Wednesday 7 December 2016

Fat chance of success if child's overweight

Parents want what's best for children, says John Masterson, but that means enforcing culinary boundaries

John Masterson

Published 05/12/2011 | 06:00

AS I am not a parent, it goes without saying that I see myself as one of the world's leading authorities on child-rearing. None of my theories has ever had to be contaminated by anything as distasteful as real-life experience. I am daily appalled by the decisions parents make about their offspring. I know they are all spoiled. Most are badly in need of a spell in boarding school.

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Actually, all children could do with a spell in boarding school and it wouldn't do some of the parents any harm to get a spell away from their little darlings either.

One issue I see many parents having difficulty with is whether or not their children are overweight. And for once, I have to admit I sympathise with them. We are constantly bombarded with information about healthy food versus junk. We are told of all of the negative consequences of an expanding midriff at any age, and we are, as a community, cloaked in collective guilt every time we so much as look at a calorie. Confused parents feel they have to pussy-foot around the issue because at the other end of the spectrum is the dread of an eating disorder. Ask any parent would they prefer plump to anorexic, and there is no contest.

From my schooldays, I recollect about 500 pupils, and I cannot remember anyone being massively overweight. Approximately half the school boarded and half lived with parents, and I cannot recall any difference between these two groups other than they were able to watch Top Of the Pops and we went to study. So since the human race has not changed in that few years it is clear that our lifestyle has changed.

We have gone from one Coke a week as a treat through to open access to the fridge, which is usually stocked for World War Three and a nuclear winter.

I watched a schoolgirl recently who was probably about 10. She had already learned to walk like a fat person. She went from side to side as she made her way along the street and it was clear that she had never run 50 yards in her life.

I felt for her because it doesn't matter how smart she is, how bubbly her personality is, she is at a huge disadvantage in terms of success in the health, love and, despite being illegal, employment stakes. I wondered what her parents thought, and half suspected that they were not sylph-like either. Apples do not usually fall far from the tree.

What struck me most about the young girl was not her size, but that she appeared to completely lack confidence. As she shuffled along her zeal for life appeared to about zero. She may have had the mathematical ability of Einstein but she gave the impression of not only shuffling along the street but shuffling through life. In my stereotyping way I saw her as not even enjoying food but, more likely, grazing on pizza while watching utter rubbish on the television. But what would I have done if I were her parent and loved her more than life itself?

Well, first of all, as in asking for directions in Kerry, I would not start from here. I am not being entirely facetious. I always wonder about that point when the Rubicon was crossed, when child and parents stopped caring about how this young girl was living her life.

How often do we hear parents saying they only want the best for their children? One cannot help thinking this is often a meaningless mantra when they are not even able to set standards or boundaries within which to grow up. Are the adults so lacking in self esteem that they are incapable of ever saying 'No'?

Of course, my own offspring would be looking forward to competing in the London Olympics.

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