I have what I like to call an irrational fear of my daughter being overweight. It’s irrational because our lifestyle in no way engenders a possibility that she will be one of the millions of overweight or obese children in our country. She’s also 2.5 years old and never strays far from the third percentile for weight.
Blame it on my profession and the amount of information I’m inundated with daily, but I’ve got a tall soapbox when it comes to children’s health, especially my daughter’s. So when I see news of an obesity prediction calculator, believe I clicked through and ran those numbers.
The predicted probability that my daughter will be obese is 24.14 percent. That’s not an unreasonable number. I certainly wish it were lower. At the end of the day, I put the bulk of that responsibility on my very shoulders. In my opinion, every parent should be the sole barer of that responsibility.
The Obesity Prediction Calculator was developed by researchers at Imperial College London who believe that a particular equation can accurately predict your child’s propensity for being obese. The calculator asks for the mother’s BMI, father’s BMI, mother’s professional category (i.e. unskilled, skilled, professional), mother’s gestational smoking history, and the child’s birth weight. Six factors that, these researchers say, influence a child’s weight.
Researchers told FoxNews they could “accurately predict childhood obesity up to 85 percent of the time.” They say these environmental factors were more telling than genetic; in fact, they said genetic variables were not very reliable in the prediction.
Brooke Randolph, LMHC, and DietsInReview.com’s resident mental health expert, backs up their research by saying, “It really seems that genetic factors account for a small percentage of cases of childhood obesity. Activity and diet play a much larger role in childhood obesity. That may not be easy for some parents to hear, but maybe they can find some hope in knowing that they can make a difference for their kids.”
For the one-third of American children who are already categorized as obese or overweight, there’s not much to learn from this calculator that parents probably don’t already know. Obese children tend to grow in to obese adults, making it all the more important to instill healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle as early as possible. But for the other 66 percent of children in the U.S., this calculator could reinforce to parents what health experts have been more or less preaching for years – do something!
Childhood obesity is a legitimate health crisis in our country, and one that’s spreading through the world via a phenomenon known as “globesity.” If a parent has a child who is seemingly healthy, but gets an obesity prediction of say 75 percent or maybe even higher, that should serve as a flag to, depending on age, start making changes or focus on laying the foundation for healthy habits from the start. Developing a child’s eating habits is far easier than trying to change those of an elementary- or middle-school aged child.
“It is difficult for adults to change their own eating habits, but even more difficult to change a child’s eating habits if he or she is not motivated to change,” commented Randolph. “Food habits may be more difficult to change because it is involved so heavily in our lives and often paired with nurturing and memories of feeling loved and comforted.”
What 24 percent says to me is that, for as healthful as we live, it’s still possible for my daughter to gain an unhealthy amount of weight. That number reinforces everything I do with her – she eats what we eat, she’s never been to a McDonald’s, she’s never had soda and the very small amount of juice she drinks is mostly watered down. She can name nearly every fruit and vegetable in the produce section because she eats all of them regularly. And the girl plays, hard. We don’t take a stroller or wagon on our evening walks and we go out of our way to make sure she’s moving, running and jumping throughout the day to the point that I actually allow her to jump on the bed. The most important thing we do is model these behaviors ourselves and that will have the most lasting affect.
“Modeling may be one of the strongest tools in a parent’s arsenal,” said Randolph. “Do what I say not what I do really never works on kids. If there are cookies hidden that you only get out after bedtime, they know about them and know you are eating them. Every child looks forward to being an adult and doing all the things grownups do that they cannot. When you have things that are ok for adults but off limits for kids, it increases their desire to try them – clearly you think it is a good thing.”
November 29th, 2012