Nagging young children about food and weight can cause family strife

One out of every three Israelis aged five to 21 suffers from obesity.

Doctor [Illustrative] (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Doctor [Illustrative]
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Parents who frequently point out to overweight or underweight children issues with their weight may eventually improve their health but their future relationships with them could suffer. This was the finding of Dr. Naama Atzaba-Poria, head of the developmental psychology program of Ben-Gurion University, who spoke at the Negev Conference for Child Welfare held on Thursday by Ben-Gurion University and Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
She studied 55 families, some of them including children with eating disorders, such as refusal to eat, picky eaters and those who engaged parents in a struggle over food. She found that the families were at risk for bad relations with each other.
Studies show that a quarter of all toddlers and young children suffer from some kind of eating problem. Children may set down conditions 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 kinds.
“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, who attended the conference, spoke about obesity in children, arguing that for years, the state has “ignored” the subject and that the problem has grown tremendously. According to the latest data, one out of every three Israelis aged five to 21 suffers from obesity. She noted that in Arab families, the situation is even worse, with 40% of the children at age 12 being overweight.
The health supervisor in the Education Ministry’s Pedagogical Administration, Irit Livneh, said that everyone who studies in teachers’ seminars starting in the new Jewish year will get training in health. Over 1,000 schools have already been declared health promoters, and by 2020, it will become standard in the whole educational system, she said.
Dr. Alon Haim, head of the pediatric clinic for bariatric surgery at Soroka, said that “Israel is in a very bad place on obesity compared to the rest of the world. It has been proven clearly that one of the most effective ways to prevent obesity is by setting down legislation and regulations.”