Eating Disorders in Young Children and Parental Pressure

PeterB42 Asked :

My daughter is now 7 years old and has a slight weight problem. She was always a chubby kid and at first we thought that the baby fat would go away once she became more active and went to school. This did not happen and now I am worried about the impact my wife is having on her self esteem. I recently saw a documentary about how parents, not just friends and society, play a major role in the development of different types of eating disorders in pre-teens and teens – “Fat Parents Make Fat Kids” or something of the sort. I could identify some of those being interviewed with my wife’s attitude towards our daughter’s weight problem. The effects of the eating disorders in these young adult’s lives were devastating.

She has put our daughter on a diet which I think is a bit unrealistic at this age. My daughter likes the odd snack and a bit of junk food which I do allow her now and then. My wife on the other hand is not negotiable on any junk food. In fact she accuses me of contributing towards our daughter’s problem because I am slightly overweight (slight pot belly). We only have one child and that to at a very late stage in ourĀ  life due to medical problems. On one hand, I may be spoiling her a bit but on the other hand I think my wife is putting too much pressure on her and making her too conscious about her weight which a child of her age should not have to worry about.

Our daughter is excelling academically and has quite a few friends. She does not complain about bullying although kids will be kids and the odd comment is passed. She is in no way obese so the bullies probably have fatter kids to pick on. I feel that my wife is doing more damage to our daughter than media images of super-thin models or bullies at school. I really do not want to take her to a shrink at this age because it is quite unnecessary but wife feels that it will help her address the reason why she eats the junk when she is not allowed to do so.

I am wondering if this slight weight gain will will pass in her teens as some kids continue with the baby fat longer than others?

This question was posted under the Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders article.

Any response by the Health Hype team does not constitute a medical consultation and the advice should be viewed purely as a guide. Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to your current treatment program. The information provided in this article is not an authoritative resource on the subject matter and solely intends to guide the reader based on the questions asked and information provided.

Dr. Chris Answered :

Firstly, I would like to advise that your daughter, along with you and your wife, should see a psychologist. They are medical professionals who play an important role, not just in mental health, but ultimately your health as a whole. Having a negative attitude towards a psychologist or the profession is not helpful to your child.

‘Baby fat’ is a term that is used quite dangerously these days and does not address the issue of the growing scourge of childhood obesity. Infants who are not very mobile, eat (or drink) well may be a bit more ‘chubby’, especially breastfed babies. Once a child starts walking and running around, this ‘baby fat’ should start easing off. Allowing your child to have a weight problem in the later years and attributing it to ‘baby fat’ is a dangerous attitude.

You have not specified the weight and height of your child so it is difficult to assess whether she is overweight or obese but it is difficult to miss your emphasis on ‘slightly overweight’. You may be downplaying a problem that is glaring at you because you are either in denial to some extent, feeling guilty for contributing towards the problem or you yourself have a weight problem and do not consider this to be an issue.

Parental pressure can be just as devastating, if not more so, then peer and social pressure. Parents are the closest and most trusted people to a child and therefore they have the ability to cause much more harm than friends, acquaintances or the ‘kid next door’. The problem from what you say involves two parties – both you and your wife.

You are allowing your child to practice unhealthy eating habits in light of a problem, ie. her weight, while you wife may be putting too much of pressure on her losing weight. Both of you need to work together to find the best solution to help your daughter lose weight (if there is a weight problem) and teach her good nutrition.

In terms of catch phrases like “Fat Parents Make Fat Kids” (this is not linked to any book title), you need to realize that there is probably more to this than you choose to see. On one side parents may impact psychologically on a child in a range of ways that could be a contributing factor to eating disorders later in life. On the other hand, parent’s who are overweight themselves play an important part in their children’s obesity in adulthood. Not every person who is overweight has an eating disorder.

Parents are responsible for teaching their children good nutrition and practicing good nutrition themselves. A child mimics behavior that they learn early in life and the parent is the most influential teacher. If they learn unhealthy nutritional habits from their parents, they will carry this through into adulthood. It may be a good idea to see a physician specializing in medical weight loss programs so that both you and your daughter can benefit from losing weight through good nutrition and exercise.

Your wife’s obsession may need to be addressed as well as your behavior in allowing your child to ‘break the rules’ and not take responsibility for herĀ  own health from early in life. Apart from the aesthetic factor and self esteem, being overweight or obese from childhood can predispose your child to a host of health problems which can start as early as the twenties, sometimes sooner. Speak to your family doctor and allow him/her to refer you to a specialist dealing in medical weight loss – this will involve multiple disciplines including a dietitian and psychologist.

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