The Quest For A Thin Baby: How Far Some Parents Will Go

First there was the airbrushing of babies in magazines and now parents are starving newborns so they don’t become “fat babies”. What is this country coming to?

We all know that being overweight is unhealthy and can put a person at risk for medical illness. Being too thin, however, is also not healthy and often not attainable. Most of us were not meant to be a size zero. And those who do manage to starve themselves to this size, wind up regaining the weight. Yes, there are some people who are naturally skinny and they can be healthy. But most people really have to work to get (and stay) at that size, often using unhealthy methods. Society’s obsession with emaciation is leading to many adverse side effects.

Consider the case pending against Brittainy and Samuel Labberton for attempting to starve their newborn daughter to the point of clinical emaciation. They were much more concerned about the child’s looks than the child’s health! When the baby gained some (much-needed) weight during a hospitalization, Brittainy complained “’Oh my God, she’s fat’ and ‘I have a fat baby,’” according to Senior Deputy Prosecutor Carol Spoor. The baby’s dad was not better. He complained to detectives that his 9-month old daughter had “gained so much weight that now she is fat,” according to court documents. In fact, during a visitation after she was taken to a foster home, they gave the infant a bottle filled with a laxative to help remove some of the weight gained since the child’s removal from the house.

I see more subtle cases of this in my office, on a regular basis. I have seen mothers bring in normal-weight teen girls, complaining that they are too heavy. One mom even forced her daughter to drop her jeans so I could see “how disgusting her huge thighs are”. These moms are never pleased when I refuse to treat their daughters and instead I tell them that they are “healthy and beautiful.” Can you imagine what this does to a young girl’s self-image? My job is to help overweight kids get to a normal body weight, not to help young girls starve themselves to live up to some unrealistic expectation from their mothers!

The truth is that babies, children, and even adults NEED to have some body fat! The human brain is not fully developed at birth; during the first years of life, fat is used to nourish the brain and allow for proper development. Kids are supposed to have fat on their bodies, as well. Unlike adults, children are still growing and need sufficient calories and nutrients to do so. Even adults need some fat on their bodies. We were not meant to be stick-thin. A person considered “normal-weight” by the medical community would be considered enormous by Hollywood standards. Admiring pin-thin models and celebrities only leads our children to have more self-doubts and lower self-esteem. Instead of focusing on getting skinny, we should discuss getting healthy. There is a happy medium.

Children who feel accepted by their parents are more likely to feel secure, do better in school, and simply be happier. As parents, we must do all we can to nurture a positive sense of self in our children. Let’s stop obsessing about cellulite and a few extra pounds and instead focus on keeping weight in a healthy range, not too heavy and not too skinny. As my mom always says, “Everything in Moderation!”

Joanna Dolgoff MD is a pediatrician who specializes in child and adolescent weight management. She is the creator of Dr. Dolgoff’s Weigh.

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