‘Nagging kids about food adds to family strife’

BGU study: It’s less about weight and more about healthful eating.

Vegetables (illustrative). (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Vegetables (illustrative).
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Parents who frequently tell children to lose or gain weight may eventually improve the health of those youngsters but damage future relationships with them. That was the finding of Dr. Naama Atzaba-Poria, head of the developmental psychology program of Ben-Gurion University, who spoke at Thursday’s Negev Conference for Child Welfare held at BGU, co-sponsored by Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.
Atzaba-Poria studied 55 families, some of which contained children with eating disorders. Among those behaviors were refusal to eat, picky eating and engaging parents in struggles over food. She found those families to be at risk for bad interpersonal relations.
Studies have shown that a quarter of all toddlers and young children suffer from some kind of eating problem. Children may demand that they will eat something only if they get a present or are allowed to eat while watching TV. Others spit up a lot, are sleepy at meals, insist on late breastfeeding or refuse to try new foods, limiting themselves to only a few favorites.
“Our findings stress the central role that weight has in our society,” said Atzaba-Poria. “Children who are underweight sometimes turn into overweight or obese adults. We have to put less stress on the child’s weight and more on how to eat in a healthful way, and to create proper eating patterns,” she said.
MK Merav Ben Ari spoke about overweight children and argued that the state has “ignored” the subject for years while the problem has grown tremendously. According to the latest data, one in every three Israelis aged five to 21 is overweight.
Ben Ari noted that the situation is even worse in Arab families, with 40% of children becoming overweight by age 12.
Irit Livneh, health supervisor in the Education Ministry’s Pedagogical Administration, said that starting in the new Jewish year, everyone who studies in teachers’ seminars will get training in health. By 2020, such training will become standard throughout the educational system.
So far, 1,000 schools have been declared health promoters.
Dr. Alon Haim, head of the pediatric clinic for bariatric surgery at Soroka, said, “Israel is in a very bad place on overweight compared to the rest of the world. It has been proven clearly that one of the most effective ways to prevent obesity and overweight is by setting down legislation and regulations.”