Tag Archive | Ellyn Satter

childhood awareness month obesity

Before the month is out, I’d like to report and thereby release my annual reticence about focusing attention so directly on childhood obesity. If I could, I would turn the matter inside out or upside down, but since my typing options are limited, I am just mixing the whole thing around–and hence the title.

Chances are you don’t even know that this is the month that deems we bring special attention to childhood obesity, albeit with good intention. Hopefully, fat kids don’t know it is either. Fat kids are not clambering for any special attention–their weight brings them more than they should ever have to bear every month of the year. Perhaps we should celebrate Childhood Obesity Lack of Attention Month and lighten up on those whose bodies bear our national shame.

Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among U.S. Adults by State and Territory, BRFSS, 2018. See map details in table below.

Fall Colors

I have written about my feelings on this before, and in a personal exercise of trying to write a short post, I will keep things brief by referring to those previous ones. But why I continue to be peeved is partly because I thought that awareness months were for concerns and conditions that would not otherwise garner attention. For example, September is also National Sickle Cell Month and Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Yet, obesity–for both young and old has not gone unnoticed. Since we realized there was a problem there has been a very public outcry and assault on the situation. The fight against it has been on heralding the call to eat less and move more. Master the equation.

But more so, I see the focus on obesity as missing the larger point. Yes, there has clearly been a marked increase in the prevalence of obesity in this country, and globally since the 1980s, according to the indicators that are used to measure such things. And, yes there are associated health concerns and consequences for some (though not all) of those who have turned their states from blue to orange and red on those troubling maps presented by the Center for Disease Control. The reasons for this are complex, confusing and multi-factorial. The obvious villains of eating more and moving less get the brunt of the blame but there are other nefarious players as well.

While we strive to figure out how to get a handle on the situation and direct many resources to worthy intervention and prevention efforts, my point is that the aspects of the problem that we decry for contributing to obesity, also have impacted other facets of our society’s health and that of its children. It is pretty obvious that we are suffering from lousy food, excessive intake and inadequate physical activity, but if we put those forces in a prisoner lineup, then we must also charge and convict them for not only contributing to weight gain but to behavior and learning problems, depression, anxiety, immune system disorders, allergies, and other maladies as well. It is not only the many who are vulnerable to weight gain who are affected. However, those who aren’t, are also being held hostage by the environmental and social influences that define our lives.

While it is true that our economy is burdened by health conditions related to weight for which the bell has been mightily tolled, so it is by these other impacts on our children. Gather together teachers, behavioral specialists, pediatricians, nutritionists and all those who tend to our young, and I am sure they will describe concerns broader than just children’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Dietary and activity level influences may be involved there as well.

I must perforce explain that I get the gravity of the weight situation. But I cynically bemoan the multitude of poor policies that fostered the crisis and the policymakers who then woke up screaming, hey, let’s do something about those obese children. If we want a month, then may I suggest we rename it, “Tending to Our Children’s Birthright of Health Awareness Month” and stop just focusing on obesity. I believe all children will benefit from such a shift in attention and it may actually prevent some harm.

For those who are interested in mindful approaches to specific childhood feeding issues and raising competent eaters, I guide you to the wise work of Ellyn Satter, Dr. Katja Rowell, and Dina Rose. (Update: Also, to the Guidelines for Media Portrayal of Individuals Affected by Obesity which addresses matters associated with weight bias, stigma, and discrimination.)

What are your thoughts?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related (directly and indirectly) Posts: A Bushel and A Peck of Ways to Address Childhood Obesity; The Humanist Imperative to Nourish and Care for Our Children; The Tempted Temperament; Skinny Boys

Rose's Plate

Rose’s My Plate






My Plate Haiku

Peach baskets brimming

Raspberries ripe on the bush

Apples soon to come.

by Crystal

(Summer sped by and fall is upon us. Apples are here!)

Happy Birthday to Rose’s wonderful Daddy. Healing prayers for friend Jodi who has nourished so many with her wonderful cooking and abundant love. Blessings to Crystal on her wedding to Oliver next week!

diet for a small caterpillar

Eric Carle and his Caterpillar by Eric Carle

What reading materials are on my bedside table? I am honored you asked. Right now, I have the catalog for the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle–the story of one caterpillar’s journey to butterflyhood. Though they both relate to personal development, their shared placement is causing me a moral dilemma. You see, I am rereading The Very Hungry Caterpillar because 17,000 copies have been distributed to pediatricians across the country. This is a joint campaign of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Penguin Young Readers Group and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

The cynic in me is ready to rant on this initiative, but with a photo of Thich Nhat Hanh looking at me from the back cover of the catalog, and Omega’s plethora of courses with titles like Embodying Conscious Femininity, Gravity, and Grace and Freeing Ourselves from Negative Patterns oozing out from the inside pages, I am trying to temper my response.

My higher self is saying if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, offer only constructive criticism, and asking, are you a compassionate, empowering new-tritionist or just a curmudgeonly old one? Well, I will try to open myself up and see what emerges.

Positively, let me say I love children’s literature and its illustration. Not too long ago I spent a wonderful day at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. To see the originals of Mr. Carle’s tissue paper art was wonderful. The colors and intricacies of his pictures are even more amazing than they appear in his books. I am grateful that he has created a space to exhibit the collections of the many incredible artists in this genre.

Also, I respect the myriad efforts of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. A collaboration between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, its mission is to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity and to empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices. Their projects, which include the Healthy Schools Program, are far-reaching, community-based, and creative and colorful in their own way. I use their great materials in my work.

So, what’s my issue with this sweet little book-sharing promotion which is intended to encourage pediatricians to talk with their patients to help families learn about healthy eating habits? To be frank, I am on my thirty-fourth reading of this fourteen-page cardboard book and I am not convinced of its purpose or efficacy for teaching healthy eating.

For those of you who may not know the story, briefly, a caterpillar hatches out of an egg. It is hungry, and through its first five days of life, it eats a hole through increasing amounts of different fruits (one on Monday, two on Tuesday, etc.) but is still not satiated. Then, ignoring the numerical sequence, on its sixth day, it eats a hole through a slice of watermelon–along with eight human-produced high-fat, high-sodium, and high-sugar foodstuffs including salami, sausage, a lollipop, chocolate cake and cherry pie. And, it gets a stomach ache. On the seventh day, a Sunday, it eats through one nice green leaf and feels better. On my most recent reading, I suddenly see this as a religious allegory about sin, redemption, and resurrection, because right after that, all fattened up, he builds a cocoon, stays there for two weeks and emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

Regarding caterpillar growth and nutrition, here is what I know. The caterpillar increases its body mass several thousand times in a matter of weeks and each species has mainly one, and on occasion a few, host plants from which it must eat to survive. Predominantly, they eat only leaves–like from the milkweed family, but a few species can eat flowers and aphids. Analyzing the very hungry caterpillar’s eating behaviors, it has responded to his hunger and high growth needs in a manner similar to that of many teenage boys; problematically, it has partaken in eating foods not optimum for its own species and a lot of them. The messaging here between fruits and junk food along with hunger, satiety and body size is a bit confusing.

The promotional materials for this campaign instruct the parent to teach their child that the fruits are fruits; talk about how fruits are good for the body; discuss how overeating causes stomachaches; expound upon the concept of “sometimes” foods; instruct how green leaves are good for the body, and reinforce that it is important to eat healthy foods so that one can grow up healthy and active like a butterfly. My, that is a heavy load for one little book–let alone one small child.

Maybe I have forgotten a bit about early childhood development, but I think I read this book to my kids when they were about eighteen months old. Certainly, prior to the stage where we were discussing abstract concepts like hunger and health. Even prior to the stage where they might imaginatively embrace the idea that they would grow up and turn into a butterfly. There are many wonderful age-appropriate stories about food, gardening, nature, eating, etc. for young children, and though I am fine with metaphor, I don’t think this is what Mr. Carle had in mind. Now I must worry about children going out and plucking hemlock leaves for a little nibble.

I am glad to report that kids seem to know about and do eat their fruits, though vegetable education still needs a little more work–even for adults. I hope that we do not need to be spoon-feeding parents on such basic concepts; and, additionally, that pediatricians are opening to engaging parents on more specialized and sophisticated aspects of feeding our young than these simplistic measures. They are in a strong position to influence policy, to really support breastfeeding measures, to evaluate infant and early childhood feeding practices and to instruct on the principles of childhood nutrition and appropriate activity.

Might I respectfully suggest providing parents with a copy of Ellyn Satter’s Parent and Child Division of Feeding Responsibilitiesa clear and concise document that addresses the foundations of family eating. And, symbolically, a retreat at the Omega Institute. Their Omega Food Works Dining Hall consciously serves 300,000 vegetarian meals a year using local and organic ingredients. One delicious, nutritious meal like the ones offered there, can speak louder than a thousand words.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Update May 2021: Acknowledging the passing this week of Eric Carle. In this Eric Carle Commemorative Video, the artist discusses his own thoughts on the meaning of the story and why it captivates the attention of young children. Thank you, Mr. Carle, for opening children’s eyes to the beautiful world of color, art, nature and storytelling. 

Also, for reflections and support for parents regarding children’s health, weight concerns, and the impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic, please look at the offerings of JoAnn Stevelos at her blog, Children at the Table, and her transformative program, Worthy!: Helping Your Child Be Their Healthiest Weight focused on a foundation of children and parents feeling loved, hopeful and safe.