I’ve been wanting to write about the new exhibit in Disney World aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic since I heard about it — and now it’s already closed. Basically, Disney created Habit Heroes to positively influence kids with overweight kid characters like “The Glutton” and “Lead Bottom” fight healthy kid characters such “Will Power” and “Callie Stenics.”
The response from health experts was so negative that they finally closed up shop. But I’m not sure the lesson was learned.
There are many, many misconceptions about obesity
It’s not just this exhibit that has been questioned. Remember the book Maggie Goes on a Diet — and how about the Georgia’s Anti-obesity ad campaign where they tried to scare parents and kids into action (that one has stopped too!).
In every case the intention is good, but the execution is not. To me, this demonstrates that obesity is still sorely misunderstood by many — and that includes parents. I believe the biggest misconception is that the answer to excess weight always comes down to food. The answer is almost always to serve a healthy diet, decrease portions or lower carbs (or whatever the diet of the seasons is).
Treating the symptom not the cause
The way someone eats, and their subsequent weight, is simply a symptom of some deeper cause and discovering that deeper cause is key.
Consider Tommy, the boy who is on too healthy of a diet. There are no treats or much fat and he’s hungry. But his parents don’t want him to get bigger as his food obsession grows. In this case, not listening to the child (he’s hungry) is the problem.
And what about the families dealing with food insecurity. The kids don’t know when the next meal is coming and the parents aren’t worried about nutrition because when food is truly scarce — you just want your child fed. So the problem has more to do with food insecurity than anything else.
And then there are the families that are so stressed out that they put food and reliable meals on the backburner — increasing the likelihood of mindless eating and a missing out on an appreciation for wholesome family meals. Reducing stressors would be key in this situation — freeing up room for dietary changes.
It’s not just one thing
In this WebMD post I describe several factors that have helped tip the obesity epidemic, with only one of the five things being about food. Because it’s not just what we eat that has changed but how we eat and how we live. When food is the only answer available we are bound to miss the solution.
Fixing obesity is not about willpower and the cause is not laziness and we should know by now that shaming kids and adults is the wrong thing to do. The environment in which children grow up matters with the home, and parental guidance, being the most important. But parents need guidance as each child and situation is unique, which is what we will provide in Fearless Feeding.
Food and nutrition advice is important but it’s not going to work if the underlying cause is still rearing its ugly head. I just think we need to look at this problem with a broader lens because the narrow one we’ve been using simply isn’t working.
What do you think? Did you happen to see the exhibit in Disneyworld?