TED Conversations

Dr. Michael Katz

President, www.EatingKids.com

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Is the Childhood Obesity epidemic proof that not all parents love their children?

Childhood Obesity is not so much a "learned" disease as it is a disease parents "give" to their children. Over-feeding is couched in the language of love, but over-indulgence and the refusal to set reasonable boundaries is hardly an act of true love. Since most parents actually DO know how to prevent obesity, is it possible that these parents don't REALLY love their children?

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    Apr 19 2011: Dr. Katz, did you see the recent paper that indicated that the maternal diet during pregancy can actually alter the baby's DNA to support obseity? This would indicate that long before the mother had any idea of how to love the child her lack of understanding is already affecting the baby. I feel that it would be far more constructive for doctors like yourself to communicate in ways that are clearer and more engaging than for you to suggest that people do not love their children. That will only close their ears when I think your goal is to change minds and hearts.
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    Apr 20 2011: My first thought - yes - a Parent is challenged to REALLY love their children...
    John Bradshaw's book -Creating Love- has insight on how parents are themselves "mystified" about love. The working definition for mystification is "an altered state of consciousness in which the person... creates a false self so they will be accepted by their parents or other crucial survival figures." Thus the parent - IF still mystified themselves about who they are and what true love is about (as in setting reasonable boundaries - especially about feeding their children healthy foods) - can only remain in the dark - despite knowing how to prevent obesity. Suffice it to say - remaining in the dark is usually a pursuit of comfort and ease (fast foods) or, worse, advanced stages of addictive or compulsive/dysfunctional behaviors - and most likely not about "de-mystifying" and doing the real of work of being a compassionate care provider to themselves or to their children.

    My second thought - family dynamics and income earning...
    A recent study on maternal employment and childhood obesity led by Taryn Morrissey, (http://www.american.edu/spa/faculty/morrisse.cfm) assistant professor in public administration and policy at American University indicates...
    Children in dual-earner families are more likely to skip breakfast than children with a parent at home. Working parents spend less time preparing meals at home and spend a greater proportion of their food budget on fast food or prepared foods than families with a non-employed parent. We also know that regular family mealtimes are associated with a lower likelihood of child obesity...[and] children's sleep patterns are important for their Body Mass Index (BMI). Research has linked poorer quality and too little sleep among children (and adults) to higher BMI.

    Can we say that dual-earner or single-parent families do not love their children? Or is it more about "de-mystifying" love to do the real of work of compassionate caregiving?
  • Apr 20 2011: that's a brilliant question. i would say no, it's not that they don't love their children, but rather that parents nowadays spend less time and effort on shaping their children's lives.

    this can be seen in a variety of ways nowadays, for example the barrage of complaints braodcasters receive ragarding their programs - rather than set and enforce rules about what their own children can and can't watch, they try to offload the responsibility. another that being a teacher is much closer to me, is the rising number of complaints teachers receive regarding their children's behaviour. again rather than teach their children manners, and punish where appropriate to shape them into courteous people, they attempt to offload the responsibility. i've also read reports of air crew responses to a survey, which interestingly also noted a decrease in parents taking responsibility. answers included being asked to change the diapers of passengers' babies, and a passenger who asked if she could put her child in the overhead locker since she was tired of holding him.

    as for the reason, i've heard this day and age described as being the "period of 'me'" and i have to agree, it's hard not to notice the consistent rise in general self-indulgence, at the cost of responsibilities. people these days seem to feel entitled to a lot more than they used to, and consider what they should be doing less than what used ot be the norm.

    they love their children, but don't really consider what they should be doing towards their health, and those that do are more likely to demand others take the job.
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    Apr 9 2011: It's not entirely accurate to say most parents know how to prevent obesity. In some cases, obesity is a generational adaptation. Her parents overate, her parents overate, and her parents overate. Relationships to food and the eating habits that come from those relationships can be as complex as emotional baggage to living in so-called food deserts.

    Some of these same parents may not even see themselves as obese, though clinically they are so classified. It is abuse if one knows better, because it is assumed that they will then DO better. But there is too much of an assumption that people even understand, let alone have fully committed to, the principles of sound nutrition. We are a nation enslaved to the quick fix, the fad diet, the gimmick weight-loss machine. Seldom do we put as much energy into explaining the true nature of food -- that being energy for the body.
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    Apr 9 2011: Thanks for clarifying your position. I have a different perspective based on my background working with students and families in school settings; it will be interesting to hear what people with counseling and other psychology backgrounds think. Could be an enlightening discussion.
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    Apr 8 2011: It's not as easy as yes or no. The human psyche is perfectly capable of sincerely wishing for something and still not having the will to carry it out. This is true with regard to ourselves, our spouses, our children, and other areas of our lives as well. My question back to you would be: what hinges on the answer? How does knowing that change our strategy for a solution?
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      Apr 8 2011: First, I TOTALLY reject the notion that a parent could truly LOVE their child, yet somehow NOT be able to feed the child a healthy diet on most days. ALL the stories you hear about fruits/veggies being more expensive than fast food are lies and I can prove it on any trip to the supermarket. I don't mean to be aggressive here, but I am truly SICK of that kind of false "meme."

      Now, to answer your valuable question: The "strategy for a solution" could be based on parental education, or could be based largely on institutional change - like the choices available in school cafeterias, vending machines, etc. If I thought that the majority of obese children came from homes where their parents WOULD NOT feed them properly - regardless of the education furnished to the parent - then I would concentrate on institutions.

      That being said, I have always thought that the commonly held belief that "all parents love their kids" was not true. I posed this question to see if perhaps others thought Childhood Obesity was a proof. Perhaps there are other proofs?
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        Apr 8 2011: There can be exceptions I agree but lack of LOVE for kids can't be epidemic like obesity which is epidemic really.
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        Apr 8 2011: Wow, Dr. Katz, are you really claiming that it's not possible for a person to love someone and still engage in behaviors that are hurtful to them? Or that it's possible for a person, in general, to engage in conflicting or inconsistent behaviors? To want conflicting goals? Or to desperately want something that they are not able to achieve due to personal weaknesses?
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          Apr 8 2011: I see this same thing happen time after time in these online "debates" and I'm beginning to get annoyed. I said what I said and there's no reason to cook up some false extrapolation about what I said. So, let me be clear: Based on what I've seen in my life, as a physician and as a person on this earth, I do not believe that all parents really love their children. I was interested to know if Childhood Obesity could be seen as a proof of that. That's about as far as I wanted to take it.

          I think questions should be examined with specificity to the particulars of the question. Your questions are interesting, but not what I asked.

          As for your question, "Are you really claiming that it's not possible for a person to love someone and still engage in behaviors that are hurtful to them?" I say that if the behaviors cause actual HARM then NO, it is not. If you love someone I believe you will stop the behavior. By YOUR rationale, the abusive husband who beats his wife out of frustration with his life could still actually and truly love her. I think that is NOT true.

          So...if a mom feeds her kids pizza and potato chips and the like on a daily basis, with the kids growing ever fatter (and sicker), can we say she really loves them? I think not.
        • Apr 20 2011: hmm... is misguided love, or love in ignorance, still love?

          in my own experience being a teacher, i've learned that scolding and reprimanding where and when appropriate does much more for children than forgiving or 'understanding' any transgression.
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    Apr 8 2011: I don't feel it's lack of LOVE , rather it's their IGNORANCE about healthy eating / feeding habit.
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      Apr 8 2011: exactly. with NO help from the fda, usda, fast food lobbys ect ect.
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      Apr 8 2011: Considering how many children are obese in the USA we can safely assume that not ALL the parents are ignorant of these factors. In fact, I think it is safe to say that most parents DO understand them - which is why I asked the question in the first place.