Please read this NYT article on Helping Children Learn to Eat Well, which highlights a controversy over a new Weight Watchers app for children age 8-17 called Kurbo (article link: Let's Not Just Dismiss the WW Kurbo App).
While my medical and surgical expertise is not in nutrition, nor am I a pediatrician, I wholeheartedly agree with the viewpoints of the experts interviewed by the NYT that our focus and message to children and families is NOT about putting children on a “diet”. What thousands of conversations with parents/caretakers have taught me, is how to encourage and coach them on this topic. Academics and medical experts, including nutrition experts, naturally focus on the cognitive information on what children should or should not eat, causes of obesity, and the obvious epidemic of childhood obesity.
While epidemiology, population data, and research has highlighted how our modern diet with excessive sugar and fat intake, coupled with decreased physical activity, the result of excessive screen/device time, exacerbated by social media influence at an early age which further isolates teens and adolescents and creating anxiety, perfectionism, bullying, and depression, parents almost always asks me, “What should we do?”
Parents have often shared with me that doctors may tell them their child, even they as parents, are “fat”, “overweight”, and/or “obese”, and explain the risks of future diabetes and other bad consequences. I am humbled that often they share with me I am the first or only physician that talks to them as a fellow parent, about how what we think and our inner voices as a parent, dictate our behavior on how we feed our children, what goes into our decision making for ourselves and our family when it comes to grocery shopping, eating out, cooking or not, and what our core message and commitment is to our health and that of our children.
Weight management and educational programs specific to children, especially in pediatric health care systems and settings, are critical and must be supported (often times these programs are not the highest priority, may not “make money” for a hospital, and may be “cut” or under resourced) to help those already severely obese and obese. However, after 17 years of observing and practicing with complete commitment to help families actually make a sustainable change, I know that it’s not enough to have such programs, as there will never be enough specialists or experts to treat every child who is already obese or soon to be obese in our country.
What is critical is an entire revolution and movement that includes formal medical education for all who care for children. Not just for pediatricians, but dentist, pharmacists, teachers, therapists, and anyone who cares for children, so that we first acknowledge our own bias, learn how to NOT sound condescending or judgmental to the parents of children who are already obese, to fight already present bias which may limit this group of patients and families access to necessary programs, to teach ourselves and children how to put down devices, deeply connect, talk about what really matters, and declare out loud WHY we must create and make changes to ensure absolute HEALTH for ourselves and our children.
If we think an app, any app, used by itself WITHOUT the meaningful conversations and understanding our PURPOSE, will work, we will once again miss the point and change will not occur soon enough to save the millions of children whose health has been sacrificed in exchange for “successful capitalism”, modern convenience, and further create disparity amongst our population as health itself becomes a social determinant.