’s clear he’s programmed to carry 20% bodyfat isn’t fair either.  If a kid is active, eats a healthy diet, and is happy, we don’t need to pressure them to look like underwear models.  Carrying some amount of extra weight is not necessarily a health problem and obsessing over it only causes unhappiness and low self-esteem. 


So, yeah, basically what I’m saying here is that the childhood obesity problem is not a problem in children.  It is a problem in adults.  It is caused by adults making poor nutritional decisions, not encouraging or allowing their children to be active, and refusing to see the problem for what it is.  A lot of it is caused by ignorance, but it’s also caused by laziness and a lack of attention.  Adults can make this a lot worse by not recognizing what a normal weight range can look like and insisting on perfection instead of “good enough”.  We need to take better care of our children by taking better care of ourselves, having looser tolerances, and leading by example.  Kids are awesome and in my experience, the best way to motivate kids to play sports, eat a good diet, or exercise is to show them what they are good at, not telling them how fat they are.