Portrait of a Young Girl

The Rising Need for Youth Advocates in Obesity

“We can’t treat our way out of this.” That simple declaration about the rising prevalence of obesity among children and youth has profound consequences. One of those consequences is children, youth, and families left without options for dealing with a serious health problem. For one thing, good obesity care is hard to find and hard to get. But even worse, families and youth find themselves bullied into silence. This is why we have a rising need for youth advocates in obesity.

Parents in a Bind

Parents of a young child with severe obesity face an almost impossible problem. For a child with this condition from an early age, the problem is one of physiology. Pure and simple. But the parents face a tremendous burden of blame and guilt. For no good reason. As an example, Duke pediatrics professor Sarah Armstrong has a 15-year-old patient she’s been seeing since he was eight. She told the New York Times:

The parents both have worked with us tirelessly, the family drives an hour to see us, they’ve tired various diets and exercise, and he continues to gain weight.

And yet, Armstrong faces a battle to get him the more intensive treatment he needs through Medicaid.

If he had cancer and needed chemotherapy, no one would tolerate this. People view obesity as the parent’s fault, the child’s fault. So we have these really sick children, and there’s a safe and effective treatment right down the street. But I can’t get them there.

Meanwhile, this child has withdrawn from school because he is such a target for merciless bullying.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Obesity is anything but simple and straightforward. Even in children, it has many potential causes. Thus, what’s best for one child might be the very worst approach for another. Many adults bear terrible emotional scars from parents and family pressuring them about their body weight in childhood. When the available options are poor, parents can cause great harm. That harm might show up in the form of disordered eating and body image problems that persist into adulthood.

But one of the primary goals of obesity care for youth and children is to avoid such problems. Scientific literature tells us that professional care brings better outcomes.

The Need for Advocates and Options

Families, youth, and children need better options. Most of all they need good advocates. And the best advocates will be the people who are living with this issue. Faith Newsome and Emily Robinson are two college students who are stepping up to this challenge. Their organization, OCEANS, aims to empower young people with obesity through themselves, their community, and society.

We hope they and many others will be successful. We need their voices, demanding respect for the diverse needs of children.

Click here for more from the Times. For more on youth advocacy, click here.

Portrait of a Young Girl, painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder / WikiArt

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November 13, 2019

2 Responses to “The Rising Need for Youth Advocates in Obesity”

  1. November 13, 2019 at 8:24 am, Allen Browne said:



  2. November 14, 2019 at 11:08 am, Sally Feltner, M.S., PhD said:

    Nutrition education must be started as early as possible, become embedded in schools and be prevalent enough to become part of the culture. As a teacher of food and culture, we can find examples of this in France and Jajpan.