Dear Media: Guilt-Tripping Parents of Obese Kids Isn’t the Answer

By now you’ve probably seen this video making its way around the Web that appears to chastise parents into thinking their child’s weight problems are their own fault. Like parents need one more thing to feel guilty about. But to me, the message is less about placing blame on parents and more about showing how small choices add up in the long run.

Sometimes those choices add up to wonderful things; other times they lead to devastation.

The video titled “Rewind the Future,” created a year ago by a program called Strong4Life out of Atlanta, shows clips of a boy’s life in reverse as he’s in the operating room suffering from a heart attack. Some of the clips shown include the boy, Jim, playing video games at different ages and being fed French fries when he was young enough to be in a high chair and a car seat, and many clips include the doctor saying the family needed to make a change. The video ends with a strong, clear message: “Your child’s future doesn’t have to look like this,” with the final slide stating, “There’s still time to reverse the unhealthy habits our kids take into adulthood.”

I like the intended message. What we do with and for our kids matters. It affects them now and it will affect them 20 years from now. We’re setting up a foundation and instilling habits. The video is trying to persuade us to make those habits healthy ones, saying yes, it does matter what we do right now. And it does.

The downside of the video is the perceived message that it’s our fault. It’s your fault if your child grows into an obese adult. It’s your fault if your kid likes video games more than playing outside. It’s your fault if you feed your kid the wrong things. Just because those things can be your fault doesn’t mean they are. Making parents feel guilty isn’t the best strategy for helping them make changes for the better. Instead, empowering them to do so would be a better option. If you just watch the video as it circles around social media platforms, you may miss that latter point; but if you visit the program’s website, you’ll find resources and information to help you practice those healthy habits they’re hoping for.

It’s tough to always do everything “right” as a parent, but if you don’t know any better, what are you supposed to do? Sometimes parents feed their kid French fries because it’s the easy thing to do. A drive-thru can be thousands of times more appealing than trying to navigate the aisles of the grocery store and prepare food in the kitchen with kids underfoot. But sometimes parents are feeding their kids fast food because it’s a cheap option and they honestly can’t afford much more. Sometimes they’re doing it because they truly don’t know how unhealthy it is. When we judge parenting, we’re assuming parents know better and that’s not always the case. Maybe you put cartoons on the TV to entertain your kids while you whip up a healthy, home-cooked meal in the kitchen. You’re doing the “right” thing by preparing healthy food, but in doing so, perhaps you’ve taught them to like TV over active games or had them spend too much time sitting still. We’re not always going to make the best choices all the time. What we can try to do, though, is make the best choices for our families as often as we can.

The video brings awareness to a vital topic and raises important questions, like who’s responsibility is it to keep our kids safe and healthy? It might have missed the mark a little bit by implying parents are to blame, but there’s also a lot of truth in the message.

Most people are aware that we’re in the midst of an “obesity epidemic.” Parents are aware that kids are getting heavier right along side of adults. But the problem is, most people don’t want to recognize it in their own lives. A recent study showed that many parents don’t see a problem with their kids being overweight, giving the common justification that they’ll “grow out of it.” I can relate that to that; my 2-year-old son is obese. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me not to worry, it’s just baby fat and he’ll outgrow it. Even our pediatrician has suggested we just wait and see what happens a couple of times. It could leave me feeling powerless, but instead I make sure I’m providing him with the best options I can. He eats nutritious meals, healthy snacks, and plays actively as much as possible. He eats every vegetable under the sun. We go to playgrounds, run races, and climb on just about everything. His weight may not reflect those practices yet, but we’re (hopefully) instilling lifelong habits for a healthy lifestyle. I’m lucky because I have the knowledge that there is something I can be doing as his parent; not everybody has that information.

Teaching and showing kids how to be healthy by eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and practicing healthy habits is a more productive way than telling our kids to do something we ourselves don’t practice. We can’t control everything in our kids’ environments — there will always be treats at school and sports practices, donuts at club meetings, and junk food at friends’ houses. But we can empower our kids to make good choices. As the Strong4Life website states, “The choices we teach kids today become the habits they take into the future.”

What message do you think the video is sending? Do you agree with it?


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