So. I read this article yesterday, and I dismissed it, because it got me mildly riled up and I didn’t feel like playing that game at that moment in time. But this morning, once again, fabulous blogger Bettina of The Lunch Tray got me going with her post about the exact same study — which reveals that, apparently, fully 1/3 of America’s INFANTS (yes, that’s right, 9-month-olds) are “overweight” or “obese.” After leaving an embarrassingly lengthy comment on her blog, I decided I had some things to say about the topic, after all.
Yes, yes, faithful readers know that we have our own little mini-struggle with kids and weight going on in the RRG household. L.’s a big kid, no doubt about it. One of his Pre-K teachers remarked the other day that he’s “built like a linebacker,” which sums it up pretty neatly. He’s broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, and densely constructed; when you pick him up, he feels at least 10 pounds heavier than he looks to the naked eye. In short, he’s built like his dad. Who’s neither, for the record, fat nor thin.
But even though I may inwardly wrestle with this matter of L.’s weight — thinking, on the one hand, that I don’t want to be the parent who turns a blind eye to what may eventually be a problem; and, on the other, that both J. and I were heavy kids who turned out completely fine when provided with well-balanced meals and left the hell alone, thank you very much — I’m not going to say that the question isn’t legitimate. He’s borderline. Okay.
But babies? BABIES? I can’t even imagine — not for an instant — the doctor’s visit that would include a pediatrician turning to me and saying, “Your 9-month-old is too heavy.” What comes after that statement?
See, when I was a kid and the doctor said I was too heavy, he told my mother to make sure I played outside more and to watch out for feeding me too many snacks and fatty foods. When L.’s doctor said he was tending too heavy, she told us to limit sugary drinks and processed foods. (I still have to snort every time I think about that. Sorry.) But with a 9-month-old? What are you going to say, doc –limit the breastmilk and/or formula? Give only 1/2 a jar of prunes, not a full jar? Enroll the little dears in Baby Gym classes so they can work off the chub on their cute baby thighs?
I know. I know. There are very well-meaning parents who soothe babies with food, inadvertently overfeeding them in an effort to stop them from crying. There are very well-meaning parents who give extremely young children inappropriate foods. There are very well-meaning parents who don’t correctly interpret their babies’ cues and keep insisting on feeding them, even when they are turning away from the spoon. And those are all things I suppose a responsible pediatrician would have to address, if a baby really seemed to be in mortal danger from its weight. But do we really think that a full 1/3 of American parents are dangerously overfeeding their infants? I’m not sure.
My grandfather, Doc, was the town doctor for a rural area of New England for most of his adult life. We visited him last weekend with the boys, and he was able to observe firsthand how the two of them interact with food. L. sat quietly and ate a sandwich and applesauce for lunch; P. flailed around, downed a few spoonfuls of applesauce, munched a few crackers with peanut butter, and refused anything more substantial outright. Doc’s analysis? “You know what we used to tell parents of kids like that, when I was practicing?” he asked me, pointing to P. “If he don’t eat it for breakfast, give it to him for lunch. If he don’t eat it for lunch, give it to him for dinner. After a coupla days like that, he’ll eat what you give him.”
Tough words to most parents; I will say that we modern American parents seem to have an overdeveloped and unfounded fear that our children will starve to death if they don’t eat when we think they should. But Doc’s right, and while J. and I don’t exactly practice what he preaches, we’re pretty close. With both of our boys, we’ve served what we want them to eat. Prior to age 18 months, we allowed a substitution of fruit or vegetables for a refused food at mealtimes, but otherwise, it was eat or don’t eat. Once they passed the 18-month mark, we started the full-on You’ll Eat it and Like it Campaign, which is where we are with P. right now. We put the plate in front of him; if he eats something, fine. If not, fine. He gets down when he wants to, and we leave the plate on the table. What’s left on the plate is what he can eat, until the next scheduled mealtime.
Here’s the thing. We did everything the same way with L., who is now a very good eater — not speaking in terms of quantity, mind you, but in terms of acceptance of what’s served to him, adventurousness, range, etc. But P. is teeny-tiny, while L. is big, and it’s always been that way, despite the fact that they were roughly the same size at birth and have eaten the same foods (and in fact, the biggest difference is that L. was breastfed for a while, but P. was not). What does that say to me? That they’re JUST DIFFERENT KIDS. That people’s bodies are shaped differently and hard-wired to respond to food in different ways. That one 9-month-old could be fed a perfect, model, absolutely flawless diet with unimpeachable practices, and still be much bigger and heavier than another child fed the same way.
And you know what? Doc, and his colleagues, knew that. They also knew healthy kids from unhealthy kids, and wholesome food from unwholesome food. I’ll guarantee you Doc never used a BMI chart or any other such nonsense when he gave a baby a check-up; he’d have applied his legendary common sense approach and experience and known that a chubby 9-month-old is nothing more than, well, a chubby 9-month-old. He wouldn’t have attached any more importance to it, nor looked for a link between baby fat and grown-up fat. He’d have told the parents of that 9-month-old — assuming that the baby was doing well — that they had a healthy child. And they’d have gone away happily to raise their child, not worrying about whether or not every feeding was an ounce too much, or whether that was really a hunger cry, or doubting their ability to do something as basic as provide appropriate nutrition for their child without setting him or her up for a lifetime of obesity and poor health.
In short, people — not that this post has been short! — let’s stop the madness. We’re driving ourselves crazy as a nation with all the worry about eating too much, eating too little, trying to figure out where the tipping point is between “thin” and “fat.” Is it at age 10? Age 3? Age 1? In utero? When, oh when, can we intervene to prevent our kids from being bigger than we want them to be?
I can actually answer this one. You can’t. Your kid will be the size they will be, and it may not be the size you’d prefer. The only thing you can do is intervene to make that size a HEALTHY size. Want to intervene, people? Do it at the family dinner table, in their lunchboxes, and at their schools and activities. Model good choices. Feed them real food. Cook. Eat together. Make good decisions for them and with them.
And now that I’ve ranted and raved, here’s a good decision: Make these chicken soft tacos in your slow cooker, and eat them with your kids. I promise that one of these, with a side of veggies and fruit, won’t make any of you fat.