In an obesity crisis, one size does not fit all

Friend and reader Casey Hinds pointed me towards Casey Seidenberg's post for the Washington Post lifestyles blog "On Parenting" and asked my take on its "all food should be enjoyed" message, vis a vis children and addiction potential.

I'm glad to say, I am pleased and impressed with the piece, and I hope my parenting will meet the measure of Seidenberg, identified at article's end as co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.

Among her six tips for helping children develop a healthy relationship with food are suggestions not to label as "treats" the processed foods that so many people eat so often, and not to use foods as either as rewards (i.e. eat your veggies if you want dessert) or punishments. I also agree with her guidance not to make kids eat when they say they're not hungry (though, of course, there are limits to not eating, just as there should be limits to eating).

Where I begin to hesitate is when she says not to label some foods bad. She'd prefer to call them "sometimes foods," 'cause they're OK sometimes. Though of course, inanimate objects are neither good nor bad, it's what we do with them, I do think that there are foods that are best never eaten, and that the world would be a healthier place without processed foods.

That doesn't mean I'm going to forbid my son from eating them. Despite what I just said about processed foods, I don't think they are unavoidably injurious to everyone, and I do believe that I can give them the allure of the forbidden in my son's eyes if I make too big a deal out of avoiding them.

Therefore, I expect I, too, will turn "hide [my] grimaced face and keep [my] mouth shut" when Joe grabs for sugary/floury crap at a party. But he's definitely going to know that I choose not to eat it and that I think he shouldn't eat much of it.

If the time ever comes where I begin to suspect/fear that Joe is developing a dependence on processed foods — and, from this narrow perspective, I'm pleased he's adopted and therefore doesn't share my genetics — my attitude will change.

Meanwhile, I retain my abhorrence for the stock "everything-in-moderation" advice handed out by most registered dietitians, which echoes the no-bad-foods contention of the processed-foods industry. (That might be a coincidence, but Big Food funds the RDs' governing body.)

The distinction is that I think guidance should be informed, both by the science and by who's receiving it. In an obesity crisis, one size does not fit all.


I appreciate your thoughts on this and you captured many of my concerns. With addiction it seems there are two factors in play: genetic predisposition and environment. Having watched family members with diabetes struggle to change their eating habits, I realize my kids may have a high risk in terms of genetic predisposition. I’ve focused on environment and have basically been raising my kids for the past ten years by doing what the article recommended.

The part that I have reservations about is what you addressed: no bad food/enjoy all food. Sometimes I wonder if food companies take this as a challenge/license when they roll out bacon sundaes and hot dog stuffed pizza. I see the damage these kinds of foods have on our country’s health and wonder if some of the rise in obesity is because the environment is creating more food addicts. That leads to questions about our responsibilities as adults when it comes to groups of kids with the possibility that some are at high risk for food addiction.

Recently my daughter went to a 4th grade school trip to an overnight 4H Camp and they made s’mores. She had two which reflected our discussions about a reasonable amount but some kids were eating five. Do adults (camp counselors, teachers, parent volunteers) have a responsibility to set limits in this situation? It also comes up when our PTA fundraises by selling soda, candy and cookies, as well as class parties, church activities, etc. It seems too many adults follow the advice to "hide [my] grimaced face and keep [my] mouth shut."

If there are kids with food addiction in our care, that brings up the question of whether it is better for them to deal with the misery of repeated withdrawal by having once in a while treats or abstain? I’m trying to figure out the answers to best support my own children and those in my community, state, and nation. I appreciate your one size does not fit all perspective. Thanks!

Excellent, Casey, thanks.

I *do* think adults do have the responsibility to set limits, and I agree that largely we are failing in that capacity. "What, no s'mores? At a camp out? Are you a Communist?"

A couple of years ago, I saw a documentary about food in schools in which a principal banned sweets, only to have parents stick it to The Man by handing baked goods over the schoolyard fence! (Wish I could remember what film it was.) It was unbelievable!

I agree also with PTA fundraisers selling food, which happens in my town. ("What are you going to do, sell celery sticks? Sure, you'll make a fortune.")

Dr. Rob Lustig and others are helping to remake the playing field, but it needs a *lot* of work.

I agree.Being the parent of two kids i feel it is my responsibility to develop healthy eating habits among them but at the same time not to force my view on them regarding intake of certain foods.

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