Everywhere I turn I am impacted by the efforts to curb childhood obesity. Having
been a former "fat kid" myself, I see where the deficits are in curbing this epidemic. All
the emphasis is on diet and exercise: Eat this, limit that, walk up the stairs, and run around
the block. RAH! RAH! RAH! Everyone is telling these kids what to do, as if they don't have
enough of that already. Has anyone even remotely considered the possibility that we
should be talking "with them" instead of at them? Or am I the only former fat kid that
remembers what it was like to be overweight and withstand the social pressures and consequences of having that sentence?
Food is a huge issue. There are many dynamics. Ask any overweight adult, or
watch the "Biggest Loser," and you will clearly see that being overweight has more to do
with self-image and what is lacking in their lives, than it does with knowledge concerning
diet and exercise. It is certainly no different with overweight kids. The only exception is
that "fitting in" is a life or death sentence for them because they have fewer choices and
not many other resources. They have not matured enough to see that others' opinions are
not always accurate. These children depend on children and adults to tell them who they
are. It's where their self-esteem, self-motivation and self-determination evolve from.
How many times can their significance be fragmented before they just quit trying to be
anything than what they are told they are?
For myself, I grew up in a towering inferno where food became my escape route. Though it wasn't the most effective measure, it served its purpose at the time. As I grew
older and had more choices that burning building ultimately fell to the ground. Not every
kid that has a weight problem comes from my burning neighborhood, but they are in a
burning building nonetheless. The architecture may be different, but being fat and going
through the most foundational part of your life feeling defective has its own
consequences. It is the ultimate set-up for further life-discerning complications.
Health was the least of my concerns. Ask any kid out there if they know what
they are doing to their arteries or tell them about their risk for heart disease and diabetes
and they're liable to look at you like you just landed from planet freakazoid. However, if
we tell them they don't have to feel inadequate anymore and maybe with some work and
effort they might just get asked to the school dance, we in fact could raise a few
eyebrows. Don't get me wrong on this. Diet and exercise is the only way to prevent
obesity. Nonetheless, supporting and loving these kids right now is the only way to stop it
dead in its tracks.
We need to be there for these kids by sustaining their spirits while empowering
them to make better choices. We need to restore them through all the wreckage that's
being thrust upon them by children who want nothing more than a good laugh at their
expense. More importantly, we need to be truthful in emphasizing, like it or not, that being overweight makes life a lot more difficult. When we start doing some of these things as
a society and start advocating for these children then we will start seeing a decline in the
rate at which this epidemic is growing. But hey, what do I know? I'm just another fat kid
on the bus.
Joanne L. Mahan
Full Disclosure: I have a ACE score of 8 by the original ACE Study. When combined with the Community-Level Adversity Questionnaire, that score increases to 13. I am a textbook example of what happens to children later in life who were exposed to said trauma. I am also a testament of resilience, restoration and a strong advocate of hope and healing. I believe in miracles because I am one.