Michelle Obama criticized for obesity comments: Was she really out of line?

Michelle Obama has taken on childhood obesity as her cause from the White House.

With more than one-third of America’s kids falling into the category of obesity and as a mother of young children, it seems like the perfect issue for our First Lady.

However, she’s already being criticized for her efforts.  Here are the issues:

  1. Michelle Obama referred to own her daughters when talking about obesity.

From Shine: “Two weeks after announcing the unnerving news that childhood obesity has tripled over the last 30 years, and unveiling her own initiative to combat it, Michelle Obama has offended critics by discussing her own “wake-up” moment—when the family pediatrician told her that daughters Sasha and Malia were becoming overweight.”

“ ‘In my eyes I thought my children were perfect,” Mrs. Obama said at the January launch of her initiative. “I didn’t see the changes.’ ”

As someone who writes about her children often, I can understand the natural inclination to discuss your own children when talking about an issue. She was making the cause personal because it really had affected her family. They are not perfect and she’s saying to America even we are dealing with this problem. While using a personal experience is effective case making, was it hurtful to her girls to say that to the national media or are these critics seeing a problem where there is not one?

I read a story a few years back about mom bloggers and the privacy of their children. The point of the story was to be careful not writing something that would embarrass your child. When I started writing my kids were babies so there was very little that could embarrass them nor would they have known. But as they have grown, I had started viewing each mention of them through that lens. Would it embarrass them to know this fact about them is on the Web

2. The second criticism was about word choice Michelle used in speaking to her own children about maintaining a healthy weight. From Psychology Today:

“While her heart is in the right place, Michelle may not have considered or been familiar with the delicate balance between preventing obesity and triggering eating disorders. She mentioned that she put her children on a diet after her pediatrician and their father felt they were getting “chubby.” Words like “chubby” don’t cause eating disorders but they are often a trigger to disordered eating behavior. As an eating disorder professional, we would strongly caution parents from using labels or prerogative words to describe their child’s weight as this has lasting impacts on a child’s self esteem. Also, putting kids on “diet” instead of focusing on healthy eating and exercise can be another trigger for eating disorder behaviors. Dieting is clearly not the answer. And, weight alone is not an indicator of a child’s health. Children’s weights dramatically vary and change particularly as they go through development stages, growth spurts and puberty. Instead of aiming for slimness, let’s focus on a healthy lifestyle that includes mindful eating, access to healthy food and exercise.”

I think that in general many women are very worried about passing on eating issues that they have to their children so I think folks are particularly tuned into words like chubby.  But would that be a problem for all children? Would it depend on how it was said and how often or is just verboten?

So what do you think:

Is Michelle Obama being unfairly criticized for using her children as national examples in a family having to change some habit at home to prevent becoming overweight?

Does her word choices of chubby or diet bother you? Do you think they actually bothered her kids?

Are you personally worried about passing on eating issues to your children, particularly daughters? Are you extra careful in how your refer to and monitor your children’s eating?

195 comments Add your comment

Lissy

February 5th, 2010
10:03 am

This is really ridiculous…if she didn’t say anything about it and it came to pass, ppl would be saying why didn’t she talk about it. They are really in a lose lose situation. Damn if you do and damn if you don’t. I don’t think that talking about their weight issues will lead to them having an eating disorder. Sasha can be considered chubby, but she is only 8 or so. I’m sure she’ll lose the “baby fat.” This is nothing for folks to get their panties in a wod.

Way

February 5th, 2010
10:15 am

I do not think she said anything that is out of line. Diet does not necessarily mean starving yourself to death. You can be on 2000 calorie diet, 3000 calorie diet or macrobiotic diet. Diet is the way of suggested eating to be healthy, but unfortunately celebrities and media distorted the real meaning of this word long ago.

TTL

February 5th, 2010
10:21 am

I do not think she said anything that is out of line. Diet does not necessarily mean starving yourself to death. You can be on 2000 calorie diet, 3000 calorie diet or macrobiotic diet. Diet is the way of suggested eating to be healthy, but unfortunately celebrities and media distorted the real meaning of this word long ago.

s

February 5th, 2010
10:24 am

Yes, she is being unfairly criticized. She is trying to address a problem. Thanks to her.

s

February 5th, 2010
10:26 am

Everyone should watch the film “Food Inc”.

http://www.foodincmovie.com/

TTL

February 5th, 2010
10:27 am

As for chubby, fat, skinny and other words – i think it is OK to use them occasionally in an educational context, i.e. trying to identify the problem and possible solution. What is not OK is to use them frequently and just use them for stating sole factual purpose.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 5th, 2010
10:29 am

Can’t tell exactly but I don’t think she was taunting her kids with chubby –

TTL

February 5th, 2010
10:32 am

And i am sure if she said that her kids are skinny, it would have been received in a very different way.

HB

February 5th, 2010
10:37 am

I do believe that putting kids on a “diet” because they’re “chubby” can start the damaging dieting/not dieting cycle early, and it’s best not to teach kids to think in those terms. That said, I’m not sure Mrs. Obama is being criticized all that much. If the “critics” are phrasing it the way Psychology Today did, then a conversation about how best to talk about and develop heathy habits has started — great! The quote above is informative and not overly harsh.

s

February 5th, 2010
10:37 am

Years ago I played a round of golf with this ex-P.O.W. from viet Nam who said whatever was on his mind. Playing in front of us was an overweight teenager and his father. The child was floundering around on the course and slowing our pace of play much to the annoyance of my grissly playing partner. After a few holes of this, the war decorated linksman turned to me and said loud enough for the whole world to hear, “In my day, there were no fat kids! If a kid was fat, we made fun of his fat a$$ until he lost some d@mned weight! Now-a-days we got all these chubby little bast@rds running around with thumbs that can crack walnuts!”

The walnuts part of his statement was an obvious reflection of his views on the time children spend playing video games.

JJ

February 5th, 2010
10:42 am

I hate the word DIET……Like Garfield the cat says “it’s just the word Die, with a T at the end”…..

I prefer healthy eating habits.

I believe one of the contributing factors to childhood obesity is parents have “over-scheduled” their kids, and they make NO time for good healthy meals. Kids in sports, parents working overtime, etc. Fast food is HORRIBLE and should only be eaten about once a week, in MY opinion.

I am a busy single mom, and I chose to make time to cook healthy meals at home. We very rarely dine out, maybe twice a month (paydays). Now that my child is away at school, I still cook for myself (and my roommate) every single night.

I find that going to a butcher, or meat market and buying a “family deal” of meat, for about $60.00. I go to Pattons Meat Market in Duluth, and get a $55.00 family deal. These deals usually have the following:

Deal A – $55 plus tax
4 lbs Country Style Ribs
3 lbs Center Cut Pork Chops
2 lbs Stew Beef
6 lbs Boston Butt Pork
3 lbs Boneless Chuck Roast
4 lbs Split Chicken Breast

I then take it all home, divide it into individual servings, wrap it in foil and put in a freezer bag, labeled with it’s contents. The last time I did this was New Years Eve, and I still have a London broil and two pork chops in the freezer. So it was definately worth every penny. And the quality is so much better than grocery store meat.

On Sunday’s I plan a weeks worth of menus, and then go hit the grocery store for “filler” foods. My roommate and I sit at the dining room table, and we always have a salad with dinner, the meat and a veggie. We have taken to eating on smaller plates, which makes the meal look larger.

I know this isn’t possible for a lot of folks, as they over schedule themselves. I had my daughter in one after school activity and that was it. School was the most important thing, and I was not going to over schedule her or myself. After working a full day, I don’t want to spend the evenings in my car driving here and there.

Plus I really enjoy cooking. I love cutting up fresh veggies……And I am a Food Network junkie, and have two notebooks full of recipes from the shows……..

Just like everything else in our lives, you MUST make time for healthy eating.

And get the kids off the computer and video games. Go outside and get some fresh air. If you have dogs, walk them, or simply walk around your neighborhood………go to the park and play with a frisbee, fly a kite, etc. GET OUTSIDE!!!!!

Michelle

February 5th, 2010
10:43 am

From what I read above, it doesn’t seem to me like she did anything wrong. I don’t necessarily think I would put my kids on a “diet” per se, but more change their eating habits. I think she was doing a good thing by showing that, as a family, this was something that they had to address. I think the girls are probably young enough that this wouldn’t really bother them too much. She didn’t say they were “fat” or “obese”, just chubby.

I am certain that as she gets more involved, she will use better “verbage” to get her points across without being judged as she is not! I think it’s great that she is willing to take on such a critical problem!

I think that what other kids, and the media, say make more of an impact at this particular phase! My 6 year old (who is VERY think-wears a 6 slim with them elastic adjusted almost to the last notch), told me he needs to go on a diet because he’s getting fat! HELLO…I don’t think so! I try to encourage him to just make good food choices and reinforce that he is NOT fat in any way.

mom2alex&max

February 5th, 2010
10:43 am

She’s being very unfairly criticized. I don’t think she say anything wrong..there is no doubt the Obama’s love their daughters. All that the First Lady was trying to do is bring the issue home, make it personal. I think she did an awesome job and I am pretty sure the girls didn’t think it was embarrassing. I bet the girls have loads of self esteem.
It is a great cause for a First Lady and I for one, applaud her.

s

February 5th, 2010
10:45 am

I see a lot of parents use food as parental substitutes. They are busy and the child is bothering them. “Here, have a twinkie, I’ll be with you in a minute”

Theresa, my other post was too offensive for posting?

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 5th, 2010
10:47 am

i haven’t done anything to it – i’ve been in the shower — will go look for it -

RJ

February 5th, 2010
10:48 am

She is being unfairly criticized. She simply stated what her family had been going through. Kids bodies do change, but doctors can also be the blame. Was their weight really that bad? I doubt it.

Tiger needs me on his PR team

February 5th, 2010
10:54 am

JJ….you’ve prepared almost 22 pounds of meat in 34 days? Wow…you southerners are a hearty breed!!! ;-)

Justmy2cents

February 5th, 2010
10:54 am

Maybe she could have phrased it differently, but I do think people are overreacting. I do tell my kids if they keep pigging out (whether on junk food at a party, or just eating WAY too big of a meal portion and then asking for more) that they will get fat. Plain and simple. I’m not much for sugar coating words. There is no need for my 5′1″ 90 lb. daughter to eat MORE than my 6′3″ 230 lb. husband. She just does not require that many calories.

However, it is also up to us as parents to provide the healthy meals & snacks in proper portion sizes. I plan my meals a week in advance, and make sure that most of them are low fat/cal/carb without being low in taste. I do splurge from time to time and make some not so healthy, but oh so yummy meals too. Everything in moderation. Oh, and kick your kids out the door and make them play outside from time to time too!

RJ

February 5th, 2010
11:02 am

@Tiger, ROFL! That sure is a lot of meat!

I am whatever you say I am

February 5th, 2010
11:12 am

I don’t think she said anything out of line but If my son (he’s just a baby) where the same age as her daughters I would have used discression as to not say anything that would embarrass my child.

deedeebaldwin

February 5th, 2010
11:12 am

I think in the Obama’s case, the girls are probably pre-diabetic and that is why there is this great push to balance their diets. I cannot believe that their weights in view of their age/development could be that endangering.

Becky

February 5th, 2010
11:14 am

@Michelle..I think I agree with everything that you said..I try to teach my two little ones to eat healthy and most of the time it works..The girl did jsut about the same thing your son did when she was six..She only weighs about 47 lbs. now and she stood in the middle of the living room one day, took off a shirt that she had on and said “I can’t wear this, it makes me look fat”..Thought I was going to die laughing..She might not never have to worry about being fat, if she follows in the line of her parents..

@Tiger..That is as much meat as we eat at my house in about 5-6 months or so..We eat a lot of veggies at my house..The kids know that my motto is try it, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it,BUT you have to try it..

deedeebaldwin

February 5th, 2010
11:17 am

Besides, pediatric research reports that children in the Obama children age range should have whole milk, not non-fat milk for proper bone development. Read Christine Babigian’s time-honored book, “Special Diets.” d

anne

February 5th, 2010
11:19 am

I read the entire article in WaPo. Mrs. Obama said that everyone started paying more attention to serving sizes and making sure that the girls were eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. Her whole approach made sense to me as a mother. Taking little steps that had a huge impact. The article went on to say that the pediatrician was impressed with the changes in the girls at their next visit. I think Mrs. Obama is being unfairly criticized.

catlady

February 5th, 2010
11:21 am

Teresa and bloggers, please help! Does anyone with recent experience have a recommendation of a good OB practice in the Lawrenceville/Sewanee area? (NO, it’s not for me :) My daughter is very unhappy with the changes the practice she used the first time has implemented. Main requirement: experienced midwives and accessible doctors. Please help on this if you have something to tell in this area. My grandson is due in mid-May, and mama is 33 if that matters.

Andrea

February 5th, 2010
11:23 am

She is definitely being unfairly criticized. This is MUCH ado about nothing. It is quite alarming that we are realizing the first generation of kids that may not outlive their parents solely because they are obese and have cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetic issues.

I would rather address the problem before it becomes a bigger issue, literally and figuratively. I hate to see kids that look like they are one butter biscuit away from imploding.

Jeff

February 5th, 2010
11:34 am

I support Michelle Obama on this 100%. I don’t think she said anything inappropriate. Unfortunately, the ones who need this information are already ignoring the obvious, so I’m afraid it’ll be to no avail.

catlady

February 5th, 2010
11:36 am

Food was not an issue at my house with my children. I controlled what was bought and fixed, and they controlled how much they ate. Couldn’t afford take-out, and never went on the candy/ice cream aisles at the store. No comments on how much or little, no requirements to just taste. In fact, when they were toddlers I would refrain from giving them new things we were eating, and if they asked (usually did) I told them I didn’t fix any for them. Then, of course, they were DYING for some so I would give them a , grudgingly, with the request that IF they liked it, they could tell me and next time I would fix some for them, too.

No processed sweets, limited snacks (fruit or cheese or yogurt), no hassle. As it was never a power struggle, it never became an issue.

My older daughter was in kindergarten before she found out that those things the Easter Bunny brought were edible.

I am happy to say my two grandchildren are being raised the same way.

As a teacher, I have seen too many kids who eat foods of questionable value every day.

On the other hand, I was raised to be a picky eater. To some extent, I am over that. Having a large garden with tons of fresh vegetables helped me learn to like stuff I had been told I didn’t like. Also, my children were babysat by very commonsense, country women and thus exposed to some things I would never eat (like liver)! The children would ask for food they got at the sitters, and so I decided to expand my garden. Every year, it seems, I still learn to like a new vegetable. Year before last it was beets; last year it was edamame (from my 2 year old granddaughter). I draw the line at squirrel!

deedeebaldwin

February 5th, 2010
11:36 am

“chubby” is never flattering…I cannot imagine those well-heeled kids at Malia’s school bypassing this one!

Becky

February 5th, 2010
11:37 am

@catlady..I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with this one..Good luck though..

FCM

February 5th, 2010
11:41 am

I dont’ see anything wrong other than as a good libretarian I think she needs to butt out of my cooking. My children just had reports from the doctor. One is proportionate at the momen but we are looking to make sure she stays that way by EATING, she is already showing signs of being at risk for one of those eating disorders the article mentions. The other child could stand sideways behind a telephone pole and you would never see her! She gained 0.0 lbs in the last year but grew 2 inches. That child eats almost anything you put in front of her–especially vegetables!!!

Doctors told both of them one area of diet they needed to improve on was dairy. My kids do not like milk and do not like cheese. The eat yogurt and sour cream. Though as I told the doctor I tend to buy lower fat sour cream since I eat that too. The kids spoke up and said the thick fattiness of the cream (in milk) and cheese is the reason they do not like it. Course the lower fat stuff won’t put the meat on their bones the doctor wants….He actually told me to feed them ice cream (the one dairy they do like) 3 times a week. Mom is not so lucky….I need to reduce um EVERYTHING, except sleep and exercise, those I need to increase! LOL

What bugs me is that I cannot find clothes that fit my kids well. Sure they have “adjustable waists” but those really just make the waist look all bunchy on my thin kids. Everything is too WIDE on them.

What I do not understand from her comments is how exactly she thinks she is going to combat this issue. Educate the kids? I took HPED in HS & College. I know about nutrition and exercise. I was a skinny kid (and one day maybe I will be a former fat chick).

With Literacy we had a game plan. With Nancy and her “No to drugs” there was a game plan. What exactly is the game plan here. One thing that I would LOVE to know is how socio-economics and education of the PARENTS contributes to the issue. My guess is that the better the education and economics the less likely to be obese…but it is only a guess.

Julia

February 5th, 2010
11:51 am

This like everything else we talk about on here starts at home with a willful child that the parents just let them have their way.

I will not be a short order cook. You eat what I cook or you can go to bed hungry. Now I wont be abusive with it but I am not fixing chicken fingers and mac / cheese every night for dinner. The boy learned to eat his veggies at a very young age and ate more green beans and broccoli than I did….

catlady

February 5th, 2010
11:53 am

True experience: when my kids were born my mother became the “Jello Queen”. Like she wanted to serve it twice a day when we visited. When I was a kid, the only time I got jello was when I was very sick. So I say no to the jello and no to the sweet tea and she remarks that I must never feed the kids because when they come over they eat and eat and eat. Now, my mother had a bachelor’s degree (1944) but NEVER put it together that they might be good eaters because they didn’t have their appetites ruined with sweets!

FCM, as to your last observation, I have not seen a strong breakdown based on maternal education. I see thin kids and fat kids of every SES. What I DO see is the ones who play outside, as opposed to being put in front of video media, seem to be less likely to be fat. (I ask kids what they do after school when they get home). Kids who bring money for the snack store tend to use recess standing around and eating, as opposed to running around. That is not tied to SES, however, because many, many of our free lunch kids bring substantial money every day to buy junk at the school store.

This is merely based on what I have seen in my teaching career, especially the last 10-15 years.

Madison

February 5th, 2010
12:05 pm

Michelle should look in the mirror and work on her own fat bottom.

SRH

February 5th, 2010
12:07 pm

Michelle was right on the money. I am shocked at how many FAT (yes, I am using the FAT word) kids there are these days. It is digusting and so unhealthy for the child. I’m in my late 40s and I remember that there was 1 maybe 2 fat kids in my classes as a child. Now it seems that half the children are overweight, some dangerously so. Children are getting adult-type medical issues due to their weight. If you go anywhere in the world, you never see this – it simply does not exist. It is an epidemic.

JJ

February 5th, 2010
12:07 pm

Dang Tiger, thanks for pointing that out……Holy crap…….I didn’t realize it was THAT much. However, the roasts are usually cooked on weekends, and we feed the neighbors on Football sundays…..

James

February 5th, 2010
12:15 pm

RE: Food Inc – anything from Michael Moore is typically a one-sided story. There’s at least one or more “fact vs fiction” sites or news articles that appear whenever he comes out with a new movie. Here’s one such site for Food Inc

http://www.monsanto.com/foodinc/family_farmer.asp

FCM

February 5th, 2010
12:15 pm

“There is no need for my 5′1″ 90 lb. daughter to eat MORE than my 6′3″ 230 lb. husband” Actually she might. How old is she? What activities does she do? I could out eat my brother when I was about 12 -15 (I weighed 85 – 105 lbs was 4′ 7 -5′ during that time) but my body needed that fuel for the various changes my body was going through to be a woman.

SRH

February 5th, 2010
12:15 pm

@JJ – don’t asume every latino is a Mexican! I do agree with many here who say that obesity is related more to socioeconimic status. Have you been to a buffet lately and seen entire overweight families in sweatpants going back for 3rds and 4ths?

James

February 5th, 2010
12:20 pm

“more than one-third of America’s kids falling into the category of obesity”

I have been to more than one school recently; and I have seen a couple of fat kids but I don’t see 1/3rd of the kids as obese. Where are all these fat kids? At my church on Sundays I see well over a hundred or so kids and I really am not seeing 30+ of them as obese. Have we perhaps redefined obese multiple times to create an obesity epidemic?

RJ

February 5th, 2010
12:25 pm

@JJ, what was the point to that comment? Are you serious? That’s about as dumb as me saying, “I’ve never seen a white woman without fake boobs.” Sounds ignorant doesn’t it. I teach Latino kids every day and they’re no bigger than any other kids. I see HUGE American kids! Thank goodness our First Lady is trying to combat the problem.

@FCM, I’m sure First Lady Obama is working with a team of experts to put a plan into place. Conversation is always a good beginning.

fer

February 5th, 2010
12:25 pm

I think she should have focused on healthy eating and NOT used the word ‘diet’. Goodness knows today’s children (esp. girls) have enough problems with body image. Children need to eat well but at stages in their lives they will be ’rounder’ than at others, and then they will shoot up in height and be ’skinny’.

KRW

February 5th, 2010
12:30 pm

If they really want to slow obesity then start by controlling what can be purchased by federally administered food stamps. They need to stop the ability to purchase any high-fat foods. But that would hit right in the middle of the Obama constituency and not anything that would be proposed. Therefore we will continue to “throw money” at a “problem” while people are going jobless and businesses continue to close.

James

February 5th, 2010
12:31 pm

http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2008/05/epidemic-that-wasnt.html

The childhood obesity epidemic is an entirely statistically manufactured myth.

NewsyDiva

February 5th, 2010
12:32 pm

Please exhale…Mrs. Obama was relating her family’s experience so that she would not be confused with or accused of preaching to others. Her act to create relevancy and a safety zone for open dialogue are being attacked for publicity’s sake. Can we focus on the health of our children!

Who cares...

February 5th, 2010
12:32 pm

…just like being scared, if you are fat, you know it!

goawayobozo

February 5th, 2010
12:34 pm

she’s an idiot just like barry the “no birth certificate” politician with an agenda.
Next thing you know, we’ll have a tax on fat kids.

hey, catlady...

February 5th, 2010
12:36 pm

Dr. James R. Freeman (in Lawrenceville – Gwinnett Medical Center), though he does not use mid-wives he is the best around (though at 56, he may not be accepting anymore OB patients since the “middle of the night” routine is not fun anymore!

deedeebaldwin

February 5th, 2010
12:42 pm

KRW–I agree with you on the food stamps purchases! What if you are a mother who wants to make a difference with nutrition and her children, but the food stamps’ fatty & carb foods stretch longer than the fresh produce, fruit, lean meat purchase options! So, the disadvantaged are NOW NOT well fed but they can actually feel GUILTY for it!!

SRH

February 5th, 2010
12:44 pm

@James. According to the CDC “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%.1,2″. Okay -so 30% are not obese, but 20% are.That is huge number, don’t you think? Obese is also more than “just fat.: I am comfortable in saying that 30% are fat!!