Ways to screw up your kids

So I clicked on an article called “12 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids”. [I do not have kids, but thought it looked interesting.] I figured they meant psychologically. But obesity epidemic mission creep has struck again, and a large number of the tips are concerned with preventing obesity.

The first one in particular bugged me.

3. IGNORE YOUR OWN BAD BEHAVIOR

…Modeling the behavior we want is one of the best things we as parents can do. What you do matters a lot more than what you say your child should do.

I agree! So far, so good.

For example, the children of smokers are twice as likely to smoke as the kids of non-smoking parents, and overweight parents are significantly more likely to have overweight children than normal-weight parents.

First of all, “overweight” is not a behavior.  Second of all, I wonder why that is? Remember when we discussed how adopted children’s weight correlates with their birth parents’ weight, not their adoptive parents’ weight?

9. FILL YOUR CUPBOARDS WITH JUNK FOOD AND SKIP FAMILY MEALS

More and more research shows that families who eat together are healthier, both physically and mentally… Families who eat together are also thinner and have reduced risk for eating disorders.

This one’s kind of interesting. I agree that family meals are probably a good thing, and they don’t even give that much emphasis to the childhood obesity epidemic angle, and yet that ends up looming largest in my mind, to the point where immediately after reading, my reaction to the concept of family meals is, “Ugh, more obesity crap” rather than, “Yeah, family meals are good for kids”. Maybe it’s the pairing of family meals and junk food in the title (I don’t see how they go together–they’re both food-related, but that’s about as far as it goes). Maybe it’s just that I (and probably everyone else) react emotionally more to the fat-related stuff.

I thought that the connection to both lower BMIs and lower rates of eating disorders was interesting in light of the people who say, “Anorexia and bulimia aren’t important–look at how many obese people there are! It’s no time to worry about people not eating enough!” [Hey, we can't just average two extreme BMIs to make two "normal" BMIs.]

Pediatrician Jim Sears, co-host of the television show The Doctors, calls stocking the cabinets with junk food one of the most common mistakes we make. Depriving kids of nutritious food and making them overweight is a sure way to mess up kids. “It all comes down to shopping habits, and turning these around can make a big difference when it comes to our kids’ health.” According to Sears, “if you look at most pantries, you’ll find cookies, chips, and soda, even though the people that stock those pantries will say they’re trying to avoid junk. If it’s sitting in the fridge … you will see it and you will eat it. Even worse: your kids will see it and grow up thinking that you are supposed to have junk food in stock all the time.”

Having a stockpile of junk food means you’re depriving your kids of nutritious food? Clearly you can’t have BOTH junk food and nutritious food in your house… Personally, I’ve found that having junk food always available has helped me learn on an emotional level that I can have junk food whenever I want and don’t have to eat it when I’m not hungry because it won’t be available later. Also, Pepsi is sitting in my fridge right now. I buy it for my boyfriend, and rarely drink it.

10. DON’T WALK; DRIVE EVERYWHERE

Though it’s tempting to hop in the car to make a quick run to the grocery story, Sears’ second piece of advice to families is to opt for activity whenever you can. “By this,” he says, “I don’t mean going to the gym five days a week…. What I mean is that your family chooses being active whenever possible. You ride bikes or walk to school. You walk to the park, post office, coffee shop…. You can walk a few blocks from your office to grab lunch, and take the stairs.” You might even think about getting a dog.

“People talk about a genetic component to being overweight, but if a person is active, then they can overcome any genetic pre-disposition they may have,” Sears says. “I think this shows that humans were designed to be moving most of the time, instead of sitting in a classroom or behind a desk. Sure, sitting may be a part of your job, but if you look for any excuse to move, and to get your family moving, you will all be much healthier and have better job or school performance. Let your kids think that being active is normal.”

Your kids may moan and groan now when you tell them the movie is out, but a day hike with picnic is in, but these habits will stay with them in the years to come.

I’m always a little put off by immoderate language like “whenever possible”, and given that it’s combined here with “the movie is out”, people may come away from this thinking that they aren’t allowed to do any recreational sedentary activity at all. I mean, if I can never watch a movie again, screw it.

This is another one where the tone and the article’s overall concern with childhood obesity bring out the rebel in me. Getting active as a family is good in theory, but it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm about it after reading this.

As far as overcoming “any genetic component”… I think there was a study of the Amish that showed that yes, 8 hours of activity a day could overcome a genetic predisposition to a high BMI. And Debra from Debra’s Just Maintaining manages to do it with “only” about an hour a day of vigorous exercise (less than 1 day a week off) combined with rigorous food management and calorie counting. So, if you want to get a little over four times the US government’s recommended amount of exercise for general health… it still won’t be enough unless you also count calories, at minimum, and you may have to do other stuff as well, like making sure you space the calories appropriately or avoid certain foods. If you do all those things, there’s still no guarantee that that will work, though.

Or, you probably won’t have to count calories if you want to switch careers to something that keeps you active most of your workday–maybe you’d like to be a fitness instructor? A migrant farm worker? A mover? No, wait, you’d spend too much time traveling in the van. Or you could just work at a desk job 8 hours a day, make your commute a bike commute so you don’t eat up precious waking hours not working or exercising, and exercise the remaining 8 hours you’re awake. Don’t get too far behind on sleep! I hear that can lead to obesity. Plus, you won’t improve your job performance if you get behind on sleep, now, will you? Hey, when are you going to shower after all those sweaty workouts? Wait, when are you going to spend time with your kids? Well, it’s probably more important to make sure their Mommy or Daddy is not setting a bad example by being fat than to spend any time with them that doesn’t involve teaching them how much fun exercising is! You are having fun, right?

You know what they don’t have listed as a way to mess up your kids? Your reaction to their weight. Or an obsession with weight. Or the fact that talking negatively about your body is a risk factor for your kids having eating disorders. But I suppose if they did that, it would actually introduce some moderation into their activitywheneverpossible-neverstopfightingobesity-allweightlossallthetime-alwaysrelateeverythingtoweight-moremoremore message.

*If I was feeling charitable, I’d say that they meant that the collection of behaviors that lead to higher BMIs would be inherited, but see my second point for the answer to that. If children take after their genetic parents rather than the people who raised them, those behaviors aren’t making much of an impact on BMI.

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