More than 23 million children and teens in the U.S. are obese or overweight, but putting a child on a diet can be a delicate subject. NBC's Matt Lauer reports and Dara-Lynn Weiss, author of "The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet," talks about the controversy she caused by writing about helping her 7-year-old lose weight.
The Manhattan mother who caused an uproar last year with a controversial Vogue article about the strict diet she had her young, obese daughter follow says that her now 9-year-old little girl has stuck to her healthy lifestyle and is doing great.
“She’s doing fantastically well,” Dara-Lynn Weiss told Matt Lauer on TODAY Tuesday. “We’re very happy to report she’s maintained a healthy weight. She’s really made positive changes in how she approaches this issue.”
In the April issue of Vogue, Weiss wrote about her daughter, "Bea" (not her real name), who at age 7, was 4-foot, 4-inches tall and weighed 93 pounds. At those measurements, the girl would have had a body-mass index of 24.2, considered obese for a child, according to a child and teen BMI calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the article, Weiss wrote of a girl who constantly complained of hunger and of her own public efforts to keep her daughter on her diet.
Weiss faced criticism for the public nature of her efforts. She wrote of the times she had heated discussions with her daughter at parties about why the girl couldn't have both cake and cookies. Weiss wrote of deriding her daughter for eating an inappropriate snack at a friend's house, and of denying her dinner after consuming hundreds of calories at her school’s “French Heritage Day." After a year of diet and exercise, Bea grew 2 inches and lost 16 pounds to reach a healthy weight.
Since then, Bea has gained an appropriate amount of weight as she’s grown, said Weiss, who acknowledges her own longtime struggle with food and weight. “It was interesting, after spending a year trying to always lose weight to have a year where it was healthy to gain weight,” she said of her daughter.
Weiss said she understood the criticism of her public efforts to keep her daughter from eating certain foods, rather than just letting it happen and dealing with it at home, and says she doesn’t have to do it as often now.
“I didn’t come to this situation saying, ‘Well, we’re just going to police this in every public situation,’ but as the parent of an obese child you become aware of how frequently they’re presented with challenges,” Weiss said. “And at age 7, they can’t necessarily be responsible for responding appropriately.
“I don’t have to intervene as much because she has learned limits,” she said Tuesday.
In her new memoir, “The Heavy: A mother, a Daughter, A Diet,” Weiss writes of her own outlook on food and weight, and says she failed to get her daughter’s weight under control for longer than she should have.
“Though the rest of my family had a seemingly healthy relationship to food, I was constantly battling weight gain and asking my mother to lock up the peanut-butter jar and the omnipresent box of Entenmann’s pecan danish ring,” according to an excerpt Lauer read on the air Tuesday. “Whether I weighed in at 105 pounds or 145 pounds hardly mattered - I hated how my body looked and devoted an inordinate amount of time trying to change it.”
Weiss acknowledges her own issues kept her from dealing with her daughter’s weight for years.
“It was an extremely intimidating hurdle for me personally to know that I kind of came to this issue with this baggage and it kept me from intervening for many more years than was probably appropriate because I was so afraid I was going to bring my own issues to bear on Bea,” she said.
She defended her issues with food, saying "a lot of women share them."
“I would say the majority of women have some nervous relationship to food and some dissatisfaction with their body," Weiss said.
“And at the same time these women are moms and they have to figure out how to teach their children to eat well and to love their bodies when they’re healthy and to help them when they’re not healthy,” she said.
Her book comes as about one-third of the nation’s children are obese or overweight, and as “The Biggest Loser,” NBC’s weight-loss reality program, features young teenager contestants for the first time.
Still, one expert says parents need to use caution in how they speak to their kids about being overweight.
“When a child’s weight is compromising their health, a parent is going to go into action, but we need to be very careful with what we say and what we do,” child development specialist Robyn Silverman told TODAY. “We don’t want a child to look at food as the enemy.”