Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Being Mean

Before I venture down this road, it is prudent of me to inform you of my past.

Ten pounds at birth, and always overweight as a child, my mother was troubled because other babies pushed away the bottle when full; I never did. I also recall unmistakably the humiliation of being the fattest child on the playground and the mortification of showering in front of other boys after gym class. Even at adulthood, the low self-esteem that marked my youth required years of therapy to wash away.

Understand please I don't wish those experiences on any child; as I move forward.

According to the AP, there is debate about how to label the condition of heavy children. Currently they are said to be "at risk for overweight" if their body-mass index (BMI) is between the 85th and 94th percentiles; in other words, they weigh more than 85 to 94 percent of their peers (based on historical averages). They're called "overweight" if their BMI is the 95th percentile or higher. The American Medical Association, and others, are considering changing this and using the same terms applied to adults - "overweight" or "obese."

Labeling a child obese might "run the risk of making them (or their family) angry," but it addresses a serious issue head-on, said Dr. Reginald Washington, of the American Academy of Pediatrics obesity task force. "There are a thousand reasons why (obesity) is out of control ... one of them is no one wants to talk about it."

Obese "sounds mean. It doesn't sound good," said Trisha Leu, 17, who thinks changing the terms is wrong.

Following is what I believe.

Having been "there," "mean" was being taunted mercilessly as a teenager for having so much extra weight that it appeared I had breasts.

"Mean" was being the last one chosen to play kickball and listening to my teammates curse their rotten luck.

"Mean" was overhearing girls in high school describe in explicit detail how dreadful it would be to kiss me.

"Mean" was binge eating to erase the day's pain, only to have it return worse with morning's light.

I have compassion - and concern - for our children; one can feel both simultaneously. From my experience however, it is far "meaner" to mask reality with insincere descriptions, condemning them to unhealthy futures, than it is to educate honesty, informing them that although their weight does not determine self-worth, it does affect wellbeing. Then, we guide them gently to a healthier lifestyle with support and love. How about we even accompany them on their path?

That would be the nice thing to do.

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