Obesity is more than just a physical challenge

When we look at obesity as a purely physical condition, we miss so much of what is required to live, be healthier and have a more fulfilled, purposeful life. We make recovery harder and we disregard the importance of the many other aspects of this condition that must be addressed if we’re to create lasting solutions and healthier, happier lives for our kids. It’s why I tell people recovery from obesity starts on the inside by addressing mental and emotional aspects of the condition. For me, treating obesity is an ‘inside job’ and it starts with you as the parents.

Obesity is more than just about physical issues, it’s also about generational, cultural and community attitudes towards food and eating well as a family.

Now, I know that statement will upset a few people – including parents and a few of my medical peers. But my experience and research points to the need for a novel approach that takes into account the psychosocial and cultural context of the whole family. That is the daily lives of each individual family member and the connection – or lack of it – between them and their extended community.

Imagine your child is sitting in the middle of a web, connected to a greater or lesser extent to all other family members – parents, siblings, grandparents and the extended family. Then consider the connections to community, school, church or sporting club. Of course, our connections go well beyond the few I’ve mentioned; however the impact of a small movement – a change in behaviour – can be felt by all who are connected to the web. Some may support change, while others may resist. If your child is one caught in the web of obesity, change is necessary to create a healthier, happier life. It’s essential for breaking the cycle that created the web of obesity in the first place.

It’s my belief that the emergence of obesity in children is nearly always the result of intergenerational emotional, mental and social issues that haven’t been addressed in the parents and even in their parents perhaps, often around their own childhood and adolescence.  As unpalatable as this may be, the flipside is: managing and recovering from obesity is in the hands of the parents and children who are most affected. We just need to learn how to take personal responsibility, while discarding past mistakes and associated guilt to embrace a healthier future. My experience as a paediatrician tells me this is the most sustainable and effective way to recovery.  Research shows obesity is linked to social disadvantage, reflected in a lack of education and opportunities. This lack of education has to be overcome but that is what the Ride to Life program will help you and your family do.

(The above is an extract from my book Ride to Life)