Experts Debate Labeling Children Obese
Monday, July 3, 2006; 12:19 AM
CHICAGO -- Is it OK for doctors and parents to tell children and teens they're fat? That seems to be at the heart of a debate over whether to replace the fuzzy language favored by the U.S. government with the painful truth -- telling kids if they're obese or overweight.
Labeling a child obese might "run the risk of making them angry, making the family angry," but it addresses a serious issue head-on, said Dr. Reginald Washington, a Denver pediatrician and co-chair of an American Academy of Pediatrics obesity task force.
"If that same person came into your office and had cancer, or was anemic, or had an ear infection, would we be having the same conversation? There are a thousand reasons why this obesity epidemic is so out of control, and one of them is no one wants to talk about it."
The diplomatic approach adopted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and used by many doctors avoids the word "obese" because of the stigma. The CDC also calls overweight kids "at risk of overweight."
Those favoring a change say the current terms encourage denial of a problem affecting increasing numbers of U.S. youngsters.
Under a proposal studied by a committee of the American Medical Association, the CDC and others, fat children would get the same labels as adults _ overweight or obese.
The change "would certainly make sense. It would bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world," said Tim Cole, a professor of medical statistics at the University College London's Institute of Child Health.
The existing categories are convoluted and "rather ironic, since the U.S. leads the world in terms of obesity," Cole said. "There must be an element of political correctness."
The debate illustrates just how touchy the nation is about its weight problem.
Obese "sounds mean. It doesn't sound good," said Trisha Leu, 17, who thinks the proposed change is a bad idea.
The Wheeling, Ill., teen has lost 60 pounds since March as part of an adolescent obesity surgery study at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"When you're young, you don't understand what obese means," Leu said. "I still don't understand it."