There are so many sources of blame for obesity (child and/or adult) being pushed at us, who knows what’s what?

We can go to Jenny Craig, Dr.Oz, Les Mills, Weight-Watchers, the family GP, the hospital dietician, “ancient tribal medicine men”. We can examine statistics from all over the world, compare obesity and fatness by age, gender, marital status, race (for the PC brigade, “ethnicity”), nationality, income bracket, job status, education status, political “position” on the issue… and get no further understanding.

My understanding is … the human body has a certain number of fat cells – one source[1] says 25 to 30 billion, another[2] says 70 billion normally. “Your body has about 25 to 30 billion fat cells (adipocytes)”, and 50% of these are sitting in the third layer of skin –the Hypodermis”.

 Then, the places for fat cells: “There are three levels of fat in the body: two layers of subcutaneous fat (in the third skin layers: the deep layer and the superficial layer, separated by a membrane called fascia) and a third is known as visceral fat, the fat that is within the abdominal cavity and around the organs.”

After years of teaching, I’ve observed almost every combination of food consumed and activity spent there could be, in children aged 5 to 17. Energy in. Energy out. Take in more energy than you expend, and the surplus gets stored as “lipids” in the adipose cells, for future stores on which to draw.

I’m no scientist, medical or dietary; just a mother with three skinny to healthy offspring, married to a man who scrapes under the “danger” levels in all medical tests for diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, lung condition and who can, for all his size, out-run me down a sidewalk (speed and duration).

All my family forebears and their offspring have been slender, skinny, thin, svelte, lithe, lean, healthy…  And my siblings and I’ve been skinny almost all our lives (although I admit my elder sister and I are now middle-age almost-matronly in body shape – but not fat, just “cuddly”).

All of my hubby’s siblings and their offspring are of the well-rounded, cuddly, chubby, tubby, fat, obese shape. Although his Dad was tall and lean, his Mum was short and stubby. He and his siblings began life and spent early childhood normally healthy in size, shape and weight.

However, hubby as a youngster was classed by the visiting Plunket nurse as being too skinny and under-weight, so was packed off to a summer “health camp”, from which he returned slightly rounded out – only slightlier, but the damage was done. Their regime of cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, with mid-morning, mid-afternoon and supper snacks, had made the change. I believe he’s one of the many children in New Zealand of that era who are now as adults obese or overweight, after being fattened up at Plunket’s camps – growing more fat cells than the body should have.

A child will start life with the “right” amount of fat cells , growing the “normal” number as he  grows, up to puberty or so – unless he is over-eating (or is made or encouraged to overeat) without increased exercise levels. The over-eating growing child will fill his fat cells with the lipids – and if there are still lipids to be stored, the child’s body will grow more (excess) fat cells which will also store the lipids.

And adults who eat so much they reach more than 200% of their ideal body weight? Yep, they start growing those extra fat cells too.


Dieting without exercise to gain muscular strength (needed to maintain the exercise regime) will not lose fat cells. It will “empty” the fat cells that you have. Come off the diet or reduce the activity level, and all your basic fat cells and your surplus fat cells will again start storing lipids.

That’s the awful thing about obesity – especially child obesity. With extra fat cells, they haven’t got a damned chance of losing weight by dieting. Momma, Aunty and Nanna with their baking, sweet juices and sweeties; Daddy, Uncle and Grandpop with their sausage dogs, soft drinks and meat pies – they’re the ones making our children fat.

Yes I said “FAT”. There’s no point in being PC. FAT is what they are, and it’s FAT that may kill them.

So I’m hoping parent education should be set in place: ante-natal classes; NZ’s Plunket nurses, visits and clinics; senior high-school classes in health education … any channel possible to take away a chubby child’s Parents’ excuses for ruining their child’s health.

And in among the wisdom regarding nutrition versus diet, interests versus exercise, let there also be a word to parents (and to teachers) to Stop telling their children they’re “pretty” or “look nice” or have a “pretty outfit”. All these “compliments” do is teach the child that appearance – for which the child may not be responsible – is how to earn attention. God (or parents’ DNA, according to your belief) gave her the sweet dimple, him the curly hair, or her the cute button nose, him the dark brown eyes. Parents chose the clothing, spent the money on it all – and what store they buy from should not become a source of complimenting the child. Lawks, some parents even choose the clothing for that day and Dress the kid! Some children may have played no part at all in their appearance.

Compliment the child on dressing neatly, on brushing her hair nicely, for packing his own school bag. In other words, affirm what the child has actually done or chosen well.

I’ve heard teachers greeting the class and selecting some children only for “You look nice today” type of remark – and have seen the next child in line who doesn’t hear it. I’ve taught 11 and 12 year olds raised to think appearance is all, who greeted me (until they learned otherwise) with a simpering “I like your dress Mrs S,” or a sick-making “You look pretty today, Mrs S.”

They were expecting a reply along the lines of “Oh, thank you, and you look pretty too”.

Not from me, kiddo. I’d sometimes get so fed up of this sort of cloying, sickly-sweet remarks I’d answer something along the lines of “Damn, I was going for a monster (or ‘biker’, or ‘ghoul’) look. Now I’ll have to go home at lunch and change.”

Sooner or later they learned to laugh with me, and accepted I was never impressed by appearances. But write a decent essay, sketch a realistic portrait, research an effective report, deliver a stirring prepared speech – Do something well, or sweat trying – and then I’d give a compliment.

I do believe it is our obsession of having a “pretty” or “compliant” or “nice” child that makes us focus them on their appearance, and become low in esteem when they fall short of “our” obvious or inferred expectations.

Some parents allow a child in misery to feel better by giving him/her crisps, ice-cream, doughnuts, cookies – crap food. A child whining about being asked to do chores is allowed to grizzle all the way back to the television sofa or the computer or game console. Oh, good exercise – Not!

Fixing obesity starts with You – Mum and Dad – and the habits you encourage in healthy eating and physical activity. Your children should be outside daily, walking, playing, doing messages – come sun or rain. After all, no child is so sweet that they’ll dissolve in the rain!



How many fat cells in the human body? It depends from person to person, 70 billion is a roundabout number. Some obese people can have up to 300 billion though. Scientists argue back and forth if the number of cells actually increases as you get fatter, or if the fat cells just become larger.
Retrieved from http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_fat_cells_in_human_body  

The one thing you should know about fat is that once puberty is over, the number of fat cells you have is the number you have forever, unless you become extremely obese. Your fat cells only multiply if you reach 200% of your ideal body weight. Whether you are thin or fat, you have the same number of fat cells. They just shrink or plump up. Fat cells can expand enormously
Retrieved from: http://www.liposuction4you.com/anatomy.htm

Google Books: Nutrition and Diet Therapy 8th Ed, DeBrunne, Pinna & Whitney Retrieved from:

© Lynne McAnulty-Street, Rotorua NZ, 2011




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