Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Does this child look sick to you? Malnourished in any way? Suffering from a strange disease called my-mother-doesn't-feed-me-well?
No? Well then why, when I go to visit our family doctor for A's shots, do I get told that there are issues with her weight? This is how the situation usually unfolds:
1. Mom and A are led into examination room. Mom attempts to distract A with the doctor's wheely chair
2. Nurse enters with scale and measuring tape. A is undressed and sumitted to growth tests
3. Mom axiously looks at the scale, and sees that A has not gained the right amount of weight.
4. Nurse leaves. A is now naked, running around the examination room, pulling open drawers labelled "pap smears."
5. Mom and A wait...and wait....and wait
6. Doctor enters the room. All serious-like. Sits down, and says "now, there's a couple of things we need to talk about. We're concerned about A's weight."
7. Mom groans inwardly
8. A screams in glee, and begins pulling all objects out of Moms' purse and throwing them onto the floor.
By the end of these visits, I'm exhausted from dealing with A and trying to talk seriously to the doctor at the same time (we all know how hard it is to carry on a conversation while trying to make sure your child doesn't do something to harm him/herself).
To give the doctor credit, he first asked me what I thought might be wrong, and also asked me whether I believed something should be done about it. I stated the argument that I use frequently: she looks healthy and I think those growth charts are rubbish (I don't think I used this language, but you get the idea).
The growth chart that is used by most doctors here in Canada was first developed for testing with inner-city children in the U.S. The data was derived from the growth of Caucasian children in Boston between 1930 and 1956. This data has since been updated, and the WHO has come up with its own references for growth charts. However:
"Concern has been expressed in the literature that breast-fed infants, living under favourable conditions, were growing less well than expected when compared to the [WHO] growth reference." (WHO website, 2011)
Breast-fed babies have been found to grow less rapidly than formula-fed babies, and therefore end up deviating away from the reference data, i.e., they fall of the charts.
So A is now off the chart in terms of weight, and the doctor is recommending we go back to see a specialist, and find out whether it could be related to a gastrointestinal problem. We have been through this before, when we were sent for a second opinion about A's reflux.
My gut feeling is that everything is fine, and that seeing a specialist will yield nothing more than the standard report of "let's wait and see." But the doctor's worry is that if A were to contract a stomach virus, she would lose enough weight to make things really serious.
I'm blogging about this because I'm concerned about how obsessive we've become over our children's weight. We don't live in a developing country; we have clean water, an abundance of food, and good quality medical care. We have such an abundance of food that in recent years, the government has launched a national campaign to curtail childhood obesity. 8-year-olds are being told by their family doctor that they need to lose weight.
Could our money and resources not be put to better use? How about a national campaign to foster a love of the outdoors? Get kids into canoes, on snowshoes and hiking our many beautiful parks. What about doing more to reduce the influence of food industry giants such as Kraft and Nestle? How about supporting lower income families in learning how to cook homemade meals that rival the taste and cost of a McDonald's Happy Meal? And most importantly, working to find the causes (and solutions) for the unprecedented number of children struggling with mental health issues (depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, bullying...these are all linked to our society's general mental health)
I know that some parents like growth charts. They like to brag about their child's height falling into the 95 percentile. Either that, or they're anxiously polling all the parents at playgroup about whether the 5th percentile in weight is a serious problem. It's a cause for a lot of comparison and worry, but can also be a source of comfort for those who like things that are clean-cut and measurable.
This is all fine and good for our babies, but serious issues can arise with an older child who is told that they're not measuring well compared to other children. In fact, this type of conversation can even lead to disordered eating behaviours and distorted body image. Eating disorders can develop, and then you've got a child falling off the other end of the charts.
I'm making a suggestion to you all. Let's put away the measuring tapes for a while. As parents, get rid of your scales. Try to avoid placing an emphasis on weight and body size in your family. What's more important is how you are all feeling. Do you feel strong and resilient, or weak and walked-all-over? Do you take time every day to dance in your bare feet? Do you stop to sniff the snow? (there are no roses out right now, so snow will have to do) Have you all experienced the rush of an early summer dip in the lake? Do you make big messes in your kitchen, and allow your children to concoct their own recipes?
Bravo to you if you do, and good luck to those who wish to start. Let me know how it goes!
(p.s. I promise to get back to some music-related posts soon. Life experiences require me to rant)
Posted by Misty Pratt at 9:01 AM