Weighty topics

There are items about kids’ weight on the BBC website and The Guardian (G2 bit) today. They combine to add another ton of guilt onto parents, especially as parents are atavistically afraid of starving their children.

The Guardian has pages about how to stop your kids becoming overweight and the BBC is fretting about anorexia. They are both pushing the age boundaries downwards for concern over children’s eating, to birth in the case of the Guardian article; and to 8-years old on the BBC site.

I really have problems with this obsessing over weight and pushing our obsessions onto children. Ironically the Guardian article continually intercuts pages of obsessing over weight with the message that you shouldn’t stress your kids about dieting and their weight. That seems incredibly contradictory advice to me and some of the advice seems quite demented. Only allow one hour of TV a day, as kids gain a stone a year for every hour of TV that they watch. Argh. What possible evidence supports this? The writer refers to the food traffic lighting scheme – eat as much as you like of green foods (basically veg) a third of your palm size portion of amber foods (potatoes, bread, rice, dairy) and eat red foods once or twice a week (treats). This sounds exactly like the sort of rules people get from Weightwatchers or Slimmers World. There are lots of other injunctions about mealtime rules and what to put in a packed lunch and so on.

Do I have to use the pseudoscience word repeatedly? I’ll just use it once and leave you to apply it with Tourette-style enthusiasm at random.

There are justified complaints about advertising “foods” aimed at children but noone seems to complain about dragging kids into our insanely weight-obsessed culture, where food takes on infinite bizarre meanings.

The BBC goes to the other extreme, following the well-worn path of :

  • Identify an issue that can be seen as a pressing social problem
  • Stir up concern by claiming that kids are at risk
  • You may have to go a year younger every couple of months when you trawl for victims, because anorexic thirteen year-olds no longer cut it as shock-horror stories
  • It’s always a good idea to have some medical element. People are interested in health. It holds the possibility of a cure

The common point in both these stories is the issue of control. Both the Guardian and BBC writers acknowledge that food is an area where children seek control. The proferred solutions seem to consist of imposing controls, whether in the home or in hospital Anorexics or Obesity Units. The anorexic kids are being subject to control by being force-fed the very foods that other kids are supposed to be deprived of.

She has to eat a daily diet of about 2,500 calories consisting of all the food she hates most – chocolate, chips, cream and cheese. It’s a prospect she dreads.

Common sense seems to suggest to me that food shouldn’t become a control issue. Adults’ anxieties over food and fatness and thinness are being transmitted to children. Who insist on learning from reality rather than words – picking up all the things about us that we don’t want them to acknowledge and treating our hypocritical words with contempt. Maybe generally negotiating controls could actually move the conflict into other areas of the relationship between adults and children and might serve some purpose.

Also, maybe we could stop fighting biology. Kids love sweet things – it’s a survival mechanism. They naturally eat when they are hungry and their bodies store excess to grow from. They naturally burst with life and enthusiasm for running and climbing and exploring – all the things that burn their food and build their bodies. As adults, we generally don’t live like this – being constantly active, eating when we are hungry – which is why we can’t regulate our own hunger. We bring up kids to live as we do then get confused when their body mechanisms respond. Or their minds respond to their own hunger for control and the social obsessions with weight by exerting control over their bodies through starving them.

As a society, we can’t bear to see our own attitudes to our bodies mirrored so mercilessly by our offspring. We get obsessed with forcing them to show us a pretty mirror and we distract ourselves from living like human beings by trying to make our kids look as if we do.

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