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Parents Kid Themselves More Than Kids Do

July 7, 2010


At the University of Sydney, Australia, researchers looked at parental attitudes about overweight and obesity in children and teens, and Michael Booth wrote up the results. Other team members were L.A. King, D.L. Pagnini, R. L. Wilkenfeld, and S. L. Booth, and what they had discovered was that there may be a bit of cognitive dissonance going on. The subjects of the study were parents from both urban and rural areas, from a range of income groups, and their kids were in primary or secondary school.

The School of Public Health scientists determined that, while the participants did express concern about the issue of childhood obesity, they didn’t seem eager to tackle the problem. They were okay with the idea of a general practitioner telling their kids to lose weight, but not anybody else. The parents felt that schools should provide information about nutrition as part of the curriculum, along with opportunities to exercise. However, they were not comfortable with extreme solutions, such as government control over what is brought from home in lunchboxes and brown bags.

Like many Americans, Australian parents are very much in favor of education, especially if it’s somebody else who needs the educating. It’s a universal human trait. The same parent might say, “Sure, it’s plain to see that kids are turning into little tubs of lard all over the place,” and fail to notice that his or her own 10-year-old is as round as a bowling ball. Here are the conclusions reached by the university study:

Parents are concerned about overweight among children and adolescents, but are reluctant to take action, and would find it difficult to be effective change agents. There are opportunities for intervention, but they must recognize the salient emotional issues associated with weight and food among parents.

Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere! As Dr. Pretlow reminds us in Overweight: What Kids Say, many parents are just in plain denial about the matter. When kids connect with the Weigh2Rock website asking how to lose weight, what they’re really asking is how to get through withdrawal, in the context of a family environment that might be hostile to the idea that food addiction is real. A 15-year-old girl named Amanda, for instance, tells of her experience:

They wont give up their junk food habits for me, so basically I wonder if I should just give up and eat myself into the grave. It’s like putting a drug addict in a drug house and telling them to stop the drug abuse!

Another 15-year-old says,

What they need to do is physically help me and start something instead of telling me how much I weigh as if I didn’t know.

A 250-pound teen says,

I have heard that I should talk to a trusting adult, but when I do I see a little smirk on their face, which just shuts me down because nobody listens.

Often, the question that a kid really wishes to articulate is, “How do I undertake this enormous project of remolding my body, while coping with all the pressures, including friction with my parents, that had caused me to turn to comfort eating, and turned me into an addict in the first place?” And parents, already feeling besieged and blamed for everything in the universe, really don’t want to contemplate the idea that their own need for psychotherapy could be making their kids fat. The unfortunate fact, Dr. Pretlow says, is:

Overweight and obesity in kids is a psychological problem, not a nutritional problem.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Parents of school students on childhood overweight: the Weight of Opinion Study,”, 04/09
Source: “Overweight: What Kids Say,”
Image by EmerandSam, used under its Creative Commons license.

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