By Madeleine Ortiz
One out of three children in North America has obesity or excess weight – a number that has tripled in the past thirty years. With the increase of obesity has come more blame and discrimination. Dr. Julie St-Pierre, professor of Pediatrics at McGill University in Montreal, says most of the prejudice against these children is based on unconfirmed myths that blame that child and their parents. What most people don’t realize, explains Dr. St-Pierre, is that shaming and blaming children and their parents doesn’t take into account the complexities of childhood obesity- and can actually prevent children from reaching healthy goals.
So if children and their parents are not to blame for this alarming uptick in obesity rates, what is? Dr. St-Pierre actually cites two main reasons…
Blaming genetics might seem to some like taking the easy way out, but according to Dr. St-Pierre, genetics is actually a major factor in how much children (and adults) weigh. There are over 150 genes that play a role in one’s body size, capacity to metabolize food, to feel satisfied after eating, to efficiently use sugar for our muscles, for our heart, our brain and so on. And each of these genes has a greater than 50% chance of being inherited. Because so many easy-to-inherit genes factor into our weight, there will likely never be a “miracle cure” for obesity. Instead, Dr. St-Pierre recommends creating an environment that will help counteract any genes that may make children more inclined to put on weight. Fill your kitchen with high-quality foods, limit ultra-processed foods, ensure children are getting enough sleep and encourage ample physical activity. Each healthy lifestyle choice a parent helps their child make can help correct for any imbalance caused by genetics.
Despite what it may seem like, parenting has not changed all that much in the last thirty years – but the society in which we parent has. There is more fast and ultra-processed food than ever before. Additionally, foods are often falsely represented as healthy and then advertised directly to children. It is easy for both children and parents to be misdirected, confused and overwhelmed with the easy-to-access, virtually never-ending options of tasty and unhealthy foods. We live in a world where we are constantly playing defense against our environment. You can take steps to help your child, like limiting screen time and exposure to marketing and avoiding bringing ultra-processed foods into the home, but Dr. St-Pierre says no parent should have to fight society all by themselves. Speak with a qualified healthcare professional that will offer support to you and your child and be your teammate on the path to better health for the whole family.
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