Childhood obesity video: Drop the guilt, please

A troubling video aimed at preventing childhood obesity could discourage viewers rather than inspire lifestyle changes, due to elements that shame parents for bad habits. 

Screenshot from YouTube
A screenshot from the video 'Rewind the Future' which is shot mostly from the perspective of an overweight man, chronicling his life in reverse, while showing him eating lots of fast food and even drinking soda from a sippy cup as a baby.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, an organization aimed at preventing childhood obesity, produced a troubling video called “Rewind the Future” a year ago that’s just now started to go viral.

Unfortunately, this video takes a fear-inducing approach. It's similar to "Scared Straight" (showing kids how bad prison is in hopes of scaring them into right behavior) approach to crime prevention. That didn't work, according to several studies. I suspect this won't be very effective either.

The message: Parents, stop feeding your kids unhealthy foods, or they will have serious health problems.

The video starts with an obese 32-year-old man being prepped for surgery after having a heart attack. After hearing his age and weight, the doctor says, “how does that happen?” The rest of the video rewinds through the patient’s life, showing him eating lots of fast food and even drinking soda from a sippy cup as a baby. At the end, his mom hastily gives him french fries, saying “it’s the only thing that’ll make him stop [crying].”

“Your child’s future doesn’t have to look like this. There’s still time to reverse the unhealthy habits our kids take into adulthood. We’ll show you how.”

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a proponent of feeding babies fast food. And while the motive of preventing childhood obesity is sound, I object to the practice of shaming parents or using scare tactics to change behavior.

In my experience, modeling how to make balanced choices and integrating exercise into our everyday lives is more important than whether a child eats french fries occasionally.   

Teaching them to not fear food is a good start. My goal as a mom is to establish good everyday habits (not to forbid my daughter to ever eat a french fry or chocolate). I want to give her the tools to set herself up for success as an adult. When she reaches adulthood, there will be unlimited access to junk food, and I believe that teaching her moderation now will help her when she has the freedom to make her own choices.

In my family, growing up we had a rule that unless the cook asks directly if you liked the food, you have to say "thank you for the good food" and eat a small portion of it, at least. This taught us to be thoughtful and respectful of others' cooking efforts, and that even when we don't like something, it's always important to give it a taste. While there were definitely a few foods on my hate list, no one in my family could be categorized as a picky eater, and I think that practice contributed to that outcome.

I don’t think my mom ever agonized about letting me have a piece of cake at a birthday party. It was a special treat, and there was always a rousing game of tag or kickball going on before and after cake was eaten. In my opinion, getting fearful about letting kids have sugary foods won't solve the problem of childhood obesity –  it just makes parents feel guilty about the choices they’re making.

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