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Jewish World Review August 16, 2005 / 11 Av 5765

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Concerns about Hollywood skinniness seem misplaced | We seem to be watching a horror show of too thin Hollywood actresses. Or at least that would be the observation of anyone who even skims the tabloids, talk shows or People Magazine.

Full disclosure: I never have time for watching the talk shows, but during the summer my beach and pool reading is full of that fun and fluffy stuff.

So I'm up to speed on how Lindsay Lohan, Mary Kate (or is it Ashley?) Olsen and Nicole Ritchie have all lost too much weight and are now rail thin.

For the record, I think every one of these suddenly slender gals is way too skinny. (I also think Lohan's blond hair is a disaster. I can say that; I had my own blond disaster, but not until I was 40.)

But the agonizing among the intelligentsia seems to be that getting too-thin is again "in" in Hollywood, and that's a problem for all those regular American girls who look to these stars as role models. Magazines are filled with hand-wringing over the way today's young girls and women fret over body image.

(These articles are always sandwiched between pictures of super-thin fashion models, but that's another story.)

There is some evidence that ever-younger kids, girls in particular, are worried that they weigh too much and, in rare cases, they do something weird or unhealthy about it.

But the real crisis is that America's youngsters — or more accurately their parents — don't worry enough about their weight, and so we have a crushing youth obesity problem. I can't help but note the irony of reading an article at the pool about the horror of these skinny actresses and what that impossible standard is doing to America's youth, then looking up and seeing one obese youngster after another parading by me, often with ice cream and french fries in hand.

Youth obesity rates have increased by staggering proportions (pun intended) in recent years and, like their parents, today's kids are getting fatter faster than ever before.

While 20 years ago 1 in 20 American kids and teens was obese, today that number is close to 1 in 6. It's alarming because obesity and being overweight at any age carries terrible health risks, and overweight kids who bring their weight problems into adulthood are unlikely to ever shed those excess pounds.

I don't think the too-thin actresses are the problem here. It's a range of things. That range includes overweight parents, too prevalent junk food and sodas, serving sizes that have grown grotesquely big in recent years and sedentary lifestyles.

It's also, I'm convinced, due to kids who rarely if ever hear "no — you can't" when it comes to just about anything in their lives. Whether it's venting every emotion at will, scooping up the latest videogame or having multiple servings of fries and ice cream at the pool, many of today's children are too used to pursuing and satisfying their every appetite. No matter how unhealthy those appetites are.

And though we can't say one causes the other, recent studies do show a strong correlation between behavior problems and overweight kids.

Whatever the reason, it seems our culture is loathe to address the reality of the matter. When childhood obesity is discussed, the focus tends to be on things like getting sodas out of school vending machines or helping overweight kids to just exercise more or to eat more healthfully. The first is fine, the second won't accomplish much if the child is still consuming bags of chips and the last is great. But too much food is still too much food, even when it's healthy food.

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The focus is rarely on helping children to learn to say 'no' to themselves, to too much food and their appetites, as well. Period.

In my pediatrician's office, I recently found some 15 different brochures on health and kids — everything from using sunscreen, to the dangers of lawn mower accidents. There was not one on the dangers of child obesity. Not one. My pediatrician told me that while she tires to help kids who have a problem, she genuinely has not seen good printed material on it — on one of the greatest health risks facing kids today.

That's a shame, because I know parents who struggle with this issue in their kids (I still have one I'm keeping an eye on) and would love sound help.

I do know one thing — for our pop-culture to spend time bemoaning the skinny Lindsay Lohans of Hollywood, instead of a dangerous and growing culture of childhood obesity, doesn't help anyone.

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"It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It"  

"Hart urges parents to focus...on instilling industry, frugality, sincerity and humility. She encourages parents to reclaim the word "no." Contrary to advice you may have received, you needn't give your child choices, or offer alternatives, or explain to little Suzie why she can't eat eight cookies right before bed-you're the parent, and sometimes you can just say no."

  —   Kirkus Reports

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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© 2005, Scripps Howard News Service