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.