National Childhood Obesity Month
September is National Childhood Obesity month, and you are probably well aware of the staggering statistics:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
We know the numbers are even higher for youth with a disability.
There is a plethora of information available on the numbers and what we can do to prevent them; in fact, the First Lady has even made it her national platform with the Let’s Move campaign. There is no doubt childhood obesity is an epidemic that plays a huge role in the lives of our youth. We see the obese kid struggle in physical education class, get left out during recess, or get called cruel names, and we immediately think of things that could help. Get the kid more active throughout the day and after school, provide him or her with food choices that are nutritional while cutting back on the snacks and fast foods. However, when it comes to a kid with a disability we often excuse it. We hear parents say things like, “my child has a limited diet” or “he isn’t able to be physically active” or “she already struggles with so much due to her disability; it’s not that big of a deal if I let her play video games as much as I do.”
Unfortunately, we fail to see the bigger impact such attitudes have. Aside from the fact that the more physically fit children are the more independent they are likely to become (which can translate into a hundred more positive impacts), think about body image. Body image is HUGE in childhood and adolescent years. Most likely, a child with a disability already has to deal with some body image labeling, such as feeling like their body doesn’t look or function like “everyone else’s.” The good news is, such thoughts don’t necessarily influence his or her self-image. On the other hand, obesity does impact self-image, regardless of ability or disability. In fact, I propose that obesity is a much greater definer of poor body image than disability. Case(s) in point: Mary Allison Cook sustained a spinal cord injury at the age of 3 and is now a successful professional, wife, and Paralympian, and Jody Puttman is an 11-year-old with a severe form of Ataxia. Both share their stories of body image in the following pages, but neither feels as if their disability plays a role in that body image.
The take-home point is this: a disability is not a condition you can do something about. For the most part, you aren’t in control of your child’s disability; however, that disability does not have to be the sole characteristic that defines who he or she is. In fact, it can play a very minor or even non-existent role in their self-image. Obesity, on the other hand, almost always affects a child’s body image and, regardless of whether you want it to or not, will almost always define them to some degree.
Thankfully, obesity IS a condition you and your child can do something about! It doesn’t have to define him or her. So be encouraged by the stories that follow, and be enlightened to the fact that obesity can play a huge role in the lives of all children, especially those with a disability. The epidemic will only cease to be when we stop making excuses and start seeing it for what it is in ALL children, disability or not.