Wendy Schofer, MD
I’ve been a general pediatrician for over 16 years. A big part of the fun of being a pediatrician is watching families grow: new family members, new skills, becoming taller than their doctor! I’ve also watched kids grow on the scale and the growth curves. At first it was a concern, needing to define and identify obesity so that we can treat it. And then, it became clear: as physicians we weren’t making any difference. The challenges of increasing weight gain were not in the medical office - they were rooted in the community.
At the beginning of every visit, I would plot the child’s growth on a chart, and look at the curve. Parents would wait with baited breath…. What’s the news? I could hear it in their anxious voices, “What kind of parent am I being?”
One day I looked at the chart and when Mom asked me why I wasn’t having the “BMI chat” with her, I said, “Why? What is your concern?” Her 6 year-old daughter had always been >85%ile for BMI… and growing consistently. We had already covered that she was eating a variety of whole foods at meals with her family, and lots of activity over the course of the day. There were no “red flags.” Mom came to tears. “You’re the first doctor who hasn’t told me I was doing it all wrong because she’s still “overweight”.”
Folks. C’mon. This mom’s identity and sense of personal value were tied up in a number. A number which meant nothing in the big picture. But it made her fear that her child was destined for health problems, and fear that she was failing as a mother.
Don’t get me wrong. We have issues as a society with changing eating patterns, decreasing physical activity, increasing weight - and all of that has been made worse with the pandemic. The pandemic did not start this, it just placed a spotlight shining directly on our families.
So as parents, we are living in fear. Fear of being bad parents, fears that our own weight issues mean that we can’t teach our kids how to grow up healthy, fear of the trap of emotional eating, fear of our kids being labeled as obese, and fear of “the BMI talk,” fears that everything we are doing isn’t worth our time and effort because the whole country is stressed and putting on weight too. Why would we be different?
Because you are.
We have a secret.
It’s not population health.
It’s not a medical diagnosis.
It’s not a magic pill.
It’s the power of one family, at a time.
There is nothing stronger than a parent who is concerned for their child. I’ve learned that time and again. When the mom says, “there’s something just not right with my child,” I’m still searching. That’s Mom-DAR.
And I’ll fight tooth and nail to strengthen the family.
So what about weight, and food fights?
It’s about the WHY.
Our country has looked for an Easy Button - to satisfy our hunger, to comfort our pains, to cure our ills, to lose weight fast. It’s a unicorn, that Easy Button.
What we do have is the power of the parent. When we focus on the family - one family at a time - the relationships that we build, the children that are growing every day - we can question all of the messages we’ve taken in about how to raise a healthy family, and question WHY ARE WE DEFINING HEALTH OF A HUMAN BY A NUMBER?
It’s not the number. It’s the patterns of our lives, the habits: the ones we want to work on, the ones we want to shift. The ones that the kids have figured out (if I fuss enough about the veggies they will give in and let me have mac and cheese) - oh, they’re tricky. But we are on to it. It’s learning to take on the inquisitive eye of the child, curious, experimenting - and oh so fearless. Imagine what is possible for your family’s health - when you are not afraid to fail.
So let’s work together. Let’s peel this back, together. Because you are not broken, you are not alone, and you are undoubtedly THE BEST person to take your own experience and become the role model for your children’s healthy lifestyle. Every day is a new beginning, each step is the first step on a new path.
You’ve got this. And we’ve got you.
If no one else told you today: I love you.