“How can we solve childhood obesity?” is a question lots of people—public health officials, schools, parents, doctors, and more—are asking. And many want to know specifically: What’s a parent supposed to do when she finds out her child is clinically obese? Which is why I really wanted to like Dara-Lynn Weiss‘ story in April’s Vogue about putting her daughter on a diet after finding out that she was, in fact, obese at just seven years old. But as her story unfolds, it becomes evident that she not only ignored most advice on how to eat healthy, in general (rather than pushing healthy options, she seemed to focus mostly on limiting calories and portions, regardless of whether her daughter ate cupcakes or salad); she instilled all of the bad body messages in her daughter that make parents fear broaching the topic of weight with their kids in the first place.
Alerted to the story by Jezebel, which named it the “worst Vogue article ever,” I read the story—and really, really wanted to disagree. While it’s easy to admonish moms who put their kids on a diet, it’s not so easy to come up with winning strategies for controlling kids’ weight when it gets out of the healthy range, and part of the problem is that parents are afraid to publicly discuss a certain four-letter word in the context of their kids.
But sadly, Jezebel was right: Weiss comes just short of doing everything wrong.
She starts out by explaining how her daughter Bea, got to the point where she needed to go onto a diet in the second grade. She related the country’s childhood obesity rates, sensibly citing statistics about the health implications of having a BMI in the 95th percentile at such a young age. She also unveiled her own body and eating issues candidly—like many women, she’s been on and off diets for most of her adult life—explaining that because of them, she found it doubly difficult to approach the issue of weight with her daughter. Which all made me really want to be on her side.
But the whole thing went downhill; as fast as she explained how she visited a childhood obesity specialist, Dr. Joanna Dolgoff, and began employing the Weight Watchers-like tactics outlined in her book, “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right,” Weiss slips into descriptions of how everyone around her objected to her methods of controlling Bea’s diet. Even her husband eventually “tired of the food restrictions and the glacial rate of weight loss and stopped actively participating.” You can imagine that even a parent with the best of intentions and healthiest methods would still be met with disapproval from those who don’t understand, but she also describes heartbreaking moments of resistance from her daughter:
I once reproachfull deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210″ on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.
I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver [...] Rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.