AESTHETICS CHANGE BUT HEALTH STATISTICS DO NOT
When speaking to parents about overweight children I occasionally encounter some resistance by the parents that seems based on what is “the norm”. And what I sometimes come to understand is that many parents, like many kids, see the peers of children and do not see themselves or their kids standing out as being obese.
This phenomenon in which parents and kids look around and see that they stand out from “the norm,” has the effect of decreasing the sense of importance or urgency to medical recommendations to lose weight. After all, if you weight just a little bit more than all your friends and peer group then how serious a problem could it really be?
The real problem is the norm has changed, but health statistics for body mass index have not. What this means is our aesthetic of what looks normal or what looks healthy even, may wax and wane over time (remember the Rubinesk artistic renderings of the human form), but this aesthetic sensibility does not change the fact that increasing BMI is closely correlated with rapidly increasing diabetes respiratory problems, bone and joint abnormalities and shorter life expectancy.
The challenge for all of us who are aiming at preventing obesity among young people is to elevate the sense of urgency and convince parents, teachers, community leaders and kids that weight gain is in fact unhealthy and needs to be addressed with a serious plan of attack. The slow motion nature of health deterioration with obesity tends to discourage a sense of urgency. But the shifting standard of the aesthetic norm further weakens the resolve of parents and kids to take on a weight problem with some urgent seriousness.