PureInsight | March 11, 2007
Just recently, a story has brewed up in the U.K. about an 8-year-old
boy who, even at this tender age, weighs in at 200 pounds. I read on
the Web that this boy has "broken four beds, five bikes, and six toilet
seats." (Mind you, that came from a tabloid, but you get the idea.)
Apparently the boy in question cannot manage the 5-minute walk to
school without becoming breathless, and is bullied once he gets there,
if he gets there. It's said he misses classes for "weeks on end"
because of his poor health.
During the radio coverage, the mother of this child was interviewed,
and it was put to her that her son's plight was due to her feeding him
unhealthy food. She acknowledged this but then said something like: "He
won't eat healthy food. I have to feed him something, so I give him
what he likes."
The mother is being accused of abusing her son, and a pediatrician has suggested that she is "slowly killing him."
This sort of sensationalism does jar me a little, but I do believe he
has a point. Food is obviously essential to life, but it can also be
There are a myriad of reasons for how an 8-year-old boy can end up
weighing 200 pounds, but to my mind the fundamental problem lies in his
mother's attitude that her son won't eat healthy food and therefore is
compelled to feed him what he chooses.
Although a liberal at heart, I'm not sure it's such a good idea to let
children decide what they eat. I'm trying here not to sound like a
Victorian moralist, but discipline does seem to have gone out of the
window a bit over the years. Now, couple this with that the fact that
the food industry seems increasingly able to dream up seductive,
addictive, and taste bud perverting foods and, quite frankly, we have a
recipe for disaster.
Over the years, I've seen many children in my practice. Some are picky
eaters, but others, even from an early age, seem to have very broad
palates and, according to their parents, will eat anything. I'm always
keen to learn from others' experiences, so usually make a point of
asking parents what they think may be responsible for their child's
eclectic eating. Invariably, the answer I get is something like, "Well,
he/she has no choice." Basically, what this means is that the child is
offered food, and if he or she doesn't eat it, no alternatives are
Now, starting on this tack early on in a child's life is generally
easier than introducing such measures later on. However, even with
older children, while a more draconian eating regime will not go down
well to begin with, they usually adapt quite quickly. They have to.
My heart goes out to both him and his mother. Rather than offering this
mother nutritional advice (which she's probably had her fill of), my
suggestion is that she be helped to understand that giving her son free
reign to choose what he eats is probably at the root of the problem.
Taking a hard line here may be painful for both of them in the short
term, but I suspect will save them from far more pain down the line.
Dr. John Briffa is a London-based doctor, author, and health writer with an interest in nutrition and natural medicine.