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Fat Like Me: How To Win The Weight War
A Rare Kudos To An ABC Special Report on Obesity

By Paul F. Stifflemire, Jr.

Send this page to a friend! (click here)ABCs Meredith Vieiras offered viewers a look into the causes and costs of obesity without devolving into an indictment of those who produce and distribute food products in America. Instead, she took her audience on a very human journey and then turned to experts who offered real advice, rather than pabulum.

The October 27 program began with a slim teenage girl [made to] appear to weigh 200 pounds. Ali Schmidt was sent to a new school and endured an experience she compared to walking into hell. Using the same special effects that made Gwyneth Paltrow look, well, large in Shallow Hal and a hidden camera, ABC was able to record what overweight kids go through every day.

To say the least, it isnt pleasantobesity dooms many kids to a life replete with hurt, teasing, rejection, noted ABC.

ABC delivers the startling facts

And ABC documented as well the increasing incidence of obesity. As Vieira said: Over the past 20 years, the percent of overweight children has doubled, and among teens, tripled. More importantly, their lives are in jeopardy. For the first time, were raising a generation of Americans whose life expectancy may actually be shorter than that of their parents.

What made this ABC program different from the usual media hype on the obesity epidemic, was its common sense approach to help Americas children and their parents win the war on weight.

As Vieira put it: We want to tell you how we got here and what you can do to protect your children from the physical and psychological effects of obesity. There was a refreshing acknowledgementunusual one might sayof parental responsibility rather than the usual victimization mantra.

After a startling segment in which obese children relate the misery their weight causes, Vieiras, Rosemary Ellis, from Prevention magazine and Doctor Beth Braun give viewers and parents the facts.

But omits the bias against big food

The best way to treat obesity is prevention, says Braun. If you can teach these parents and teach these children early in life, then its easier. It is very hard, she says, to change habitual behavior.

But, as Christina Johnson and Crystal Johnson, mother and daughter, relate, it is the changing of personal habits that leads to conquering obesity. My parents would tell me, Crystal relates, you might not want to hear this. But its going to help. You have to stop. And Christina Johnson notes that success in beating obesity came from a changed lifestyle and discipline: I dont think that the kids even notice that they dont do any of what they used to do.And when I say no more Captain Crunch, because you guys havent been using the half a cup scoop that we got from Kidshape, they go okay. When we go to the park they know that were there for exercise.

Noteworthy is the fact that neither Johnson or Vieira attempted to blame the manufacturers of Captain Crunch for making their cereal sweet and irresistible, or encouraging kids through advertising, to eat too much of it.

Sensible experts offer sound advice

Doctor Braun stated: Its deciding to get healthydeciding that you dont want to be like this anymore.

When Pediatrician Betsy Pfeffer states: Were killing our kids because were feeding them food that they shouldnt be eating an encouraging them to be sedentary. And the two combined are a time bomb, it appears that the show is about to swerve toward the blame food producers tack. But it doesnt happen.

Dave Zinczenko of Mens Health magazine, once 30 pounds overweight as a teen, tells viewers that he decided I had had enough and that I was going to wage war on fat. The best thing to do is look at being overweight as something that is an obstacle that is keeping you from getting the most out of your lifeas something that needs to be managed and overcome.

Nutritionist Heidi Skolnik presents the tools to manage eating, as Vieiras says. Rules of grocery shopping are, dont be hungry when you start shopping.A lot of families dont even know that the food choices they make each day sabotage them. Its not no fried foods, but how about having fried foods no more than twice a week? Its not about perfect but it is about better choices.

Ellis, of Prevention magazine says If theres a magic cure for childhood obesity, its parental awareness and involvement.If you kids not obese you have to understand what to watch for and be on guard for.Genes arent destiny. There are things you can do.

Laurel Mellin of Shapedown demonstrated critical thinking: recognizing what she called crossed wires where children state I feel sad. I need an ice cream cone. She teaches parents to re-route the wires: No. I feel sad; I need to talk about it. I feel hungry, I need some food.

And a bottom line

You know what the bottom line is? asks Dr. Pfeffer. She answers her own question: Its about health and fitness.If you are eating healthy and if youre involved in fitness, youre a cool personthats what its about.

Vieiras relates the story of one school district that started screening for obesity, and sending letters to parents of at risk kids. The controversy was surprising; but parents who reacted negatively at first came to realize that it was their responsibility to safeguard their childrens health.
And, as superintendent George Ziolkowski of the East Penn School District in Pennsylvania noted, it is the responsibility of the schools to educate. We had one very simple goal. That was to teach students and parents of the potential health risks of [obesity]. Our contention was right from the beginning that most people didnt know about that. I can tell you that they know about it today.

Personal responsibility properly emphasized

The show concludes with fat kids confronting other students at Stratford High School, in an attempt to afford the non-obese children an opportunity to understand the anguish suffered every day by overweight individuals. This provided an opportunity for Vieiras and ABC to spiral down into victimization but the temptation was resisted.

The conclusion, brought home clearly for once, was that obesity is a challenge that requires parental and individual responsibility, dedication and determination to change habits and lifestyles. Absent entirely from the program was any allusion to government regulation, class action lawsuits, or blame.

Kudos to Meredith Vieiras, ABC and all program participants.