By now, virtually everyone knows that childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in America. In fact, the rate of obesity in children has doubled over the past two decades. Accordingly, many parents are playing a more active role than ever before when it comes to their children’s diet.
But how early is too early to get involved? At what point do concerned parents turn into obsessive ones? More specifically, is it okay for parents to subject their chubby babies to diets? It certainly sounds extreme, but that’s exactly what doctors say more and more parents are doing.
A story which aired on Good Morning America suggests that some parents are going to such extremes because of their previous weight issues. Dr. Jatinder Bhatia says, “I have seen parents putting their infant and 1 year-old on diets because of history in one parent or another.”
Jodi Hasan is one such parent. She readily admits on camera that she’s “obsessive” about her 1-1/2 year-old’s weight because of her own struggles. “I don’t want her to have any of the problems that I had: the self-consciousness, health issues,” Hasan says. “I want her to have good self-esteem.”
But many believe a child with parents who obsess over his or her weight would be even more likely to become self-conscious and develop poor self esteem. Hasan’s own pediatrician, Dr. Blair Hammond of Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City says, “You don’t want to project a lot of anxiety and stress about eating to your kids… How many mothers are stressed and dieting all the time? And their kids get that as a role model of how to eat?”
As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder if Hasan might wind up being just that kind a role-model for her daughter. In my opinion, Hasan seems guilty of projecting her own insecurities and body image problems onto her daughter before the little girl has even had a chance to blow out the candles on her second birthday cake.
Hassan’s concern over her 1-1/2 year-old’s weight may not be as rare as we’d like to think. In early October, our own Paula Bernstein chimed in on a MomLogic post in which one mom wrote about another mom’s concern that her 7 month-old baby was “too hungry all the time.” The MomLogic writer was appalled to learn that the concerned mom had replaced the breast milk in her baby’s bottle with water in hopes that the infant would lose weight.
With such prevailing attitudes, it’s no wonder there’s a steady rise of eating disorders among our children, as Sandy Maple reported yesterday. But, sadly, water in lieu of breast milk pales in comparison to other measures parents have taken. Washington state’s Sam and Britainny Labberton were worried that their daughter would turn out to be “fat” like Sam. So they made her go without enough food and were eventually convicted of starving their child after the baby gained only one pound in the first two months. Disturbingly, traces of laxatives were found in the infant’s bottle.
The Good Morning America piece points out that some of this parental anxiety might stem from a 2009 study which shows a correlation between rapid weight gain in the first months of life and instances of obesity and high blood pressure in both children and adults. But Dr. Bhatia does not believe that putting a baby on a diet is the correct answer. He’s a proponent of regular visits to a pediatrician who can help monitor the situation. He’s also a big believer in breastfeeding.
“Breast-fed babies tend to gain weight faster early on and then slow down in the next six months,” Bhatia says. Babies who are fed formula, he notes, have a greater tendency to continue the rapid weight gain due to a few different factors including overfeeding and inappropriate feeding.
The story strikes me as a sad one, perhaps even a perfect mix between an overcorrection to a national epidemic and a society that is growing ever more vapid in its superficial pursuit of a nonexistent brand of esthetic perfection. I’m all for teaching our kids healthy eating habits, and I’m all for getting that process started as early as it makes sense. But I’m very much against obsessing over your young child’s weight. And the notion of putting a baby on a diet strikes me as absurd.
Instead, like Dr. Bhatia suggests, if I were concerned about my toddler or infant’s weight, I would be more inclined to consult our pediatrician and let him monitor the situation.
What do you think? Would you put your baby on a diet?
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