Sasha & Malia on a Diet?

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Michele Obama recently made headlines by announcing that because her daughters were becoming overweight, she had made a few changes around their house.  Less television watching, switching to low-fat milk, water in their lunchboxes, more fruit and veggies at meals.  On the surface, seemingly admirable moves as it’s generally accepted that the eating habits and lifestyles of both children and adults in the U.S. have gotten out of whack. But do these moves towards more healthful living have to be tied to weight?

Mrs. Obama’s disclosure was made in concert with the launch of a national campaign against childhood obesity.  So why she made the connection is obvious.  Still, Sasha and Malia are at vulnerable time in their lives, when their bodies, especially Malia’s, may be starting to go through changes of puberty.  Those changes often mean putting on weight in advance of growth, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything negative about their ultimate health or, for that matter, body proportions.  Further, these changes in size at this time of life can be important to good health.

It’s also a time when many young girls start to become more concerned about their appearance, although with our current over-focus on size in this country, studies show much younger girls are already concerned about their body size.  Still, at Green Mountain, we hear stories all the time about how well-intentioned but misguided advice about the need to watch weight from parents and others at this time of life can set girls up for weight struggles for the rest of their lives.

So this post is our plea to separate concern about our children’s health from their body size.  The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) made these excellent points in a recent press release to encourage that separation.

  • When important figures such as parents, teachers and peers in children’s social environment endorse a preference for thinness and place an importance on weight control, this can contribute to body dissatisfaction, dieting, low self-esteem and weight bias among children and adolescents (Davison & Birch, 2001; Davison & Birch, 2004; Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2006; Smolak, Levine, & Schermer, 1999).
  • Prescribing dieting is, in effect, prescribing weight cycling, and many people will be fatter in the long run (Mann, 2007).
  • Weight-control practices among young people reliably predict greater weight gain, regardless of baseline weight, than that of adolescents who do not engage in such practices (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2006).
  • Based on results from a population-based, longitudinal study with 2,500 teens, Neumark-Sztainer and colleagues at the University of Minnesota (2006) concluded that to prevent obesity and eating disorders, the focus needs to be on health much more than weight. The more weight per se is talked about, the more likely teens are to adopt dangerous dieting behaviors.
  • A 2006 study from UCLA suggests our media and cultural obsession with achieving a certain weight does little or no good and may actually undermine motivation to adopt exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits.
  • The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated in 2008 that childhood obesity has leveled off.

NAAFA goes on to say, “This issue is about the critical need to create environments in which children and adolescents do not feel shame or guilt about their bodies but, rather, are motivated to enjoy healthful eating and active living habits regardless of their body size or shape.”   They also urge Mrs. Obama to:

  • Partner with NAAFA and their many resources in the scientific and healthcare communities to examine this issue. Fat children are already the targets of merciless bullying. NAAFA urges Mrs. Obama not to support any programs that would create a pervasive bias against fat children.
  • Consider Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs from the Academy for Eating Disorders, Childhood School Plans and Guidelines for Children at Healthy Weight Network.
  • Support the Health at Every Size (HAES) tenets which state that healthy habits are good for EVERYONE, no matter what their size. Eat healthy, nutritious foods and enjoy occasional treats. Pay attention to your natural hunger and satiety cues. Move your body in ways that feel good rather than exercise focused solely on weight loss.

Will you consider sending a letter to Mrs. Obama asking that the focus of our national campaign to help children be healthy change from weight to health?  The Body Positive invites you to use this template.

10 Responses (Add Yours)

  • [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marsha Hudnall and GreenMtnFoxRun, ichangeStuMacFarlane. ichangeStuMacFarlane said: Sasha & Malia on a Diet? http://bit.ly/b3GvoA [...]

  • Sagan says:

    I agree that the best option is to think about HEALTH, not WEIGHT.

    I have a feeling that this was a bit of a deliberate move on the Obama’s part… I mean, it always helps a person’s cause if they can say, “look, I’ve been through this, so you can do it too!”: if Michelle Obama says that her daughters are overweight, and then they get healthy, then she’s setting an even BETTER example for people than if everyone was just healthy to begin with. People like before/after stories; it gives them hope that they can “transform”. They can relate to it better. And I bet that that’s what Michelle Obama is trying to do right now (not that it’s a bad thing- but I expect it’s far more political than it is about weight issues. And hopefully that won’t cause the girls to have body image issues as they grow up).
    .-= Sagan’s last blog post..Poll: Do you approve of competitive sports? =-.

  • Marsha, thank you so much for tackling this topic! Very eloquent post with tons of great insight!

    As if the media (teen magazines; the diet industry; TV shows) didn’t already promote an overwhelming fear of fat and focus on the thin ideal, now the government is doing it. The obesity epidemic hysteria is really reaching new heights. I’m so glad that many people and organizations are speaking out about this.

    I’m still perplexed as to why we aren’t focusing on health, instead of weight. And don’t doctors and other health professionals realize that gaining weight for girls during puberty is normal! As you said, it’s actually a healthy part of growing up. As if girls aren’t already afraid, upset and confused about their changing bodies. This just makes matters so much worse.

    I’ll be doing my part by sending an email to the First Lady right now, using the template you linked to. Thanks again for a wonderful post, as always!
    .-= Margarita Tartakovsky’s last blog post..Boosting Your Body Image by Becoming “Madly In Love with Me” =-.

  • Thanks for the post and I will be sharing it with my clients and colleagues. I especially appreciate the researched reasons behind your point. And, I will be sending a letter too!

  • love2eatinpa says:

    while i understand it may take someone as respected as michelle obama to make a point to the coutnry, i feel that it is pretty embarassing for those girls. they have to go to school and know that the other kids (not to mention the whole world!) know their business, especially about their weight. i think that is mortifying.
    i do however, love your idea of making the point about the gist of this should be about health changes, not weight changes.

  • Ken Leebow says:

    Yes, it appears that Mrs. Obama might not deliver the message in an appropriate manner. However, the mixed messages we receive daily are incredibly harmful to healthy lifestyle.

    One example: The NFL is promoting NFL Play60 (healthy lifestyle). However, if you pay attention to its broadcasts, an incredible amount of the commercials are for junk food. And sadly, sports “role models” are promoting fast-food chains such as Zaxby’s, Taco Bell, and others.

    Yes, the messages are very confusing and salt, fat, sugar, and fast food will always win.

  • Kudos to the First Lady. I was a trailblazer of childhood obesity, being an obese kids 30 years ago. Now it seems obese kids are the norm. Mrs. Obama took her children to their doctor for check-ups and was informed that the gils were outside of the healthy range of weight. She took small steps early on and got them on track. Just because you still play hard at 120 pounds at age 8 does not mean your healthy and large, it means your young and have not completely destroyed your body yet. Its a hard lesson to learn that you need to listen and watch your body to make sure you meeting its needs in an optimal way, best to learn it young when your more capable of change.
    .-= Twice the Man’s last blog post..Setting Goals =-.

  • [...] I admit that it was a bit disconcerting that her thin, young daughters were the subject of what sparked her concern on a personal level, something  Marsha at A Weight Lifted discusses in this blog post, “Sasha and Malia on a Diet?” [...]

  • [...] I admit that it was a bit disconcerting that her thin, young daughters were the subject of what sparked her concern on a personal level, something Marsha at A Weight Lifted discusses in this blog post, “Sasha and Malia on a Diet?” [...]

  • [...] I admit that it was a bit disconcerting that her thin, young daughters were the subject of what sparked her concern on a personal level, something fellow WeAretheRealDeal blogger Marsha at A Weight Lifted discusses in this blog post, “Sasha and Malia on a Diet?” [...]

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