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Jewish World Review August 14, 2002 / 6 Elul, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Large, loved, eventually skinny | It used to be that "Women's Way" clothes, a delicate euphemism for attire for the obese, would be tucked away somewhere in the back of department stores. No more. Today in response to increasing demand there are more such clothes, in ever larger sizes, right in the middle of the sales floor.

It's no surprise then that the sins of the mothers, and fathers, have been visited upon the children. A recent Reuters news dispatch chronicled the latest trend - clothing for obese and overweight kids. "It's one of the fastest growing segments in apparel right now," one economist said. (I don't know if the pun was intended or not.) Readers of this column may know that I've railed before against childhood obesity. Fat children are far more likely than their peers to be fat adults, and to suffer dire health consequences as a result. Some 300,000 Americans die every year of diseases directly related to obesity.

In the meantime these kids typically feel physically and emotionally lousy. All the fashionable obese clothing and "fat can be fit" psychobabble nonsense can't help that. Nor is it genetic - unless a fat gene unknown in human history inserted itself into the American population only in the last two decades causing the rate of obese kids to suddenly triple.

Fat kids, like the fat adults in our society taking part in their own epidemic of obesity, eat too much and exercise too little.

But what I haven't written about before is that I've got a little plump darling, age three, in my own household. So for all those people who inevitably write and tell me "all this is easy for you to say," I'm living what I'm writing.

Let's backup. I weigh120 pounds (I'm 5'7"), but it was not always so. In college, with a diet of "all the starch you can eat," I peaked at more than 155 pounds. I remember we students each had "in/out" cards at the entrance to our dormitory which we were supposed to turn to reflect whether we were "in" or "out" of the building. Some smart aleck once turned my card to "out" and added in pen, "growing her pants."

Anyway, among many reasons for the long-term weight change is that today I am simply less interested in food than I used to be.

Not my three-year-old. (Like I said, the sins of the mother are sometimes visited on the daughter.) My other three children are slim. But this little one is chubby. Not obese, but definitely overweight. She was born big and stayed that way, but her pediatrician and I agreed not to act on it until she was at least two and one-half. I would feed her healthy food, but no systematic restrictions.

Well now she's three and it's time to get serious.

Why? Because I'd much rather deal with this at three than thirteen. I'm not overreacting to "baby fat." Nor is this genetics. It's her attitude toward food that is a lifelong bad habit in the making if I don't help change it now. She eats too much and, unlike her slim siblings who "eat to live" instead of vice versa, she cares about food way too much. (She asks at breakfast one day what's for dinner the next.) Nor is this reflective of some psychological trauma. She is, as I said, three.

Our goal, for now, is not for her to lose weight but to hold her weight constant for a period of time as she grows, adjusting the plan as we go. For starters that means more fruits and vegetables, few snacks or second helpings, smaller portions, rare desserts, and even more running around.

When she says "I'm hungry," and I know she's had enough, I'll say "so?" This helps reinforce the much-needed lesson that our carnal appetites don't always need to be fed. It's pretty clear that at least part of today's epidemic of childhood obesity is because parents too rarely say "no" to their kids, nor do they teach their children to deny themselves anything.

Well so far so good. My little one has maintained the same weight this summer and is due for a reevaluation at her doctor's next week. She has no idea what is going on, which is as it should be, and the whole family is helping our little darling to become, well, our "little" darling.

All because for her sake and her sake alone, I am determined that my little girl will never shop in the " big kid's" section.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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