MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their comments and some savvy advice. We are going to continue our conversation about children and obesity.
It's a big deal. The Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly 1 in 5 school-age children is carrying excess weight. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 32 percent of children and adolescents are overweight or obese; almost 17 percent are obese.] We just heard from mom and author Dara-Lynn Weiss, who wrote about putting her daughter - her 7-year-old - on a strict diet, in the book "The Heavy." Now we want to get the perspective of two more moms. Dani Tucker is one of our regular moms contributor. She mother of two - a son and a daughter. She also works as a fitness instructor.
Anupy Singla is a mother of two daughters. She's a former journalist who's turned her hand to writing cookbooks. She's written two, including "Vegan Indian Cooking." Welcome back to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.
DANI TUCKER: Thank you.
ANUPY SINGLA: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So Dani, let me just start with you. What did you think of her approach? I know you're kind of our tough-love mom, and you kind of take no prisoners when it comes to things that you feel are in your children's best interests. What did you think of Dara-Lynn's approach?
TUCKER: I liked her approach. I think it worked for her and Bea. I like the fact that she shared it because everybody's not a tough mom, you know, like I am. So I think she did a great job in, you know, knowing her child and knowing what - what, you know, what she would need to do, too. I think that's important. You've got to know your child, because you can't deal with each of them the same way.
MARTIN: Anupy Singla, what about you? I know that you, as a journalist - I mean, you've written about this in one of your cookbooks; about the fact that in part, what led you to change careers is you were concerned about what your kids were eating, and you wanted to focus on nutrition and diet, and things of that sort. What's your response to Dara-Lynn's approach?
SINGLA: Yeah, you know, I really liked her approach, and I liked what she had to say about just having to do the difficult thing, as a parent. And sometimes, you have to be the tough one. And there's many days when I go through my days and my kids say, you know, you're the mean mom; or what Dara-Lynn had to say about other people thinking that she's crazy. I get that all the time.
This morning, my husband - when I was prepping for this - said you know, you're a zealot. And I had to say no, I'm just very passionate. And so I agreed with her approach - for her, and it might differ for other folks. But I like the fact that she owned it. She also talked about both sides, the positive aspects as well as the negative. But at the end of the day, she owned everything that she did.
MARTIN: I want to play a clip from a dad named Bob Freedman, who's trying to help his daughter Rachel lose weight. She's in third grade. She weighs 112 pounds. She's now on a complicated nutrition and exercise plan. And her dad recently spoke with WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza; that's our member station in Washington, D.C. And Kavitha's been doing a lot of reporting on the whole question of childhood obesity. And this is from their conversation. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF WAMU BROADCAST)
BOB FREEDMAN: Just two months ago, we had our first appointment where Rachel lost weight. Lois and I were actually in tears. We were so overwhelmed by four years' worth of work finally showing through.
MARTIN: So Dani, I have to ask you the same question I asked Dara-Lynn earlier; which is, do you think that this is an individual problem, or do you think that there's something bigger going on - no pun intended - with the country, where so many parents are fighting so hard to keep their kids at a healthy weight?
TUCKER: Yeah, I think it is something bigger going on. I mean, you know, you look at any fast food place that they walk into, and everything's super-sized. And you know, when everybody super-sizes - they never thought that, you know, most of the people that were going to take advantage of this was hungry kids, you know, after school or when you're not around your parents.
So I think we've super-sized everything and at the same time haven't taught them how to, you know, say no to super-size - I don't need it. So everything is super-sized, you know. All the wrong things are. And that's why the problem is bigger than, you know, what it should be.
MARTIN: Anupy, what do you think?
SINGLA: Well, you know, I think, too, everywhere you go - regardless of whether it's in America or outside of America - food is equated with love. I mean, food is love. When I feed my kids, I feel like I'm giving them love. And in this country, so much of that love is kind of embedded and baked. And so it's all about, you know, these cupcakes. But the moms at the schools, they give them out, and they think that they're giving their kids love, and other kids as well.
So I don't poo-poo why they're doing it. I just say look - I mean, there's got to be less of it. We're going a little overboard with how much we're exposing our kids to. And the thing is, when you're giving them all of that sugar, you're not balancing it with teaching them good, healthy eating practices at home and also giving them the good stuff.
So it's not about, you know, either/or. It's - I'm not telling my kids on a day-to-day basis, look, you cannot have that cupcake. What I'm saying is well, you can have half of it and then have, you know, a bowl of carrots, maybe some celery, and something to balance it all out. So it's all, for me, about balance.
MARTIN: We are continuing our conversation about "The Heavy." We spoke with author Dara-Lynn Weiss earlier. She's written a book about her efforts to keep her daughter at a healthy weight. I'm joined now by Dani Tucker, mom of two and a fitness instructor, and Anupy Singla, also a mom of two and a cookbook author.
But, you know, one of the things, Dani - I'll just ask you this - one of the things that Dara-Lynn Weiss was criticized for and - is - there are a lot of people think it's not just about the child, it's about her, about worrying that the child's weight somehow reflects poorly on her. And then people worry that the child - well, we talked about this and she talked about this in the book, so we're not talking about her behind her back - but that the child will grow up sort of being obsessed with her weight and with her appearance, and that's kind of not what we want. And I'm just interested in your take on this, particularly as a person who works in fitness.
TUCKER: I think that's a matter of their opinion and we all have them, you know, I mean and leave it at that, because either you obsess with her weight and her fitness now or she dies later. You know, and I think, you know, and when we're giving opinions about it we forget about that because this is a serious problem. You know, young people, the obesity problem in our young people is out of control and they're going into adulthood with serious health problems that we didn't have growing up because we were active, you know. And so I'm proud of her for not, you know, letting other people's opinions affect the way that she, you know - she did the best thing for daughter and to me she saved her life.
Many of our students, one of my biggest things for all 12 of our classes is that the parents work out with their kids 15 and under for free. So they don't have to pay for their 15 or unders to workout. Develop a good habit with them of exercising, working out, doing it together. So I mean, I think what she did was just - I'm really proud of her for what she did.
MARTIN: Anupy Singla, I want to go back to that. You say even your husband called you a zealot...
MARTIN: ...you know, at some point. I hope he was being, I hope he wasn't being mean about that. You know, but what about that? There are people who would say that when you spend this much energy on food and so forth that you're creating kind of its own problem; this kind of obsession with appearance and so forth. What do you say to that?
SINGLA: You know what? I say it's called parenting, you know, I'm teaching my kids how to navigate their day-to-day. And agreed, my husband did say that because, you know, as he grew up he would going get doughnuts on the weekend. And so for him he thinks when I say, well, no, not every weekend. Maybe once a month that I'm limiting your childhood somehow or I'm somehow taking the fun out of their day-to-day because he equates, you know, the doughnuts with the fun. And what I have to say is we have to start to replace the sugar treats with something else. We need to be rewarded with something that's different than just sugar on a day-to-day basis. And so he sees when I pull those things out of our day-to-day that somehow I'm making a statement about the way he was raised or the way his parents raised him.
I mean I had the same thing in my house. My parents just didn't know. They were immigrants to this country, but the balance in both our homes was that we always got a home-cooked meal. In the evening it was always Indian, it was always very healthy. So we had those guidelines. Many kids are growing up these days, in America especially, don't have that second part of the equation, so when you take that part of it out it so much harder for them to navigate as well. And I have to say I fight every day against same thing that Dara-Lynn was talking about. We go to parties and I really do take that soda can, that little even that small one out of my kid's hand and go, you know what? It's just not appropriate for you to be drinking soda at a birthday party. And I get the looks and the moms say things to me and guess what? I call it parenting, at the end of the day.
MARTIN: OK. Dani's giving you big ups for your...
MARTIN: ...she's like look, Dani has no problems with no. But, Dani, I have to ask you though, because you have a boy and a girl - a young man, I should say, and a young lady - was a different? Was it different trying to figure out the whole diet, nutrition, fitness piece for the boy versus the girl?
TUCKER: Oh, most definitely because, you know, Devon(ph) always did his own thing. He loved the super athletic body, you know, he was always playing...
MARTIN: He loves sports.
TUCKER: ...sports. Yeah. So he was very active, not an ounce of body fat, you know. And with their birthdays being both in June they would always go for their physicals together. So it would always be the same thing, you know, this guy is an Adonis and Imani(ph) needs to lose five, 10 pounds. So, you know, we always dealt with that.
MARTIN: But why is that? Do you think it was fitness? Or is it just that there weren't as many athletic outlets for her because she just wasn't as interested in it? Why do you think that is? I mean, that's one of the reasons I'm so interested in this is they're close in age, raised in the same house by the same mom, presumably feeding them the same things and with one it's a struggle, with one it never was.
TUCKER: Bottom line, I blame her father.
TUCKER: Because he was almost - he was active as I was. We were always doing something and Imani was a little more lazier. And, you know, that's why, you know, she doesn't play the video games because I don't allow it because I want her to be more active. So it was really in their activity. She chose to do the computers and the games, where as he chose to do more of the active things, and that's what do more of what I supported. And to me dad supported more about, let her like chill and let her watch TV and let her...
MARTIN: Oh, I thought you were blaming the genetic component. I thought you were saying it was the genes that...
TUCKER: I'm blaming everything on him right now.
MARTIN: Oh, you're blaming, because he's not here so you can blame him for everything. OK.
TUCKER: 'Cause he's not here to defend himself.
TUCKER: No. But so I had to just....
MARTIN: Just as long as you're honest.
TUCKER: Yes. So I just had to get her a little more active, you know? And now that we've got that balance because, you know, now she's got, you know, working out with mom in a class and then grandma's there too, so she has the family aspect, everybody doing it. Also, she's being more active. Her friends are being more active, she's actually bringing them to class now. So it was just a point about her being a little more active and that helped her start to lose the weight. She's lost 25 pounds. So I'm very - we're very proud of her. But she made the decision to be more active - with a little pushing from mom.
MARTIN: Anupy Singla, a final thought from you? What would you say to people who want to improve their children's diet, maybe their family's diet but just, you know, find it really difficult? As you pointed out yourself, it was kind of hard to get used to cooking, especially when you are working as they journalist, to getting back to cooking that home-cooked meal every day and stuff like that. Any advice there, as briefly as you can?
SINGLA: Sure. Set a good example. You got to start doing it yourself. Pop on my blog on "ChicagoNow," which is the Tribune platform. My blog post today was: "Don't Trouble My Kids with Your Kindness." It's all about replacing the rewards, you know, the sugary rewards with something that is maybe a great salad or a treat to go out and eat a healthy meal at a restaurant when you go out. So, just kind of changing your mindset. Also play games with them, food games. I always did that with my kids when they were little. Have a food encyclopedia close by that you can open up and say, hey, I'm eating this sweet potato but this is why I'm eating it. Explain it to them. Make that connection between food and health.
MARTIN: Anupy Singla is a mom of two. She's the author of two cookbooks, including "Vegan Indian Cooking." She was kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Dani Tucker is one of our regular contributors to our parenting panel. She's a mom of two and a fitness instructor. She was here with me in Washington, D.C.
Thank you both.
TUCKER: Thank you.
SINGLA: Thanks, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.