Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Cure for Childhood Obesity

Here’s the latest research about overweight children: Children who hate their mothers tend to put on more weight than children who love their mothers.

It sounds easy. America is suffering an obesity crisis. A third of American children are overweight. 17% are clinically obese. The numbers are triple what they were in 1976.

This does not count the children who are so anguished about the possibility of weight gain that they develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Link here.

Now we know that the problem lies in the way children relate to their mothers.

The Daily Mail reports on the research: “Children who have a poor emotional relationship with their mother are more than twice as likely to become obese, research claims.

“A study found toddlers who struggle with their mothers are at higher risk of being grossly overweight by the time they are 15.

“Those who had the worst emotional relationship were almost two-and-half times more likely to be obese at 15 than those with a strong bond.”

Love and hate are strong words. They work well in newspaper headlines, but do not really describe how the study was conducted.

The researchers did not measure love and hate specifically. They measured the strength of the bond between mothers and toddlers.

They wanted to see how well mother and toddler connected, how well they related to each other, how much they enjoyed playing together.

Some toddlers were active and engaged with some mothers, lothers less so. 

One would assume that toddlers are more connected with mothers who are more present and involved themselves.

Strangely, the headlines seem to put the onus on the children. It refers to children who either love or hate their mothers.

Shouldn’t we really be asking why some toddlers connect with their mothers while others do not? Doesn’t it seem obvious that the way children interact with their mothers has a great deal to do with the way these mothers are bringing up their children?

A mother who is distant, detached, or even absent might very well provoke strong negative emotions in a child. These emotions are telling the mother to spend more of her  time and energy with her child.

Prof. Sarah Anderson correctly suggests that childhood and adolescent obesity can best be addressed by working to improve the emotional ties between mothers and their children. This is far better than framing the question in terms of the relationship between a child’s appetite and food. It is certainly better than blaming it all on fashion models and women's magazines.

Anderson posits that children whose mothers did not teach them “coping skills” are more likely to compensate or self-medicate with food.

I applaud Anderson for saying that mothers are responsible for giving “coping lessons,” but still, there is much more to mother-child interactions than coping skills.

To my mind it is more important to look at how much time and attention mothers give to their children.

The problem of mother/child interaction seems to be most acute when the mother works.

In Great Britain, for example, researchers discovered that working parents spend, on the average, 19 minutes a day with their children.

The Daily Mail reported: “A typical working parent spends just 19 minutes a day looking after their children, official figures revealed yesterday.

“The startling research shows the devastating impact that working full-time has on children who hardly see their parents.

“With less than 20 minutes spent with their parents every day, this is only enough time to eat a quick breakfast together or have a couple of bed-time stories.”

Hopefully, everyone will understand that it’s not a question of “quality time.” Nineteen minutes cannot possibly be quality time.

Of course, “parents” is a euphemism for “mothers.” A child’s strongest attachment is to his mother. When he feels abandoned or neglected by his mother he is likely to make his feelings known. He is also likely to self-medicate with food.

If the problem of childhood obesity was less acute in 1976, that may have been because there were far fewer working mothers then.

In truth, women understand the problem. Many of those who are working would much prefer to be at home with their children. Economic necessities are forcing them to neglect their children.

The Daily Mail explained: “On average, a working woman toils at work for over five hours a day, although this figure appears low because it includes holidays and weekends when no work is done.

“Recent research showed that most mothers with young families would prefer to stay at home and look after their children.

“A survey of working mothers found that just six per cent wanted to work full-time, according to Prima magazine.

“Half wanted to combine bringing up their children with a part-time job, while more than a quarter wanted to be a full-time mother.”

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

This is the elephant in the room nobody will talk about. Well done for addressing the issue of children in dawn to dusk care of institutions who take no responsibility for their moral or character formation. I think future research will reveal serious andprofound long term issues for these future adults, weight and health being the tip of the iceberg.