Pep-talks for plump kids
Who has the right to talk to your fatty about his eating habits?

If you have a child who is overweight, are you happy for someone to ‘pep-talk’ them without you knowing?

A boy who goes to the same gym class as my son’s is noticeably carrying extra body fat. He doesn’t relish the class, he struggles to do fairly basic movements and he generally shies away from other physical activities. My heart goes out to his mother, who’s obviously concerned but unsure of how to handle it. I know why; there’s so much conflicting information on what’s the best thing to do.

Some research (focused on things like sweets) shows that restricting certain food for children could make the problem worse in the long run - the rationale being that they become obsessive about the forbidden fruit that’s denied to them.

In addition, some dieticians advise that provided the child is receiving nutritious food along the way, carrying a few extra kilos isn’t anything to fret about. Apparently many children follow a natural cycle of putting on weight before a growth spurt, after which their weight usually stabilises on its own. 

The over-keen coach

Prior to one gym session I overheard the locum coach ‘pep-talking’ the overweight chap.  Whereas the coach is experienced with coaching children in gymnastics, I’m pretty sure he’s not a trained child psychologist or a nutritionist. The informal chat came from a place of concern, but the saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ might apply.

Undeniably, children need to be encouraged to move more and make the right food choices, but would you be OK with just anyone approaching your child without first knowing their version of advice? Even more so when you think that the child may have a genuine problem and probably needs expert guidance? 

To make matters worse, the same coach openly comments on the boy’s choice of snack, which some of the leaner children also snack on; but they manage to avoid scrutiny. I wonder if this is embarrassing for the boy and if it’s the best forum to communicate the value of healthy food choices. 

It brought to mind people I know who were far from overweight as youngsters, but due to expectations of their sport they were constantly pushed by their coaches to get their body weight down. It took as little as one comment from a coach to plant the seed that for one woman grew into a long struggle with an eating disorder - which makes me think that perhaps where children are concerned, one should tread carefully. Especially when their developing egos and body image are so vulnerable and fragile.

But then again, their growing body also has the right to healthy development.  As a parent, which would you rank as more important?

Who has the right to comment on your child’s weight?

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