copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
In America and the European Union Overweight Kids Face [a] Widespread Stigma. Only days ago, I contemplated this truth. As I watched a family shop, I was struck. She was young, perhaps ten years old. She was very heavy. I wondered how could one little girl carry so much weight on such a small frame.
The lass was sweet, quite petite, although clearly troubled. She had been shopping with her Mom, her grandmother, and her younger brother. From appearances, it seemed this family was in Target gathering wares for Grandmamma. They did not give the impression of being poor; nor did they look to be wealthy. They were average folks; they could have been you or me.
This family did not dress well. Their clothes were clean, just not stylish. Were this group more fashion conscious pants, shirts, and shoes would have been color-coordinated. Patterns might have blended in a manner that was more appealing. However, I guess they were comfortable in casual apparel. After all, making purchases in a discount department store does not require a person to dress with finesse. Simply covering your body is sufficient for such a chore.
The family of four entered the checkout line. I was standing behind them. Their exchanges were pleasant. The children each chose to purchase an item for themselves. Grandmother and Mom paid for their goods, as did the boy. Then the young woman did her transaction. The cashier rang up the sale. Dollars passed from one hand to another. There was change. The school age girl went to place her pennies, nickels, quarters, and dimes into her tiny purse. A single nickel fell to the ground. The coin made a sound as it plunked to the floor. The girl heard the noise and saw the shiny nickel.
She looked at the currency longingly. Then, this lass turned and glanced at her family. They were walking away. Her brother, mother, and grandmother had not noticed what occurred. The group was not far and yet, not near to the girl. It would only take a moment to pick up the coin and move towards the others. Pensively, the female child considered the nickel. She looked down and then up and down again. Finally, she fled in haste, leaving the lonely coin behind. She never bothered to pick it up, although she did think too.
It did not seem to me that this little lady thought a five-cent piece was not worth much. From appearances, or perhaps I am projecting, recalling my own struggle with excessive weight, her greater concern was the effort involved in bending over to retrieve a small piece of anything. I remember the days, and not too fondly. My heart went out to this child. There, but for the grace of G-d, go I.
I am reminded of the time when I was obese, not pleasing plump, chubby, or fat; I was corpulent. I grew into a size that was twice that of normal quickly. I did not consume gross quantities of food. The portions on my plate, or in hand were not large. It was actually quite startling to see the weight pile on. Pound after pound was added to my body mass. There was no index to guide me. Indeed, I was eating less than I had for years before this gain.
However, my weight gain was not an anomaly. For me, fighting with my body mass was normal. My family was substantial mentally and physically. Many of my relatives are big people, not tall, just wide. The little girl and I seem to share a family shaping, or might I say out of shape. Her mother and Grandmother were large. Her brother was not as rotund; however, he seemed to be ready to tip the scale.
In my family, some were fit. My Grandpop walked for miles, each and every day. He was active and agile; a few relatives are. However, it seems on average, the propensity toward plump was prominent in my world. The younger generations in my own family might have mirrored their elders, or perhaps more accurately did as their parents had. This is true in most families, even the thin ones. However, patterns change. In recent years, Americans are shorter and more stout. For generations, Americans were taller than those in other nations; however, this is changing.
[H]eight has been stagnating in the US for a decade, and Americans are now shorter on average than many Europeans, including not only the very tall Dutch and Scandinavians, but even the citizens of the former East Germany, see John Komlos and Marieluise Baur (2004).This is troubling for many reasons. Not only is our health and life expectancy effected, so too is our income. For years, Economists told us tall persons earn more money than the diminutive do. An inch can increase your net worth by at least a thousand dollars per year. However, recent research reveals the height you achieve in adulthood may not determine your income. Stature may not be the key to financial success.
While Americans are not expanding upwards, they continue to expand outwards, and the average American, like the average Briton, is now heavier than the weight that would minimize mortality risk given average height.
Tall men who were short in high school earn like short men, while short men who were tall in high school earn like tall men.If, during our younger years we do not think we are worthy, excellent, brilliant, or outstanding than likely we will not believe we are the best later in life. Often, we trust we are admirable when others act as if we are.
That pretty much rules out discrimination. It's hard to imagine how or why employers could discriminate in favor of past height. If tall adolescents—even those who stop growing prematurely—grow up to be highly paid workers, it's got to be because they've got some other trait that employers value. [Nicola Persico, Andy Postlewaite, and Dan Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania] believe that trait is self-esteem. Tall high-school kids learn to think of themselves as leaders, and that habit of thought persists even when the kids stop growing.
For the fatter child, the need for approval weighs on their minds. Much embarrassment is felt, and experienced early on.
Overweight children are stigmatized by their peers as early as age 3 and even face bias from their parents and teachers, giving them a quality of life comparable to people with cancer, a new analysis concludes.At the age of two, nearly three, I recall sitting in the den with a ballpoint pen in hand. I drew lines on my thighs designating exactly where I wanted the excess meat removed. I do not recall being ridiculed at home; nor do I remember peers speaking of my weight.
I did attend summer camp at that age. At two and one half years, I was the youngest camper. Perhaps, being four years younger than all other campers had an effect on me. Indeed, I was left out of much. The counselors were not willing to teach me to swim. My bunkmates did not wish to include me in games. Being a person that loathes and avoids competition, and always did, I had no desire to participate. I was somewhat sedentary.
Possibly the situation demanded it. I could not go off and play on my own. I needed to stay with the group. Yet, I was separate. I sat still for hours while my bunkmates engaged in recreational activities. My situation, although different, mirrors much of what occurs today.
Lack of exercise is a major factor in the growing problem of obesity, both for children and adults, according to Dennis Styne, a UC Davis Medical Center pediatric endocrinologist who is a recognized authority on issues of childhood obesity. "Obesity has become a serious health risk in America, and it is reaching epidemic proportions, even in the pediatric population," Styne says. "Close to 25 percent of America's children and adolescents are now considered overweight, and the numbers are increasing."I developed habits that hurt my already hurting heart. The children ran, jumped, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company. I could not join in. They thought me too young. At an early age, my less active life took its toll. The pounds piled on. Later, as the years passed, I was just lethargic.
They say obese children are victim to teasing, rejection, bullying, and other types of abuse because of their weight. I was fortunate, I did not experience much, if any of this in my youth. However, when I reached the age of sixteen, and added a few more pounds, a phrase was used by a loved one to describe me, "butterball." To this day, every year from Thanksgiving to Easter when the company with the same name advertises their turkeys, I cringe.
"The stigmatization directed at obese children by their peers, parents, educators and others is pervasive and often unrelenting," researchers with Yale University and the University of Hawaii at Manatoa wrote in the July issue of Psychological Bulletin.Research determined the heavier child exposed to such pressure is two to three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts. Frequently, the young and hefty suffer from other health issues. High blood pressure and eating disorders are not uncommon. Yikes, there I am. I was anorexic, then bulimic. My eating was out of order.
The paper was based on a review of all research on youth weight bias over the past 40 years, said lead author Rebecca M. Puhl of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
I have long been certain that my bingeing and purging was not related to my weight. Indeed, doing as I did, did not help me maintain a stable mass. The process stressed my body and my mind. Anorexia and bulimia are burdensome. They are as obesity in many ways. There is great shame associated with starving oneself. Over-eating and puking do not leave one feeling proud. People judge those that do not appear perfect or act in a manner that pleases others. We all criticize ourselves.
"The quality of life for kids who are obese is comparable to the quality of life of kids who have cancer," Puhl said, citing one study. "These kids are facing stigma from everywhere they look in society, whether it's media, school or at home."In a time when children are growing fatter, we can no longer avoid an issue that is pervasive. We must consider that they way people treat us when we are young has an effect throughout our lives. Height and weight evoke a response. That reaction stays with us. At a time when childhood obesity overwhelms the planet, we must consider the effect of this epidemic.
Even with a growing percentage of overweight people, the stigma shows no signs of subsiding, according to Puhl. She said television and other media continue to reinforce negative stereotypes.
"This is a form of bias that is very socially acceptable," Puhl said. "It is rarely challenged; it's often ignored."
By 2010, almost 50 percent of children in North America and 38 percent of children in the European Union will be overweight, the researchers said.At times, we as a society must shield children from those that love them most, us. Sadly, parents, teachers, and friends do not realize how they hurt a fragile heart and soul. Teasing is thought to be just in fun. Expecting less of a fat child is considered realistic. Reacting to personal guilt for not caring for a child as you thought best, in a moment, might seem reasonable. However, the harm we do is immeasurable. Children internalize their pain.
While programs to prevent childhood obesity are growing, more efforts are needed to protect overweight children from abuse, Puhl said.
A growing body of research shows that parents and educators are also biased against heavy children. In a 1999 study of 115 middle and high school teachers, 20 percent said they believed obese people are untidy, less likely to succeed and more emotional.Fat children are distinct. They stand out in a crowd. Actually, in their own mind they are often larger than life. I know I was. I was so surprised years later when I saw photographs of myself as a camper. I was not obese then. I only thought I was. For me, it was as Lynn McAfee stated, "You hear it so often; it becomes the truth." Even if the words were heard only in my head, they were repeated routinely. The belief that I was fat became my reality. In my teens I grew into the person I long thought I was. I became obese.
"Perhaps the most surprising source of weight stigma toward youths is parents," the report says.
Several studies showed that overweight girls got less college financial support from their parents than average weight girls. Other studies showed teasing by parents was common.
"It is possible that parents may take out their frustration, anger and guilt on their overweight child by adopting stigmatizing attitudes and behavior, such as making critical and negative comments toward their child," the authors wrote, suggesting further research is needed.
Lynn McAfee, 58, of Stowe, Pa., said that as an overweight child she faced troubles on all fronts.
"It was constantly impressed upon me that I wasn't going to get anywhere in the world if I was fat," McAfee said. "You hear it so often, it becomes the truth."
Her mother, who also was overweight, offered to buy her a mink coat when she was 8 to try to get her to lose weight even though her family was poor.
"I felt I was letting everybody down," she said.
Other children would try to run her down on bikes to see if she would bounce. She had a hard time getting on teams in the playground.
"Teachers did not stand up for me when I was teased," McAfee said.
A study in 2003 found that obese children had much lower quality of life scores on issues such as health, emotional and social well-being, and school functioning.
"An alarming finding of this research was that obese children had (quality of life) scores comparable with those of children with cancer," the researchers reported.
Sylvia Rimm, author of "Rescuing the Emotional Lives of Overweight Children," said her surveys of more than 5,000 middle school children reached similar conclusions.
"The overweight children felt less intelligent," Rimm said. "They felt less popular. They struggled from early on. They feel they are a different species."
Anyone that has ever struggled with their weight knows, trying to take off a few pounds can be a challenge. Eliminating the weight of years of mistreatment takes more effort than most can imagine.
Heavy children are insulted, ignored, rejected, and ultimately resent themselves. They misuse food. The weighty wonders may not appear malnourished; however, they are. The obese do not eat well.
[P]oor nutrition remains an impediment to health in much of the world today, Much less obvious is the idea that nutritional deficits are an important part of the health story in the rich world today. Yet there is a good deal of evidence, even—and in some cases particularly—in populations whose most obvious nutrition-related problem is obesity and over nutrition.Such mass consumption does not serve our children well. Nor do our eating patterns benefit us as we age.
"Obesity rates are increasing fastest among children, and they will carry obesity-related health risks throughout their lives," Ludwig says. "An adult who gains a pound or 2 a year through middle age will be at increased risk. But that is much less dire than the overweight 4- to 6-year-old who gets diabetes at age 14 or 16 and has a heart attack before age 30."Sadly, some of those that were heavy as children are already adults. Older persons, for the most part, do as they did in their childhood. Even if individuals lose the "baby fat," the feelings and ill effects associated with obesity often linger. Lifestyle, habits, health problems are more difficult and daunting than poundage. There are infinite influences on our body and mind. The marketplace matters.
Ludwig -- director of the obesity program at Children's Hospital, Boston -- says the childhood obesity epidemic has three phases. The first came in the last decade, when child obesity became common but the public health effects weren't yet felt. Phase two is right now, as we begin to see serious complications such as type 2 diabetes in very young people. Phase three, Ludwig predicts, is coming soon.
"But we still have a little time before these children become young adults with diabetes and start to have heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, and increased mortality," he says. "It is a massive tsunami headed for the United States. One can know it is coming. But if we wait until we see the ocean level rising over the shore, it will be too late to take action."
The advent of processed foods altered the physique and psyche. Motor vehicles and machines have an effect, A commuter and computer culture counts. The number of calories we consume and do not burn off as earlier generations did effects our overall well-being. There is ample cause for concern.
Today, we stunt our growth upward and expand our girth outward. Perhaps, we need to advance our awareness for what motivates us. Why do we torment the portly? How easy it is to ridicule and judge. Frequently, the tall, the thin, those that appear healthy blame the obviously wounded one. These saintly souls think obesity is a choice. People are not born fat. Perchance that is, in part, true.
Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity are responsible for an estimated 300,000 to 600,000 preventable deaths each year.
An estimated one third of all cancers are attributable to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, and being overweight.
It was once thought diabetes or the tendency for this illness was inherited; however, there is ample to reason to believe that is not always true. Might we imagine that nothing occurs in isolation. If we are to cure what ails us, we must be open to options that are not easily observed.
Might we assess why those that gain so easily gravitate to food. I believe for too long we have presumed the answers are simple. It is often claimed obesity runs in families. The genes prime the pump. Numerous researchers prefer placing the blame on parents. Habits are learned. Mothers and fathers are our primary teachers. Schools receive their fair share of culpability. Surely if educational institutions supplied more nutritious fodder children would not eat as they do. Restaurants, food manufacturers all can claim an ounce of responsibility.
We too bear a burden; each of us decides what we will eat and enjoy. We believe we can easily forego exercise. We all are as the little girl. Bending down to pick up the nickel is not a simple task. Our mind may wish to do what we think wise; yet our body says we cannot. The two work in unison.
I believe, too often we do not honor the mind body connection. Possibly, we all are vulnerable to whatever affliction inhabits our bodies. In recent years, we are realizing that many ailments, once thought to be the result of natural causes are related to diet. What we eat has power; it effects the brain and bulk. Might we consider victuals feed us in ways we rarely explore.
To learn how to work with your appetite center, you must first understand it. It's time for you and your brain to become better acquainted.Perchance, we might empathize with the chunky little lass. She is you and me. Might we consider that our culture provides us with foodfare that harms us. Society teaches us habits that hurt us. Some lessons are learned subliminally. Others are fashioned at the dinner table. Possibly, we all would be wise to teach and treat the children well. If we do not attend to the biological, physiological, intellectual, and emotional needs of our progeny, they will suffer as will we all. If one man, woman, or child is diminished, we all are. Little girl, may I help you reach for more than a nickel.
As soon as you bite into any food, sensory stimulation of nerve endings on the tongue leads to the release of a number of chemicals, including opioids, into the bloodstream. You release more opioids -- the body's natural versions of drugs like morphine -- when you consume foods high in sugar and fat, creating a powerful, neurochemical drive to overeat those foods.
These opioids and other chemicals enter the bloodstream and carry their messages to the hypothalamus, which sends out yet another set of chemicals to regulate appetite. The more flavors your taste buds register, the more stimulated the hypothalamus becomes, releasing the hunger-promoting hormone neuropeptide Y. When you taste a lot of flavors at once, the brain releases a lot of neuropeptide Y.
Meanwhile, in response to the smell and taste of food, your stomach produces the hormone ghrelin, which also stimulates appetite. It continues to produce this hormone until you eat enough food to literally fill your stomach and stretch the stomach wall. Farther down the line, in your intestines, levels of several hormones rise to varying degrees -- depending on the nature of your meal -- either inducing more hunger or turning off hunger..
The thick of it . . .
Thursday, July 12, 2007; 3:54 AM