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Vogue‘s Annual Shape issue has come under fire recently for stirring the pot around childhood obesity, a hot-button topic among American parents. The fashion glossy featured a gripping story by Dara-Lyn Weiss, who chronicles her efforts to keep her clinically obese 7 year-old daughter (93 lbs and 4’4” inches tall) in shape. The article included several abrasive tactics implemented by Weiss, excerpted below via Jezebel:

I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate. I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210” on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.

I cringe when I recall the many times I had it out with Bea over a snack given to her by a friend’s parent or caregiver … rather than direct my irritation at the grown-up, I often derided Bea for not refusing the inappropriate snack. And there have been many awkward moments at parties, when Bea has wanted to eat, say, both cookies and cake, and I’ve engaged in a heated public discussion about why she can’t.

What’s even more disturbing is Weiss’ revealing tidbit that she has struggled with insecurities about her body in the past, even taking laxatives as a teen:

Who was I to teach a little girl how to maintain a healthy weight and body image?” she asks, given that she’s spent the past three decades “[hating] how my body looked and [devoting] an inordinate amount of time trying to change it.” Among other destructive habits, Weiss took laxatives as a teen and “begged” a doctor friend to score her appetite suppressants that had been proven to cause heart-valve defects. “I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight,” she admits.

It’s evident that body issues and bad eating habits can be passed down just as squarely as height or facial features. And Weiss’ daughter is inheriting a poor sense of self at a frighteningly young age.

According to Centers for Disease Control Prevention, approximately 17% of children and adolescents in America aged 2—19 years are obese. That’s 12.5 million obese kids and teenagers. The statistics are indeed alarming but how can parents safely combat it while keeping their children’s self-esteem and body image intact? Can they manage calorie count and teach healthy eating without projecting insecurities and weight issues onto their children? On one hand, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign aims to teach the importance of healthy living with fun activities and exercises for children of all ages. The other extreme is Dara-Lyn Weiss’ aggressive and humiliating attempts to control her child’s eating habits.

When it comes to child dieting and exercise, what practices are considered safe and healthy for parents? Should young children ever be put on diets?

-Jessica C. Andrews

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