Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Generation XXL: Michelle Obama's Got a Good Point, and We're Listening

I didn’t appreciate my pediatrician’s words—at all—and I’m sure my face made that clear, seeing as I suck at hiding my emotions. Basically, she said my then-5-year-old Mari “is at the 95th percentile, which makes her just shy of clinically obese.” She’ll need more exercise and less macaroni and cheese, the doctor added—I thought a little too glibly. As far as I was concerned, there wasn’t anything wrong with our diet, the girl got plenty of exercise chasing her little sister, and while she was a little thicker than her bony friends, she was hardly fat. Clearly, our pediatrician was seeing something Nick and I did not.

But after we got back home and mumbled a few cuss words in her honor and tried to convince ourselves she didn’t know what she was talking about, we let her pronouncement marinate for a few days. And then we took a good, hard look at our daughter and how the entire family ate and the bottom-line numbers that told our story: We were all “phat”—cute and shapely and pleasantly thick, you know, like how we like it—but just a couple servings of pancakes, peach cobbler, and yes, my 11-cheese macaroni and cheese away from being “fat.” And the truth of it was that all of us—not just Mari—needed a health makeover.

This is all to say that I totally got what Michelle Obama was talking about last week when, while announcing her new crusade against childhood obesity, she used a very personal story to bring home the point that we parents need to pay closer attention to our children’s weight.

"We went to our pediatrician all the time," Michelle said. "I thought my kids were perfect—they are and always will be—but he [the doctor] warned that he was concerned that something was getting off balance."

"I didn't see the changes. And that's also part of the problem, or part of the challenge. It's often hard to see changes in your own kids when you're living with them day in and day out," she added. "But we often simply don't realize that those kids are our kids, and our kids could be in danger of becoming obese. We always think that only happens to someone else's kid—and I was in that position."

Of course, she caught some flak from critics who said her comments focus too much on weight and dieting, and not enough on healthy eating and lifestyle changes. But whatever—I heard you, Michelle, and I totally get what you were saying because we dealt with almost the identical thing in our home, too. And when we stopped complaining and making excuses and arguing with what our pediatrician said, we reminded ourselves that really, our daughters’ doctor wasn’t trying to hurt our feelings or call our child “fat”; she was simply concerned for the well-being of our baby, and was imploring us to open our eyes to the troubling stats, as mentioned in this video:

And so we made some changes around our way. With the help of our pediatrician, we tweaked our diet (less sugary snacks and salty carbs, more fruits, veggies, and vitamins), increased physical fitness for our entire family (the girls play soccer, Nick hits the treadmill every day, and I take belly dancing and African dance classes), and gave constant affirmations that being healthy leads to a long, beautiful life. Now, our daughter—and our family—is more fit than we’ve ever been. And we feel—and look—good.

We’re not perfect. But we’re trying. And we're going to keep at it, too.

So thanks, Michelle, for encouraging more families to do the same. We hear you loud and clear.

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  1. Good for you! Isn't it amazing how simple changes can have such an impact?

    At the end of last year, I had a sudden moment of realization that our nutritional ship was sinking fast. I declared 2010 The Year of Veggies and the results have been rapid and dramatic. I'm blogging about it to help me stick to the commitment. Yesterday, my girls ran with me for the first time too. We feel so much better than we did 8 weeks ago.

    I'm so glad the First Lady is talking about this issue and encouraging others to rethink what their children eat.

  2. Great post! Sam and I just watched the video together. And guess what? Sam is actually on his way right now to film an ad for Maine's 5-2-1-0 program--which means 5 fruits and veg, No more than 2 hours "screen" time (tv/video games etc) 1 hour physical activity, and 0 sugar drinks (soda and fruit juice loaded with sugar). He is 5 and so proud of being a "poster movie star" for physical fitness! He just asked me if Michelle Obama would like his t.v. show! (The 5-2-1-0 program is in daycares, and elementary, middle and high schools! The idea is to get the entire family involved in that message. Now his daycare has "cupcake free" birthdays and candy free celebrations. We brought blackberries and raspberries in cupcake containers for Sam's birthday-and hosted a Winter Olympics in our nearby park for his party.)

    I am so thrilled to see you posting about this too. It is something we do as a family indeed! Marcel does aerobics with my in the morning, and Sam reminds me "not to snack on garbage Mom."

  3. @Joyful Mom and Mama C: I LOVE IT! More of us need to just take the next step and do this for—and with!—our kids. I mean, I know there's already a LOT of pressure on us to get this motherhood thing right, but this one, is, perhaps, the most important of all—for all of us, but especially in communities of color, where obesity-related diseases among children run rampant. I don't want to set my daughters up to be statistics, and heck, at 41, I want to be healthy too. I got graduations and weddings to attend!

  4. My realization was when my family stepped on the WII Fit and was told that we were Obese (as least my husband and I were and my 9 year old was close to it). That hurt, but was a wake up call. Not that our pediatrician also told us that our daughter was on that verge. Like you, we were pissed that our ped, who happened to be white, would look at our black child and call her obese. We saw her as a very active child that loves yoga, dance and flips. She's more flexible than anyone I know, so I could not SEE how they would think she was on the verge of being obese. We just saw here as being a healthy, (thick)child.

  5. Girl, I'm right there with you. My kids are big into sweets and juices and sodas. The exercise could be better but being cooped up in the house doesn't help. I can't wait for the spring to come so that they can get back to running around and all that they are used to. I'm glad the First Lady is taking a stand on kids. It's up to us a parents to make sure we are healthy for our kids and they are healthy for us.

  6. Great post! I don't have kids yet, but I watch "my people's" eating habits, and the truth.com is: If we keep eating like slaves (i.e. ingredients that have no nututritional value regardless of their sentimental value), we will NOT enjoy the longevity that we so much deserve. We must use prudence when choosing our bodies' and minds' fuel.


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