Childhood obesity: 10 of your stories

A recent piece on childhood obesity prompted many emails from readers about their experiences of being overweight as children.

What is obese?

  • Morbidly obese - BMI of 40 and over for adults
  • Obese - BMI of 30 and over
  • Overweight - BMI of 25
  • Fixed thresholds not applied to children

Source: WHO and NHS

Childhood obesity is on the rise and the health risks for obese children may be even greater than previously estimated, new research suggests.

The finger of blame is often pointed at parents, but obesity experts say it is wrong to just blame them.

Causes range from a lack of education about food, limited cooking skills and limited money to buy healthier food to longer working hours and marketing campaigns for junk food aimed at kids.

But what do people who were overweight as children think? What caused their obesity?

Readers' stories

Claire as a child Claire as a child

This starts with "clean your plate" syndrome. I have seen mothers force the last bit of baby food out the jar down their baby so as not to "waste" it. My own mother put down huge portion sizes and made us carry on eating long after we were full. I was once punished severely by my grandfather for not eating the last morsel on my plate. I was dragged screaming across the room and locked into the garden room, denied any pudding and isolated from my family, I was three years old. This means I was taught to force down huge portion sizes and to carry on eating even when I was so full I felt sick. I have struggled all my life with this problem and I now at 43 I weigh 28 stone. There are times I wish I was dead. Claire, Nottingham

Chris Ward

I as always overweight as a child - back in the 1950s and 1960s - despite the efforts of my mum to help me diet. By the time I was 18 I weighed over 21 stone and hated it. I then got engaged and was challenged to lose weight for the wedding. I was married a year later at just under 13 stone! Motivation overcame my "programming". Over the years I have battled with keeping my weight under control. The legacy of my early years, I believe. I'm now nearly 61 and in the last 18 months have lost nearly 6 stone and am happy at 16 stone (I'm 6'2" and large framed). When I was in my teens I was in a very small minority of obese people, by current standards I would have just blended in. Sadly, my elder daughter and her husband are both in line for gastric bypass operations. Why? Chris Head, Hayle, Cornwall

Brian Denham

From about seven through to my mid-teens I was considered fat by my peers and suffered a lot by not being chosen for football teams etc. This picture is of me aged about nine or 10 I think. I had a pretty low opinion of myself despite the cheerful look. Looking at my photographs, I was nowhere near as fat as the children we are worried about today and there were very few children like that at the time. I blamed my mother who I guess was trying to compensate for the wartime and rationing shortages. She would feed me stuff like "Virol" (a malt extract) and lots and lots of dairy foods. Of course, I'm talking about the late 1940s and the 1950s. When I was 56 I became diabetic and I believe overdosing on sugar from childhood was the cause. Brian Denham, Colyton, Devon

Linda

The article echoed many of the concerns I have had with my own daughter, who is almost 10. I have had weight problems all my life, mostly tied to comfort eating. I was determined to help her get a good start in life with healthy eating that was never encouraged by my parents. Over the years, as I gave her occasional treats or others gave them to her, she wanted and would pester and tantrum. Now she is older she gets pocket money and can visit the shops. I encourage her to save her money or to buy non-food items, but she often comes home with sweets. On occasion she has been banned from going to the shops and I have threatened numerous times to stop her pocket money altogether if she keeps buying sweets. Nothing seems to help. It seems like we fight about food almost every day and they are stressful, draining battles. Linda, Leicestershire

Jason Ward

I started gaining excess weight when I started school in 1975. I became a victim of single parent syndrome. This is where a parent compensates for things with food. Not only was I eating huge meals by the time I was eight, I was also very insecure about food and to this day am a compulsive eater. If it's there and it's free, I'll eat it. People think it's funny, but you really don't have control. I'd go into a shop to buy a sausage roll. Just one. Honestly, without control I'd ask for three. Perishable foods that don't freeze well are a no no. You eat rather than waste them. This all leads to binge eating. I can go a day or two and eat nothing at all, but then off come the reigns and I'd eat for England. Result, damaged metabolism, low self esteem, eat for comfort. It's a vicious circle. It's actually worse knowing what you're doing wrong and feeling powerless to change it. Jason Ward, Southsea

Kat

I am considered overweight. I am 5ft and last Christmas weighed 60kg (9st 6lbs). To some extent I blame my parents for my eating habits. I don't remember eating salads or having steamed vegetables as a child. A main meal would, with no exception, consist of meat, often deep fried, rice, potatoes or pasta. All the things one should eat with caution. Vegetables were things to make a soup or a casserole richer. Exercise was considered a "thing you do during PE", but because I was raised in Hungary I wasn't really able to do any kind of sport. The only thing I could do - and the only thing I actually enjoyed - was gymnastics, so I can honesty say that I grew up on carbs and doing almost no exercise. As an adult I always crave carbohydrates, a fresh loaf of bread can make me change my route to work. However I am in control now. I choose what to put on my plate, I go to the gym and I do yoga. Kat Kiss, Hungary, now London

Maria Jones

I started to put on weight by the time I was seven. There was no obesity in the family and I played out of doors getting plenty of exercise. I was encouraged not to overeat, though surrounded by energetic brothers I liked to compete with them in everything, including meal sizes. I weighed nine stone when I was nine and was quite proud to be the heaviest girl in the class, but ashamed when I was 13 stone at 13. I've had weight/eating problems ever since. I was premature at birth and my mother said she had to encourage me to take milk. I think problems can start as early as this. Later we were encouraged to eat what was on our plate. I do not blame my mother for my obesity. She encouraged me to eat less, provided low-calorie foods and wanted me to join the local tennis or swimming clubs. I wouldn't because I was embarrassed. Adults and children often made hurtful remarks which lead to lack of confidence. Maria Jones

Lisa Temperley

My mother blamed me for being overweight because I ate everything she gave me. The fact that she used to give me 250g of sweets each morning going to school from primary school and insisted I ate everything on my plate didn't occur to her that might be the problem. She eventually put me on a diet when I was very badly bullied at school. It led to a life of dieting, eating disorders, very negative feelings about myself and food. I'm 50 now and more relaxed about food and myself and slim 'ish'. My mum loved me but couldn't express it except through food, when I asked her to look after my three cats within six months they were obese and within two years all were dead! It was then I realised, at the age of 35, that I wasn't the problem, she was! Lisa, France

I was an overweight child, teenager and adult, often bullied, with exceptionally low self-esteem and depression for many years. I went on various diets which failed and I lost/gained the same seven stone over several years (size 10 to size 24). I finally had a "light bulb moment" and spent several months working through my emotional associations with food - an exceptionally difficult and painful journey which opened up a lot of discomfort in many areas of my life. But I now have a much better relationship with food, and my parents. They did what they thought was the best for me growing up, but I believe they had many emotional issues that they "dealt with" using food and passed down to me in the process. I don't blame my parents at all, but I do feel happy that I have broken this cycle and am able to help educate my parents with their emotional connection with food. I personally think there are a lot of psychological issues underlying nearly all weight issues and for many, the journey to resolve it at this level is simply far to painful. I've used all the excuses under the sun for my weight in the past, and at an early stage was blissfully unaware of what actually turned out to be the underlying cause. As a child and teen, for me, food equalled love and comfort. A painful journey later, food equals fuel and my relationships and self-esteem are so much better for having done the hard work. Rebecca, Stevenage

I was a fat child. I was also a very active child, participating in many organised sports. I didn't overeat or shun vegetables, quite the opposite. I was always quite tall for my age, as well as being fat. My parents were thin. My mother was a recovered anorexic but had a propensity for binge eating all her adult life. I have not and do not binge eat. I do not blame my parents for my fatness. I was given well-balanced meals. What I do blame my parents for, however, is the way I was humiliated, berated and treated as "less than" because of my size. I was encouraged and applauded in my sportiness until it became clear I was not losing any weight from it. No matter my educational successes (and, now with a PhD, there were many along the way) or sporting achievements, I was such a disappointment to my mother. Now, at over 40, I am a fat adult, and every bit as active as I was as a child. I have had my thyroid function tested more than I care to mention - always normal. My BP, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are perfect. I cook from scratch and I'm still fond of veggies. I do not drink or smoke. I am perfectly healthy, which seems to baffle many a medical professional. I do not blame anyone for my weight, but I can only work with what I've been given. And I can't be the only one. Janine, Wiltshire

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