By Mark Hanson
We are failing to deal with one of the most important issues of our time – in every country we are getting fatter. Although being fat is not automatically linked to illness, it does increase dramatically the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other so-called non-communicable diseases. We are starting to see very high rates of these diseases in some places, sometimes affecting 50% of the population. Even in some of the poorest parts of the developing world, where such disease itself is not yet common, we nonetheless see warning signs of its arrival. There is great concern that it may soon outweigh the burden of communicable disease such as HIV/AIDS. The humanitarian and financial cost of this non-communicable disease in such parts of the world will be unbearable, and made even worse because the risk is passed across generations, so children born today and tomorrow will have a bleak future.
It seems that we don’t know how to tackle this problem, because current attempts are obviously failing and obesity continues to increase. Governments, doctors, and even NGOs seem to have adopted the same strategy – to focus on our sins of “gluttony and sloth” and to transfer the responsibility for slimming down to each of us as individuals. Of course it’s true that we can’t get overweight unless we eat more than we need to, and the wrong types of foods, and get too little physical exercise. Our biology did not evolve to protect us from obesity and its consequences in today’s sedentary world with such easy access to food. But why is it that we find it so hard to lose weight and, if we do shed the kilos, it seems very hard not to put them back on again?
What we are missing is a focus on our early development. We’re just not adopting the right approach to the problem. And it seems that the generals who are leading us in this global war on obesity and disease have adopted the wrong strategy, and they stick resolutely to it as if they were wearing blinkers. They blame us for the failure to win the war, for our greed and laziness; they blame parents for letting their children get fat; they blame the food industry for peddling unhealthy food, and so on. As if we choose to be fat. It’s important to realise just how limited this way of attacking the problem is on a global scale. Does the little girl force-fed before marriage in Mauritania have any choice in her life? Does the 12-year-old child bride in rural India have any choice when she becomes pregnant and drops out of school? Does the little toddler in Detroit have any choice when his mother feeds him French fries? Does the little boy from Tonga whose mother had diabetes in pregnancy have any choice about developing obesity? Does the little girl in Beijing have any choice in being an only child? And yet every one of these scenarios, and many more, sets that little child up to be at greater risk of becoming obese and to have non-communicable disease.
But new research is uncovering many things that will give us new tactics and strategies for the war against obesity and non-communicable disease, and so we’re hopeful. We now know that we will have to give much greater focus to the mother and unborn child. We may well have to give emphasis to the lifestyle of the father as well. And most importantly of all, we’re starting to realise that behaviours such as propensity to exercise, or appetite and taste for certain foods, which we previously thought to be based on individual choice, have a large constitutional component – in part based on inherited genes, in part on epigenetic changes to gene function in response to the developmental environment, and
Since I don’t do much with YA on a regular basis I don’t read the blog of The Book Smugglers as often as I would like, even though they’re some of the best in the biz. Love their reviews. Really top notch stuff.
Anyway, they recently reviewed a book called The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and they got to talking about plus sized folks on covers. The initial galley for Carson’s book featured a waiflike slip of a white girl when the character is supposed to be plus sized and dark-skinned. Necessary changes were made to the final cover, but you still wouldn’t be able to tell the girth of the heroine from either of them. The Book Smugglers end their review with, “Something we haven’t talked much about, however, is this concept of slenderizing a plus-sized character for a cover. We’ve seen it before in books like Everything Beautiful. Have you noticed any of this in your reading?” Elizabeth Fama recommended a great Stacked piece on the subject from 2009 which I remember seeing some years ago that discussed this very thing.
I’ve been wondering about portrayals of overweight children in books for kids myself. With obesity rates the highest they have ever been amongst our nation’s youth, ours is a country that doesn’t know how to deal with its large children. Their portrayal in literature, therefore, is something to think about. Usually, if you’re a kid and fat in a book then you’re a villain of sorts. A Dudley Dursley or Augustus Gloop. If, by some miracle, you’re the hero of the book that’s fine, but you’d better be prepared to disappear from your own cover.
So I tried to find representation of fat children on middle grade book covers. Alas, these are the only books I was able to come up with, and as you can see they’re hardly ideal. Let’s look at what book jackets tend to do to large kids. As far as I can tell, these fall into three distinct categories: Inanimate Objects, Taking Advantage of Momentary Slimming, or Part of the Body.
By far the most popular solution. On the YA end of things it’s almost de rigueur. On the children’s side it’s less common but not entirely unheard of.
Larger Than Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall
Here we had a book about a confident, well-adjusted girl who was also fat. And here we have a book cover of a dress, with no girl in sight. Yes, it refers to the plot, but still . . .
Slob by Ellen Potter
Owen, the hero of this book, is a big guy but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the cover of the book.
By Bianca Haase
Cats are among the most common household pets and they share the same environment with humans and thus many of the risk factors. Obesity is a growing problem for feline health for the same reasons as it is in humans and has become a serious veterinary problem. Multiple diseases, such as type II diabetes mellitus and dermatosis, are associated with excess body weight and obesity in cats and may result in a lowered quality of life and potentially lead to an early death. Appleton et al. demonstrated that about 44% of cats developed impaired
by Dr. Dolgoff
The U.S. National Library of Medicine estimates that at least one out of five children in the U.S. is overweight. There are several reasons why parents need be concerned over an overweight or obese child. Obese children and adolescents have shown an alarming increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. Many obese children have high cholesterol and blood pressure levels, which are risk factors for heart disease. One of the most severe problems for obese children is sleep apnea (interrupted breathing while sleeping). In some cases this can lead to problems with learning and memory. In addition, obese children have a high incidence of orthopedic problems, liver disease, and asthma.How to determine if your child is overweight or obese:
A doctor is the best person to determine whether your child has a weight problem. Doctors will measure your child’s weight, height, age and growth patterns to determine if his or her weight is within a healthy range. Based on your child’s height and weight, they will calculate a body mass index (BMI). If your child’s BMI is greater than 95 percent of children their age and gender, they are considered to be overweight.Why children become overweight:Genetic factors:
Children become overweight for a variety of reasons. The most common causes are genetic factors, lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of these factors. In rare cases, a medical problem, such as an endocrine disorder, may cause a child to become overweight. A careful physical exam and some blood tests will determine if your child is overweight due to this type of problem.
Children whose parents or brothers or sisters are overweight may be at an increased risk of becoming overweight themselves. However, not all children with a family history of obesity will be overweight. Genetic factors play a role in increasing the likelihood that a child will be overweight, but shared family behaviors such as eating and activity habits also greatly influence body weight.Lifestyle:
A child’s total diet and his or her activity level both play an important role in determining a child’s weight. The average American child spends approximately 24 hours each week watching television - time that could be spent in some sort of physical activity.What parents can do to help:Be supportive:
Overweight children need support, acceptance, and encouragement from their parents. Children’s feelings about themselves often are based on their parents’ feelings about them. It is also important to talk to your children about weight, allowing them to share their concerns with you.Don't use food as a punishment or reward:
Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food which may result in overeating. When foods, such as sweets, are used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. For example, telling children that they will get dessert if they eat all of their vegetables sends the wrong message about vegetables.