Fat Kids, Skinny Kids, Just Kids

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.

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7 Responses to Fat Kids, Skinny Kids, Just Kids

  1. Pingback: Vindicated | Red, Round, or Green

  2. hi bri, been reading your comments on tlt for a while, decided to pop over and check out your blog.

    my biggest concern about the study is not whether the parents of a baby or toddler should be alerted that there could be an issue with their weight, but how most folks would interpret that advice. Most folks still think that low fat is the way to slim down. So when they hear “your child may need to slim down” they go directly to cutting fat or cutting out carbs, or some of the other wild diets they know about.

    real quality nutrients for a child are critical not only for their development but to set their internal organs and immune system up to A) function properly and B) start out healthy so they work well into their 70s or beyond.

    it’s not about calories, it’s about nutrients. when little ones get the nutrients they need (fat, protein, carbohydrates, water) and antioxidants (micronutrient) they are good to go. the brain needs fat. a developing brain needs fat in a big way. but it needs real fat, not factory made fat like vegetable oils. it needs fat from avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut, and animal sources dairy (organic if possible), meat and eggs.

    i worry about the parent who decides what’s nutritious by reading labels on food packages, commercials and diet instructions. then you have a young developing brain starving for quality fat, eating fat free cheese and yogurt, still hungry, then polishing of a package of crackers or goldfish which has little nutrition to offer their growing body.

    as bettina pointed out yesterday, 100M in just 4 days to market unhealthy food to kids. even the baby food companies do it. sure gerber fruit puffs contain real fruit and they are well liked by baby, but what is wrong with feeding a tiny pieces of real soft fruit to a baby? fruit doesn’t dissolve in the mouth. fruit is not puffy. if gerber says its ok for all of baby and toddler food to come out of a package (they are food experts, right?) then it’s ok for pre-school and grade school kids to get their sustenance from packages too, right?

    it is ridiculous that parents almost need college level education to understand what food science has done to food growing in a field, and how that engineered-to-taste-amazing food is wreaking havoc with our life long health. we only get one set of lungs, one liver, two kidneys, one immune system.

    if i were a pedi and i had a patient with a kid in the upper % of weight i would ask how much REAL food the kid ate and how much packaged food the kid ate. i’d also ask about what they drink. i’d rather see a kid drinking whole milk and little to no juice/sweetened beverages. if a heavier kid drank a lot of juice/sweetened bevs or ate a lot of food coming from wrappers, then the kid and parent have some work to do. but if the heavy kid is thick while eating a mostly real food diet, probably nothing to worry about.

    i’m ducking because this will be an unpopular comment, but compare breast milk- real food to formula – factory made food. I know a lot of women can’t breast feed for a multitude of reasons, and this is not a judgement on mother’s milk choice. Formula is sweetened with corn solids, rice syrup etc to give it a similar sweet taste to breast milk which is sweetened by lactose. The sugars in formula are just as hard to metabolize as fruit juice, sports drinks or soda.

    it may be that there is no correlation between infant/childhood obesity and adult obesity because after age 1 and off the bottle and moving around a lot, those kids who don’t continue on high added sugar diet, consuming a much higher % of real nutrients the body is better able to metabolize food and weight is normal.

    • Hi Jenna, thanks for commenting. You make many great points, most of which I’ve made over and over, in some form, here on the blog. And you touch on a lot of what I wrote in my response on The Lunch Tray, too — that when you tell a parent that their baby is “overweight,” then send them out the door without any knowledge of how well-educated that parent is about food and nutrition, you may be opening a Pandora’s box that will drastically impact the health, development, and well-being of that child, far more than if they’d simply been allowed to continue on a relatively healthy diet and be a couple of pounds overweight (if there really is such a thing, in REAL terms, for an infant — I’m not convinced that it’s a relevant term to be applied to as large a segment of the population as this study implies).
      I will say one thing, though, and believe me — I respect your P.O.V. and am so glad that you brought up the subject of breast vs. bottle. I know you mean it completely without value judgment, but it does inspire me to express the following. My kids were largely formula-fed. L. was breastfed for a while, and we had to switch to formula. With P., we made the decision — with our families, my doctor, and P.’s doctor — to start off with formula and not go the breastfeeding route. While I agree with your overall premise that breastmilk is real food and formula is factory food (can’t argue that), I do try to steer clear of speaking to this topic in any way here on the blog, because 1) I know what our reasons were for making the choices we made, and while I don’t advertise them, I’ve had to confront the challenges, and I wouldn’t do it any differently than we did; 2) I believe very strongly that just because you may have to make the decision to start your child off with formula, you can still set them up for a healthy life and good relationship with food once solids are introduced, if you educate yourself and are knowledgeable about food; and 3) Both my sister and I were formula-fed; both of my boys were largely formula-fed. My sister has never in her life had a weight problem, while I struggled in my childhood and early teens. L. looks to be heading down the “thicker” road, as you so eloquently put it (Love that!), while P. — the one who never had a DROP of breastmilk — has struggled to KEEP weight on and is barely breaking the line between “under” and “healthy” weight. So it has always seemed to me that formula is a choice that can be offset by both smart feeding in later life, and simple genetics.
      Lastly, thanks so much for illuminating the point, as you did, that it’s better to have a kid who’s a bit “thick” on good milk, avocados, fish, grass-fed meats, and whole grains than a kid who’s “thin” on sugary drinks, packaged foods, processed meats, and artificially sweetened and dyed yogurts and other sham “healthy” snacks. That’s exactly the point I try to make day after day here on the blog, so it’s great to have somebody visit the comments section and articulate it as well as you did. Hope you’ll keep reading and expressing your point of view!

  3. Kim B. says:

    Hear hear!

  4. So beautifully said!
    In Massachusetts they send home a letter during first grade that categorizes your child as overweight if they don’t fall into a certain BMI. Then they require you to follow up with your doctor about it. One of my daughter’s friends was classified as overweight and it was so wrong because her parents had to spend extra time to figure out with the doctor was the deal was. Turns out the school testing happened right before she had a growth spurt and once she grew the extra inches the BMI was normal. All that worry and effort for nothing.

    • Also, Janna, I have to say — I wonder about that business of requiring that you follow up with your child’s doctor. Does the school then assume that you, as a parent, have NOT been having your child’s health followed closely by a pediatrician? (I anticipate that we’ll be hearing at each and every checkup that L. is close to overweight, or is actually there by a pound or so, probably for most of his life.) And so you follow up. So what? The pediatrician says “too heavy…give less juice and less junk food, have him/her exercise more.” What does the school do then? Ask you to prove that you’re doing it? Assume there’s something wrong with you, your ped., or your follow-up adherence if your kid doesn’t magically slim down? Having a kid who’s a little big doesn’t mean that the parents aren’t involved and aware and doing their best, or that the kid is necessarily unhealthier than his/her classmates, or that the kid’s ped. hasn’t been working with the family all along to help manage that child’s weight.
      AND the growth spurt thing is so, so important and valid. Whenever L. gets a pudgy tummy, we know he’s about to shoot up a couple of inches. He goes from just fitting into pants, to fitting them with room to spare, in the space of a week — and we check where the cuffs are, to see if we need to go up a size! 🙂

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