To: First Lady Michelle Obama
Re: Child obesity: Help without harming
From: Ellyn Satter
As a Family Therapist and Registered Dietitian, in the 45 years I have been helping people with eating/feeding/weight issues, I have made most of the mistakes. I had the luxury of erring in the privacy of my clinical office. You don’t have that luxury. Please accept my insights about what works—and what doesn’t—with respect to addressing child obesity and, more importantly, achieving our mutual goal of letting children be all they can be.
Don’t talk about child obesity. Research shows that children who are labeled overweight or obese feel flawed in every way–not smart, not physically capable and not worthy. Parents who fear obesity hesitate to gratify their child’s hunger for fear s/he will get fat. Such labeling is not only counterproductive, it is unnecessary. From birth, child obesity can be prevented—and treated—by maintaining a division of responsibility (DOR) in feeding: Parents do the what, where, when of feeding and children do the how much and whether of eating. The DOR is recognized by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA and its programs (WIC, School Nutrition, Child Care Food Program), Public Health, Head Start, and CDC, among others.
Provide, don’t deprive. You are on the right track in emphasizing programs that support food security for children and families. Children who are given regular, reliable, and rewarding meals and snacks eat as much as they need and grow appropriately. On the other hand, children who fear going hungry eat as much as they can whenever they can and get fatter than nature intended them to be. But don’t emphasize right and wrong foods. Stipulating "healthy" food is not part of the DOR. Expecting people to eat what they should rather than what they want creates a barrier to family meals. Instead, encourage family meals. When parents get the meal habit, sooner or later they get around to including fruits and vegetables.
Optimize feeding and parenting, and let children be children. Children are entitled to be free from worry about eating, moving, and weight. Once they establish the critically important structure of meals and snacks, adults must trust children to learn to eat the food they eat, eat as much as they need, and grow in the way that is genetically appropriate for them.
Copyright © 2010 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com.
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DISCLAIMER: The information contained in Family Meals Focus is intended to inform our readers about issues relating to feeding dynamics in general and family meals in particular. It is not intended to replace specific advice from a health care professional. Copyright 2009 Ellyn Satter