Friends Out for a Ride

OCW2020: More Help, Less Harm for Childhood Obesity

OCW2020 Weight Bias and Childhood BullyingIf lofty rhetoric about childhood obesity were helpful, we would be done here. But four decades of that rhetoric have proven not to be helpful. Back in 1974, the Lancet told us that adult obesity would most likely never be cured. However, with vigilance throughout childhood, most obesity could be prevented, they said. In 2002, Ebbeling, Pawlak, and Ludwig wrote in the Lancet that childhood obesity was a public health crisis with a common sense cure – prevention. Now 18 more years have passed and childhood obesity has risen to affect nearly 20 percent of all youth. And many children have grown up to become adults with obesity. Clearly, it’s time to offer real help for childhood obesity.

Prevention talk is not enough. In fact, all that talk of crisis and the need for prevention may well serve to amplify the stigma of childhood obesity.

Broader Focus Needed

All these decades of talk about prevention have yielded some stigmatizing public health campaigns, but not a lot of actual prevention. So now we have a significant population of youth who need actual help. Faith Newsome is a young person with a personal experience of childhood obesity. She founded OCEANS Lifestyles to advocate for such help and explains:

Children and adolescents with severe cases of obesity can require treatments (medication, bariatric surgery, etc.). I feel like there may be a disconnect when considering treatment options for children and teens based on the current narrative surrounding prevention.

As we’ve noted, comprehensive treatment programs for youth severely affected by obesity are scarce and hard to find.

Harm to Kids and Families

The health harm of childhood obesity occurs over the long term. But when we stigmatize the youth and parents affected, we do immediate harm. Joey Skelton is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Wake Forest University and he directs a comprehensive obesity treatment program at Brenner Children’s Hospital. He cautions against the implicit bias directed at parents:

We always think we are being kind, but research tells us that we judge and blame parents for their child’s struggles with weight.

So we must check ourselves when providing care. We should provide CARE first, and sometimes that means not addressing weight until the family is ready. That frustrates some care providers because they want the families to act. But sometimes families have limited bandwidth, with competing priorities, and making drastic changes to nutritional and activity patterns just can’t get to the top of the list. That is okay. We must be there for them, according to their needs. Not ours.

It’s time to set aside the rhetoric and provide real care for the families living with obesity. That is what Obesity Care Week is all about.

Click here for more on Obesity Care Week and here for more facts on childhood obesity.

Friends Out for a Ride, photograph © Wayne S. Grazio / flickr

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March 6, 2020

2 Responses to “OCW2020: More Help, Less Harm for Childhood Obesity”

  1. March 06, 2020 at 11:12 am, Allen Browne said:

    Unfortunately Dr. Skelton is wrong. For the children we need to get beyond “eat less and exercise more”. It doesn’t work any better for them than it does for the adults. Obesity is not a different disease in childhood but children are not little adults.

    • March 06, 2020 at 1:49 pm, Ted said:

      Allen, I can’t find anywhere Dr. Skelton said that eat less and exercise more is the singular answer.