Children Obesity…Who's to Blame?

I don’t have children.  I’m not sure when I will have children, but I do know that when I do, health, both mental and physical, will be an important part of my raising them and teaching them about life.

This morning, I had an interesting dialogue with my family about legal action and laws around childhood obesity.  Across the US, there are numerous strategies being implemented or being considered to address childhood obesity head-on.  Some programs take a preventative approach by offering healthy options in the school cafeteria, while others take a more aggressive approach by disceminating BMI (Body Mass Index) Report Cards to parents when their children have either too low or too high of a BMI score; and others, take an even more drastic approach of accusing parents of child abuse and neglect.

I have to wonder, what approach is most effective?  Do we wake up parents to the urgency of the situation by placing the blame on them?  Do we humiliate children to get them to understand that they are at risk for being overweight as adults?  Do we risk causing eating disorders and lifelong self-esteem issues among children and teens by negatively exposing them and their problem?  Or do we hope with all of our might that the cafeteria’s lunch offerings will be enough for them to learn?  There isn’t really a perfect answer, as every individual responds to things differently, and children, even more so.  So what do we do?  How do we attack an increasing epidemic?

For the most part, I believe that parents are most responsible for their children’s health.  Assuming a parent is an active participant in their child’s life, it is safe to say that from the time a child is born up until the time they go to school, parents are the most influential in teaching them right from wrong, good from bad, healthy from unhealthy.  If a solid foundation is laid, there is a good chance that children will make the right decisions when they leave the nest.  That said, if a child doesn’t get that education at home, I do believe that parents need to be counseled, warned and maybe even fined if a child has an ongoing problem.  They are their caretakers and guardians, and they need to be held responsible.

But how can you hold someone responsible, when they don’t even understand the problem themselves?

First off, with 66% of American adults overweight or obese, there is a good chance that many obese children have parents who are overweight as well.  Secondly, many parents have a truly distorted view of their child’s weight problems.  In a survey conducted in 2007 exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, it was shown that only 13% of parents with obese children ages 6 to 11 rated their child as being “very overweight” while over 40% of the parents rated their children’s weight status as “about right.”  40%! Parents of older children (12 – 17), however, seemed to have greater awareness with 31% of parents of obese children saying their children are “very overweight,” 56% saying “slightly overweight” and 11% saying “about the right weight.”

Parents have to take action and responsibility early on, not just for their children, but for themselves as well.  If they can’t lead by example, then children are only going to perpetuate their parents’ unhealthy habits.  Further, parents need to face the reality of the situation, and admit that their children may have a problem and may be at high risk for early onset medical issues, such as asthma and heart disease.  More and more children, as well as adults, are becoming less and less active.  We can thank media, video games and the internet for that.   Children have enough growing pains as it is, it isn’t right for parents to subject them to ridicule, possible physical health issues and even worse, mental health issues.  Children need role models…and yes, that in my mind, starts with the parents.


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    I believe that childhood obesity may be eradicated only by introducing the problems of wrong lifestyle routines and choices through the introduction of the missing subject of
    ‘BALANCED WHOLISTIC EDUCATION ‘ in our former education system. till we are innovative to synergise with the education courses with the help of healthy ‘CAKE’ I.E. Committment to the Application of Knowledge Evaluated,it is just not possible to enable people to make right choices , and even make them aware about the real problem of controlling personal environment.

  • Dana

    I have three children who are tall for their age but went through a stage right before they grew where they gained some weight. According to the BMI report card from school…my daughter who was 10 YO about 4’10 and weighed about 113 was OBESE… she is now 11 YO about 5’2…maybe 95lbs and afraid to eat!! My other daughter was hospitalized last year because of all the emphasis that is put on being skinny. Why are kids having to even talk about their BMI…
    It is the parents responsibility along with their pediatrician…not the schools! This is an area that the government needs to stay the hell away from. I now have two daughters that have a life threatening disease. Their chance of surviving over the age of 25 is 60%!
    I understand that there is a problem with obesity but if you are not careful with adolescence and don’t handle it right you will end up with another problem that is worse.
    To make matter worse my daughter who was hospitalized with anorexia and almost died is not allowed to get on a scale(she has to have a blind weight)…was weighed at the beginning of the school year (9th grade) in front of the entire class. This was a class assignment to find their BMI! Now children in K, 2nd, 5th and 9th grade are checked for their BMI (parents can opt out).

  • LM

    I don’t use the concept of “blame” which presupposes concepts of “free will” not supported by science. But there are certainly “causal factors”, with parents high up on the list.

    I see a few scenarios. Most commonly overweight parents, who have talked themselves, for their own psychological survival, into believing their weight is just fine. Accepting their children are overweight would force the same in them.

    I see parents who just want to eat crap themselves. Even though they may share genes with their kids, they were lucky enough to grow up in a generation that had smaller portions, and more exercise. They got by the dangerous childhood period, and don’t see why they should change things for their kids.

    I see parents who are overworked and can’t deal with the stress of worrying about restricting their kids’ diets. They made bad choices, had too many kids, married (or didn’t) partners who left them and chose homes in the suburbs, guaranteeing their kids couldn’t walk anywhere. Not they are stuck.

    And I see ignorant parents. Sometimes with far subnormal intellectual capacity, who really are unlikely ever to understand the issues. Are you really going to teach a parent with an IQ of 75 about the details of childhood nutrition?

    Aside from parents, we have cities built for cars. Cars are probably the greatest contributer to obesity. I don’t knock the automobile…if I need a trip to the hospital, that’s how I want to get there. But riding around in a car all the time is the biggest obesity related change in the last 100 years.

    And we have huge portions, and easy access to junk food. Halloween means little to kids with enough pocket change to buy several sodas and candy bars a day. The potions served at restaurants are enormous. Exercise is great, but eating fewer calories is the most essential component to keeping weight down.

    And keeping weight down is the key. After it’s gained it is likely too late. But no one wants to admit that. It’s demoralizing when you have the weight, and people fear it will trigger anorexia among the young. But isn’t being surrounded by the very real possibility of obesity an even bigger trigger for this reactionary behavior?

    We’re really looking at too little too late. People don’t want to accept the harsh realities that a) humans are weak and cannot be relied upon to make good choices on their own, b) being just 5 lbs overweight as a teen really is the start of later life obesity, c) once you gain weight you are very unlikely to lose it, d) overweight parents are blinded by their own issues, e) a healthy lifestyle means NOT living in the suburbs and f) we have to just eat less.

  • Jennifer Pereira RD

    If people think it is because parents haven’t been educated on ‘healthy eating’…well, I want to know where these people have been. I have adult morbidly obese clients who were put on diets by the age of 5. Restricting our children’s intake has been happening for at least half a century. To what result? This causes binges, hiding food, shame, and an emotional divide between children and their parents.

    Some people get it, most don’t. These children are eating more than their bodies need, largely in order to regulate emotions. It wouldn’t matter what they eat too much of (it is not WHAT they eat that is the problem)–but that is where all the focus is. It is not odd, then, that things are just getting worse. Why are you eating, sweetie? Are you feeling hungry? In your tummy? If kids are asking for food, and you are pretty sure they are not physically hungry (ie. just ate a filling amount), suggest playing with them and if still hungry, get a snack. Often our kids come to us for food (or seek it out themselves) when they are not getting the time/attention they want from us. We need to teach them ways of self soothing that do not include food–though most adults need to learn this first themselves.

    Stop using the same, failed technique to address a problem–it only makes things worse.

  • BK

    I definitely believe that parents should take the main responsibility to child obesity since they are the one who are in direct control of the diet of their children. But it is not enough to watch what they are giving to their children. They should also watch what they are putting into their own mouths; how can they convince children to eat healthy when they are putting all the junk food into their own mouths. Children don’t do things we ask them to do, they do what they see us doing everyday. So as parents and adults, we must lead by model.

  • Jessica

    Uh Catherine, I don’t think the concern is “trophy children.” There are a lot of extremely overweight children out there. And the parents aren’t doing anything. All the time, I see fat parents out there taking their overweight kids out to fast food restaurants and whatnot. I admit that I sometimes stare. I just can’t see how they can’t see that they are destroying their children. It is sad to see a little kid try to go down a slide and get stuck — why isn’t the parent sad enough about what they have done to their kid to do something about it? It’s not that hard. Try steamed broccoli with some pepper and maybe even a little bit of butter — beats the hell out of the greasy french fries they keep shoving in their faces.

  • carlso24

    my step-brother is close to 60lbs over weight. Yes, he is naturally a big boned guy. He is only 16 and he weighs close to 300lbs. He is tall. There was two issues with him: 1) he ate mainly junk food and his portions were out of control 2)he HATES exercising! He’d much rather play his computer games all day. My mom bought him a bike but he rarely road it. My mom bought him a basketball hoop but he doesn’t use it. Recently he has been getting better and the key was integrating the diet program with the whole family. He and his dad are very close so they go to the gym together. The meals are healthy and everyone at the table watches thier portion control. He’s finally getting the right mentality but it was by not singling him out. His original issues also arose from his parents. Both his mom and dad didn’t really say anything about his eating habits and they would buy him lots of junk food. I think both sides felt guilty about getting a divorce so they pampered him. So yes, genetics played a role in his weight but it was also behavioral problems as well.

  • Becky

    I was surfing the internet to see if some people have the same point of view as me. I see some do, but with extreme negativity. Obesity can be contributed to genetics &/or other health issues, but what about children who don’t have such issues and are still obese. I feel parents should take responsibility for their children’s obesity. Lets take a look on the other side of the spectrim on weight issues. If a parent has a child that is underweight, chances are high the parent will be reported to the authorities and investigated for abuse and neglect. Chances are the child will be removed from the home. Family court will mandate supervised visitation, parenting classes, nutrition classes, family therapy etc. If the parent complies to all the requirements, custody may return to the parent. However, the parent will constantly be supervised by state social workers for an unspecified period of time and every parental decision is questioned. This is a reality for most parents of underweight children. If parents of underweight children are expected to take responsibility, why isn’t parents of morbidity obese children forced to do the same? A four year old child shouldn’t weight the same as twelve – thirteen year old. Parenting is hard and it is easier to throw in the towel, but at what cost?

  • Catherine

    What I am so surprised about is the sheer hostility and anger directed toward the overweight/obese…..surely adding in THAT anxiety cannot be helpful to our children.

    That said, my approach is to cultivate an interest in vegetables and less so for fruit, but not to freak out or excessively monitor every little thing my 3 yo daughter eats (she is on the slim side, BTW). It’s the obsessiveness on this issue that causes eating problems and obesity more than anything. We as parents are all caught up in the notion of trophy children–the idea that if your kid is not ‘perfect’ then fix it.

    And if your/my kid ends up overweight? SO WHAT! What about focusing on health overall and downplaying appearance? People come in all shapes and sizes, and as long as my child is healthy and happy, I could care less how much she weighs. The worst outcome would be for her to develop an obsession over food and appearance, or worse: an eating disorder.

  • annisa

    I am ashamed to live in America now, everywhere i go, i see americans drinking soda or having fast food. it is disgusting. Its not that hard to be healthy.

  • jennasue

    You can’t blame the TV or video games without blaming the parents. Who allowed the children to have the video games? Who is letting them sit in front of the TV? It is the parents who are allowing this behavior. And to Mama, fast food is not in anyway cheaper then going to the grocery store. To buy a pound of ground meat (or ground turkey b/c it is better for you), a tomato, lettuce and buns is going to be cheaper, and healthier for your family when you add it up. You can make all of the excuses that you want, but you will only be lying to yourself. Again, the parents are to blame because we are the ones our children learn from. If you allow tv and video games and commercials to be your child’s role model, then you are a bad parent. Face the facts people, suck it up and take responsibility.

  • Wow


  • kali

    first off parents are not to blame….unless you blame them for not making the kids exercise or get active in sports etc… for eating at least they eat and make them eat….my kids dont eat as healthy as the person who took nutrition classses…but they eat a vegetable a meat and a starch and also eat a dessert….EVERY NIGHT….and my kids are underweight well except for my oldest who just had a child she is just right for her height….my kids eat like pigs and are still underweight….ITS THEIR BODY….its their metabolism….not the parents some people have to watch what they eat some dont thats their body….im obese and i hike 5 miles a day rain or shine….i have more muscle than fat and im more active than my kids….i dont eat right because i dont eat three meals a day like the doctor says to….i cant eat breakfast…i would literally get sick…my breakfast is a glass of milk and orange juice evry morning…my lunch is a cup of coffee…and my dinner is a good meal…..before 6 pm and my night snack…half the time i dont have one…..being obese isnt always a lack of exercise nor is it how much u eat its all in your body….learn your body thats the key…..dont blame parents for making their kids eat….blame them for not making them exercise….

  • RMK

    Why don’t all of you fast like the mouslems around the world. Just a month from the whole year. Try It.

  • Terry

    The parents are to blame.

  • Laina T

    When my oldest son was 5 YO (he is now 18) I noticed that over the course of a few months he had put on some weight, I took him to his pediatrician and we found that he had gained almost 25 lbs. in a few months whereas he had a steady weight gain in the past. I requested that he be tested for diabetes or any possible illness that could be related to weight gain, I had had gestational diabetes so I was leaning towards that. In 1995 they used adult values even with children’s testing so I was told he was fine. I had another son in 1996 and when he was around 5 YO I noticed the same thing, he gained in a short span of time. This time I wasn’t going to poo-pahed so I insisted on both boys being tested. Again I was told there was nothing wrong. So, I made an appointment with Children’s Mercy in KC and took the test results with me and had them retested. Sure enough both boys were insulin resistant. Even though they take medication, exercise and watch their diet they are both overweight. Don’t be so quick to judge and don’t always blame the parents. I was my children’s advocate and persisted but had doors shut in my face and basically made to feel like I was a crazy mom. There are a lot of metabolic disorders that affect a person’s weight, I too am insulin resistant but I also have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome.) There will always be parent’s who don’t care, my advice to the author of this article, don’t write articles on children until you have firsthand experience being a parent. It is so easy to sit in judgement on people until you put yourself in their shoes.

  • John

    OH yeah, i forgot to mention, parents need to be able to say NO to kids thats the other problem, when a kid wants junk food before dinner try saying NO, lots of parents cant say no because they “LOVE” them too much…….I say they are loving them to death.