The article, ‘Baby Fat May Not Be So Cute After All’, appeared in the New York Times on March 22. It summarizes several recent studies that have suggested that patterns of childhood obesity may form as early as infancy. Some of the experts quoted recommend that parents be cautious about overfeeding young children, and that doctors not shy away from labeling toddlers obese.
This article has generated a lot of controversy online because of its suggestions that the weight of children needs to be monitored from a very young age. I think this article and the research it presents are especially pertinent to girls because the vast majority of people with eating disorders and body image issues are female.
It concerns me that researchers and doctors may be pushing for weight control in young children because society’s pressure on women to be thin has been trickling down to younger and younger girls. It’s not uncommon for elementary school girls to call themselves fat or compare their bodies to those of their classmates. Many women can recall being teased either about their weight or their eating habits. I distinctly remember the ridicule I endured from some of the girls in my church youth group when I pounced on a chicken wing a little too eagerly. If doctors start harping on weight at a young age, girls may start to feel as though their pediatricians are reinforcing their negative body images.
On the other hand, I have seen young children who are obese and it saddens me to see them limited in what they can do. Girls should be able to spend their time running, jumping, playing, and exploring the world around them, but weight can curb the physical activities of a child. I’ve recently been watching Jamie Oliver‚Äôs Food Revolution, a reality show where the British chef visits the town labeled the “Unhealthiest City in America.” There are a few obese children on the show, such as a visibly overweight four-year-old girl whose entire family has obesity issues.The show also spotlighted a teenage girl whose weight prevented her standing and chopping vegetables for more than an hour, and who later revealed that her doctor had given her just seven years to live. The fact that weight will limit these girls’ lives is upsetting, especially because at young ages children are not entirely in control of their food – parents must take responsibility in the eating habits of children.
Maybe I just wish for a world where girls can be girls and can have limitless opportunities. A place where activity, learning and personal development occupy girls’ minds, instead of food and body size.
– Miriam Musco
Girl Museum Inc.