Accurate Parental Classification of Overweight Adolescents' Weight Status: Does It Matter?

I'm going to leave aside the thorny issue of how to determine "overweight" and what the health effects are.

The take-home here is: encouraging dieting doesn't reduce weight.
Yet our entire society is engaged in a massive campaign to encourage dieting in children. My son's elementary school staff, pediatrician, boy scouts, public and commercial TV, cereal boxes, movies, casual strangers, friends, family - they all talk like nascent anorexics about good and bad foods and no fat and the obesity crisis.

You probably think I'm oversensitive about this topic because my child suffered from "the other side of the coin." I don't think so. I think the other side of the coin helped me identify the currency, and it is bogus.

Dieting doesn't "work." Dieting to lose weight is like holding your breath to save oxygen. And yammering at people about their weight - on either side of the coin - is beside the point. If weight was a choice in anorexia or BED or even for anyone then let's discuss it. But it isn't, beyond a small margin. Do we badger people about their choice of height? Skin color?

If someone is ill, and one of the symptoms is weight gain or loss, then concentrate on the illness and not the symptom.

We have got to get off this appearance as proxy for virtue kick. It's hurting people. It is hurting our kids.


  1. It's hurting everyone...and it's annoying as all H-E-double hockey sticks.

    Seriously, when you don't engage in talk about food/weight/shape, what DO you talk about?

  2. yeah, it's pretty bad, it's everywhere...certainly in my high school PE class too. plus, kids don't need anyone to tell them they're "overweight," whatever that is - they're already painfully aware of not fitting in.

  3. Maybe it's because I'm seeing the sixteen year olds who already have hypertension, type II diabetes and sleep apnea coming in for evaluation for gastric bypass surgery, but I have a lot of sympathy for what those pediatricians and school nurses are trying to accomplish. I don't think that they are trying to send the message "You're fat, and you need to diet until you lose weight." I think the message they are trying to send to kids and parents is "Obesity can have some serious health consequences, and we want you to be healthy. We don't want you to diet until you lose weight- you're still growing! We do want you eating less fast food and junk food in front of the TV and eating more balanced meals at the dinner table with your family. We do want you replacing soft drinks and sugary sports drinks with water and milk. We do want you eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full and then using other coping strategies to deal with stress, loneliness or boredom." Now, some pediatricians will be able to articulate that better than others, but I don't think the push to educate kids and more importantly parents on healthy family centered meals is a negative.

  4. Dandelion,

    I think the message YOU are talking about is a great one - health-focussed instead of weight focussed, about leading a family-centered life and being happy role models.

    But that is not the message most kids are getting, nor the one that most adults around our kids are giving. My son's Spanish teacher lectures them on getting fat. The scout leader talks about "good" and "bad" foods while rewarding them with soda and candy. The pediatrician yammers about the obesity epidemic to my normal-weight child. Outside of our family, there are few role models of families eating together at all, not to mention that breakfast or dinnertime would be anything more than an afterthought in scheduling.

    If everyone was saying and doing what you describe, we'd be doing well. But I'm afraid they are not - and I suspect those mixed messages are doing a great deal of harm.

  5. What I articulated is the message I've heard given to parents and children by the pediatricians teaching me in medical schools. I think some of the mixed messages you're talking about result from two major problems. One, most medical schools provide very little education on nutrition. Two, school teachers, cub scout leaders, etc. are being told that obesity is major problem among US children and we need to do something to help (all true...), but aren't being given very clear ideas of how to do it. I think the intent is good, but the methods need some serious work.

  6. Absolutely. We all have a lot of work to do!


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