When I was growing up there was rarely an overweight child. Occasionally someone would be plump, but I can't remember anyone in my class being fat. However, TV wasn't around until I was eight years old, and the streets were a safe place to play. We had plenty of P.E. in school and we played hard after school. Even as we grew older and had more homework, physical activity was a major part of our lives. And there wasn't so much junk food around yet.
Today, the combination of processed junk food and the lack of physical activity is a deadly combination regarding weight. This is quite obvious to everyone. What is not so obvious is the underlying factor that causes children to use food addictively.
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The underlying cause of all addictive behavior is the avoidance of pain. Unfortunately, many children have a lot of pain to avoid. While this has always been true, what is also true is that the junk food, TV and video games, texting and computer messaging, and the variety of drugs on the streets, were not available when I was growing up. Children today can easily turn to processed food, drugs and screen time to avoid their pain.
The problem is that they don't know any other way of managing their pain. This is because their parents don't know healthy ways of managing their pain. Chances are the parents of overweight children are not role-modeling healthy ways of dealing with pain.
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Let's take ten-year-old Sara as an example. Sara is overweight and addicted to sweets and refined carbohydrates. Sara's father, Robert, is very overweight. He doesn't exercise at all and sits in front of the TV all evening, drinking beer. While Sara's mother, Deborah, does not use food addictively, and does get some exercise, she is addicted to yelling as her way of handling her pain. And her yelling is mostly directed at her only child, Sara. In addition, Deborah's life is totally focused around Sara. Having no real life of her own, her eyes are always on her daughter. In Deborah’s eyes, Sara is a reflection of her, and so she has to be perfect. Her imperfections trigger Deborah's anger, which creates much stress for Sara.
Sara feels invaded and controlled by her mother, and resists Deborah's control in a way that drives Deborah crazy—she overeats. Thinness is important to Deborah, and she desperately wants Sara to look the way she "should" look. But there is nothing Deborah can do to control Sara's eating, and the more she tries, the worse it gets.