Overweight Kids by Jane Thurnell-Read
Many children are now overweight. This is a scary fact for what hope do we have that these children will become slim, healthy, fit, strong and vibrant adults. Helping adults to achieve an ideal weight is difficult enough but there are even more issues and problems with children. We don’t want to see small children dieting. We don’t want children to judge their own worth by how much they weigh. We don’t want to encourage children into anorexia and bulimia. But we do want children to be healthy and well and set down good eating habits for their whole life.
Lots of adults – parents and experts – have views on what is needed, but what do children themselves think? “Overweight What Kids Say” by Dr Robert A Pretlow aims to fill this gap by letting children speak (without editing or tidying up their words) about their struggles and their successes.
134,000 messages were posted anonymously by over 29,000 kids over a period of 10 years on an open access web site. This web site
allowed the children to be totally honest, to express their shame, their despair, their frustration with their parents and teachers, as well as their sense of achievement and pride.
Many of the kids say they knew about healthy choices and what they should be doing. They didn’t think they needed more information about what to eat and what to avoid. One third of them specifically said they turned to food to ease sadness, stress, anger, fatigue, loneliness and boredom, as well as the pain of being obese itself. If you’re an adult struggling with weight loss, you’ll recognize that the issues for the children are the same as the issues for adults.
Many of the children hate being fat, but struggle to resist junk food because they feel they are addicted to it. Here are some of the poignant quotes from the book:
“I’m overweight. I even started being homeschooled so that I would not be teased in gym class …I do not feel good in my body and everytime I go outside it seems like people look at me …” Aged 13 weight 245 lbs height 5 ft 5 inches.
“my depression kicked backed in and I started eating more and more … I know im killing myself by eating more and more.” Aged 15 weight “not sure” height 5ft 7 inches
But this is not a depressing book. It talks about the solutions that children have found.
Some children found that they could control stress and binge eating by practicing relaxation, deep breathing or taking up yoga. One child described how she took up a musical instrument and gave her hands something else to do. Chewing gum worked well for another child and is supported by research that showed that chewing gum before an afternoon snack diminished cravings.
There’s lots of research on the benefits of exercise for weight loss and weight maintenance, but many kids find exercise boring or are too embarrassed to exercise in front of others. Many of the kids favoured Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), which is a game played with the computer. They found it a fun way to exercise without feeling that they were exercising. Some children found that they could lose all the weight they needed to lose just by exercising.
Support from others helped many children, but the authors point out that one of the most important things that adults can do is listen to the child in a non-judgmental way. The children don’t want to be preached at or told about the damage they are doing to themselves – they already know all that.
This is an excellent book both for children who are struggling with weight issues and for adults who want to help but are at a loss as the best way to do it. This book should be in every school library.
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