1989 / 2月
Sophia Lin /photos courtesy of Sinorama and courtesy of Tung's Foundation /tr. by Phil Newell
"The weather's getting colder, and my appetite seems to grow daily. Mother prepares some low-fat high-fiber biscuits, but what good are these?"
"Heavens! I've put on another pound in the last week. All that effort in the summer, all for nought."
These are the heartfelt words of Wu Wei-hsin, an overweight child. These are also the concerns of mothers of overweight children. In growing up, kids need a lot of nutritious foods, so how is children's weight loss different from adult dieting? What should you look out for?
Last summer, Wu Wei-hsin, a fourth grader at the Tachih elementary school, took part in a special "children's nutrition summer camp." In fact, this was a lesson in losing weight arranged by the Tung's Foundation.
Tan Ko-lee, former lecturer in the Department of Health and Nutrition at the Taipei Medical College, says that survey data shows that adults and kids have different views about being fat. Over 90% of the "very overweight" adults said that they cared very much whether others said they were fat. But 94% of the kids at the camp said they didn't care at all about their weight or others' opinions. Says Ms. Tan, "For most adults the decision to lose weight is their own, but for most kids it's 'mother's orders.'"
Tan Ko-lee points out that most adults in their twenties or thirties have experienced the psychological pressures or threats to health of being obese: trouble making friends with the opposite sex, or problems of high blood pressure and so on. These create urgent desires to slim down. But most fat children are pampered at home, can get along OK with schoolmates, and their health problems are not yet life-threatening. They feel there is no loss in maintaining the status quo.
"The motivation and willingness of our little friends to lose weight is not strong," says Hsu Hui-yu, the main figure in charge of the nutrition camp. The original motivators--the family--must have patience and a long-term commitment, only then can weight loss be effective.
According to medical research, adult weight gain is due mostly to an increase in weight of fat cells. But for growing kids, weight increase also includes protein for muscle development and minerals for a healthy skeleton.
"Therefore, aside from paying attention to the calories required for basic sustenance, and those used up in activities, you must also add in the calories needed in growing, so you can't just reduce calories indiscriminately," says Hong Chien-teh of the Yang Ming Medical College. Based on his experience in the weight loss clinic, he notes that adults can tolerate periods of hunger. A reduction of 500 calories a day for a week is not likely to harm normal organ functions. But if you do the same with children, their muscle and protein will be expended, slowing their rate of growth and development.
So how much should the weight-conscious child eat daily?
Tan Ko-lee says that dieting doesn't mean a child has to go hungry all day; it means paying attention to balanced nutrition. For example, carbonated beverages easily turn to fat and should be limited; green vegetables and fish--low in calories and rich with nutrition--should be eaten more often.
But kids' mouths are not so easily tamed. Adults have to constantly explain and remind.
The method used at the nutrition camp is to take kids to a supermarket and teach them what can be eaten with no problem, and substitutes that taste almost the same, like low fat milk.
Most children don't especially like green veggies, so a nutrition teacher tells them the vegetables include a magic thing called "fiber," which sweeps all the unclean things and excess fat out of their system. Making things interesting not only leaves a deep impression, it even gets kids to try things quite happily.
And as for things that should be proscribed, they need a substantial reason to wipe out their preconceptions. For example, they may be told that it will take three hours of exercise to work off all that fat and starch in a hamburger. Bringing up the dreaded word "exercise" can make most chunky kids lose a little of their appetite.
Chubby kids think, "It's not that I don't like exercise, but if you were shaped like me, you can understand why I'd rather lay on the couch and eat."
There is a medical reason why exercise is so distasteful for the overweight. Dr. Hong explains that as the stomach bulges, it presses up the diaphragm, which interferes with the normal functioning of the heart and lungs. Air exchange in the lungs is inadequate, and circulation of blood poor. Even a little exercise can be exhausting.
Nevertheless, the biggest key is whether or not exercise works. "Intense exercise over a short time just consumes hepatine in the liver and muscles. Only moderate exercise over a relatively longer time can consume fat," notes Dr. Huang Po-chao, Dean of the National Taiwan University Medical College. Little friends wishing to lose weight must exercise for twenty or thirty minutes at least three times a week to control body weight. However, for those more than forty percent overweight, because the strain on foot joints is so severe, it is best not to do sprinting, boxing, or other intense exercise, in order to avoid injury.
Hsu Hui-yu suggests that there is no harm in parents accompanying the kids for strolls. When taking the bus, get off at a different stop than your destination and walk. You can see some different things in the city and get some exercise, all without setting aside a special time or place.
"Children can think of a lot of things more interesting than exercise. And adults are often so busy they let the kids avoid following through," notes Dr. Hong. "In fact," says the mother of Tai Han-sheng, who helped her son lose nine kilos at the summer camp, "when the child is on a diet, it makes everybody in the family learn about health and lifestyle." She never expected the whole family to benefit.
When her son began at the camp, Mrs. Tai recorded every day in detail everything he ate, making sure his diet was balanced. Having cooked for her family for more than ten years, she finally learned how to buy low-calorie, high-nutrition food, and to prepare it with much less fat frying. The family rarely ate out, but ate together and even went out for walks together after dinner. "As a result the middle-aged, 'prosperous' Mr. Tai lost nearly ten kilos," relates Mrs. Tai.
Wu Wei-hsin confesses. "The weather is colder every day, and my appetite gets bigger and bigger. Sometimes my mouth just won't wait, and I sneak into the fridge when Mom's not home." To lose weight requires patience and time. One of the nannies at the camp advises the kids, "Even in the cold of winter, when you are doing battle with your body weight, absolutely never use the phrase 'I'll just try it; it doesn't matter.' You must say, 'I will certainly succeed.'"
Could you put them on a diet before they have their picture taken?
Otherwise they won't all fit in!
Wu Wei-hsin going at some of his grandmother's specially made "fat remov er" --green vegetables and chicken noodle soup. (photo by P. J. Chen)
A simple blood test can tell an overweight child if he/she has too much cholesterol or other potential illnesses. (photo courtesy of Tung's Foundation)
Teachers from the Tung's Foundation Nutrition Summer Camp take their students to the supermarket to introduce all kinds of food, and teach them how to choose high-nutrition, low-calorie items. (photo courtesy of Tung's Foundation)
Aside from restricting edibles, frequent exercise is the only other way to drop excess poundage. (photo courtesy of Tung's Foundation)
Fruits and vegetables are not only low in calories, they are high in vitamins and fiber--highly recommended for the unpleasantly plump. (photo by Vincent Chang)
Using gym time at school for racing around is something kids can do comf ortably and happily. (photo by Arthur Cheng)