What’s the big deal? A debate in childhood obesity

Alison Bowerman, staff

In early January 2012, CTV did a story on a survey that found Canadians want the government to be more involved in the childhood obesity ‘epidemic.’ 61% feel the government does not do enough, and 70% support measures to educate children on healthy choices.

We’ve all seen faceless overweight children in the background of news stories describing the issue of childhood obesity. In another report with these images, it was said one in four children are obese or overweight.

These stories focus on the appearance and weight of these children by showing overweight children walking down the street or swimming in a local pool. However, they fail to mention the average weight children who are just as unhealthy, and some times less healthy, than these overweight and obese children.

Is it only overweight children going to McDonalds? Is it only overweight children play video games or watch television for extended periods of time? Are the only tell-tale signs of unhealthy habits our weight? Well, it has been my experience that whatever your size is, the state of your health is an entirely separate matter. A slimmer person may also be eating sedentary and eating fast food. So why are we only focusing our attention on children with larger body types?

The shame we are instilling in larger children is more harmful than helpful. They should not be singled out and made to feel as though they are worth less than smaller or slimmer children. Children and adolescents who would be affected by the mission to decrease child obesity are already very emotionally fragile. In particular, children going through puberty most often have low self-esteem. If the government is always talking about their weight, how can they be confident in themselves? Childhood obesity should not be regarded as the issue, but rather unhealthy child practices.

Furthermore, obese individuals who are eating balanced meals and exercising regularly are not in at any more risk of death than an average weight person. Studies show an obese, but healthy, individual lives just as long as a person of an average weight.

Not only is focusing on a child’s weight or size discriminatory of their own health, but it is also discriminatory to the children who fit in the average category. Children whose physical appearance is not part of society’s idea of unhealthy are over looked and thought to be fine. The visual warning signs of unhealthy activity are not always reflective of a student’s eating or exercise habits, and therefore, the actual healthy or unhealthy practices of the child should be considered rather than their size.

Should obesity or being over weight even be discussed in regards to young children? If I were concerned about a child’s well-being, I would be worried about what they are eating and what exercise they aren’t doing, not their weight. The government can help make children healthier without labeling which children need help and which do not based on their size.

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