Sue - Interview 41

Age at interview: 45
Brief Outline: Sue, mother of 12 year old Alex, thinks that Alex would benefit from losing weight and that something must be done now, but is reluctant to make too much of an issue out of it. Instead, she is making more time for Alex and for them to exercise together.
Background: Sue is separated and a mother of 2 children aged 12 and 15.Ethnic background: White European.

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Sue is the mother of 12 year old Alex who she describes as confident and outgoing. Sue says Alex has been overweight ever since she was a baby, and has always been distinctly bigger than other children. Sue has also noticed difference between Alex and her older brother' while Alex would always eat as much as she could of the foods she was given, especially anything sweet, Sue would worry that her son wasn’t eating enough.
Looking back, Sue says she can identify things that she did that might have contributed to Alex’s weight issues. For example, when Alex was little, Sue would give her food as a way of managing her behaviour when they were out. She also reflects on the role of other family members, specifically Alex’s grandmother and father. She says Alex’s grandmother uses food as a treat, and feeds them processed ready meals, while Sue’s ex-husband finds it difficult to say no to his daughter. This has led to tension between Sue and her mother and ex-husband.
Sue says her daughter has a fear of being judged about her weight, and that this has led her to stop playing sports at school. Alex attends a public all-girls school, and Sue says the pupils are all obsessed with their weight and body image – although her daughter has told her that no-one talks about these issues. Sue is also concerned about her daughter’s emerging sexuality and choice of provocative clothes, something she has noticed as a trend amongst bigger girls.
Although Sue suspects that Alex may just fall into the obese category and thinks that she would benefit from losing about a stone in weight, she does not weigh her because she doesn’t want to make too much of an issue out of it. Alex, however, wants to go on a diet and has asked her mum to take her to WeightWatchers. Sue is reluctant about this, and has been trying to convince Alex to increase her exercise and watch what she eats until she grows out of her weight. Sue is worried about her daughter’s future health and thinks that something must be done now before she reaches her late teens. For this reason, Sue has decided to put time aside to help Alex by having family time, family meals, and taking exercise together. Sue says that it’s been difficult to fit things in because she works full-time, and her and the children are involved in activities most evenings of the week.
Despite her professional background and training, Sue has found it difficult to know what to do for the best with Alex. She believes that enough isn’t being done by schools, PCTs (Primary Care Trusts), and doctors. She recommends that other parents get as much information as possible and seek out support from other parents on discussion forums on the internet.

Sue thinks that her daughter’s weight is due to her large appetite and her grandmother's attitude to food.

My daughter’s always been overweight she was born quite a big baby, not massive but quite big 8.3. And went onto, she was breastfed to start with quickly that was not enough and went onto formula quite early and got permission from the doctors to put her on the follow on milk very fast. Has always been very, very attached to food from, literally from birth it seems. What could be part of that actually, which was an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about recently since we started talking about what could have been the start of that because my experience with her, her entire life has been around food. When she was, when she was very, very small she had a reflux problem, the muscle at the top of her stomach didn’t, hadn’t properly formed, which apparently happens quite often, and if she was laid flat after food she would be sick and so for the first year and a half of her life she spent with the prettiest bibs you could imagine, we had a full array of bibs [laughs] and she literally rotated around them she could project-, projectile vomit also she is very, very good at that as well. So basically we had a lot of issues with food right from very early on but it settled down reasonably, it was copable that kind of thing. Also a very low patience threshold even as a small child and as a small child, I can see it now how I built into it when we were out shopping or something like that she was quite a fractious child and would cause mayhem basically. And I would basically keep things with me healthy things but nevertheless food and as we were going round I would, it would be a drip feed to keep her quiet basically as we were shopping and that kind of thing.
So looking back on it now you think oh you can see the sort of seeds of that right from the very beginning and take your responsibility for that. She also had very definite tastes from a very early age, she’s a very, very strong character, she’s a very, very strong character and very early on she knew exactly what she wanted and what she didn’t want and what she would have and what she won’t have.
As I say got a very strong personality very loud when she wants to be, actually she’s very loud full stop [laughs] when she doesn’t want to be she doesn’t know the meaning of quiet, well she doesn’t have an indoor button. And very early on we saw problems with her, she was a chubby child, she has an elder brother who’s three and a half years older than her, who was always a lot more active as a child right from the beginning he was very, very active right from the beginning, was the kind of child who…  in retrospect was more like, in inverted commas, you know, more “normal” if you like in terms of eating habits, ate sometime didn’t other times and sometimes you’d get worried because he wasn’t eating enough, never had that problem with my daughter, she always wanted to eat, she could always eat.
The other issue that came up about the same time is that my mother, who had retired, I was running a market research company at that point, and my mother who had retired spent a lot of time with us. When I had a big project she would come down and stay with us for literally months on end. She and my daughter have a very close relationship, did right from the very beginning, they just are very, very close. And my mother being of the war generation basically equates love and food, that’s it the two go hand in hand that’s all she’s interested in basically. And she, to be honest, we have had more fights and run-ins over the years than I care to, it’s on a regular basis and still is because she will, she would, she doesn’t understand that food, you don’t give food as treats and I picked, I got that fairly early on with daughter because I realised fairly early on that this was not a good thing to be happening. 

Sue couldn’t find an exercise class that would take her daughter so has decided to go swimming with her twice a week.

So what we’ve done is these blocks of time in my diary are, she said to me that she wanted to do some exercise so I thought okay, I’m going to find some exercise groups. There aren’t any, not for her age, so I said what about Aquasize, because she quite likes swimming, so I rang around all the groups who do the exercise in the pools, she’s too young.
She doesn’t want to do like the sports, I think it’s called Sports Culture or something, there’s something recent nearby where they go on a sort of Saturday morning and they do lots of different sports, she doesn’t want to do them because she’ll stand out. She hates to be the youngest, the eldest, the fattest, the slowest, the biggest, any extreme in anything, she just wants to be in the middle and blend until she’s comfortable and then she wants to lead it, but for this she will not even, she won’t even, she won’t even look at it.
So what we’ve decided to do because I couldn’t find a group, I couldn’t find any exercises class for her, so I thought okay I’m going to have to go with her and the plan was to find an exercise group and I’d go with her and then we’d see if maybe we could get a couple of friends to come as well, but none of them will take her at her age, I think it’s health and safety and insurance probably, I’m guessing. But that’s frightening, that is frightening.
Her school don’t do an awful lot of after school activities, she’s at public school but the one she’s at doesn’t, sport is way low on its list, it really is, and while she does games at school it’s no more than the state schools do and certainly not enough, nowhere near enough. So we’ve decided to go swimming so I now have blocked two, two nights in my diary where straight after school we go swimming , or we’re going swimming, we’re actually starting tomorrow with that one.  

Sue's GP said that her daughter didn't need to diet. She is concerned that doctors are only...

Yep I have, I’ve spoken, actually I’ve done it via the back door actually last time she went to see the doctor, she actually got mastitis, which at 12 was very unusual so I was keeping quite a close eye on that.  I spoke to the doctor afterwards and the doctor just said “Well, you know, she’s still growing, you know, it could change,” I thought okay, fine fair enough, it was a female doctor. I spoke to the school nurse who I actually know very, very well  and I asked her what she thought, I asked her what she thought and she said “Well, you know, they’re still growing and you don’t want to be putting them on diets,” and I’m thinking that’s what we’re saying, we’re saying do nothing… you know, when do you do something? Do you wait until they are, you know, horribly obese, morbidly obese before you do something, because that’s what they’re suggesting? And they’re talking about kids and no exercise and this that and the other, and yet that’s a huge thing, but these kids don’t want to exercise, you know, when I was enormous, you know, I didn’t particularly want to go pounding the streets, I didn’t want to be seen out in a t-shirt and shorts, you know.
I think they’re only just waking up to it, and I don’t think they really realise how urgent it is. You know, that there’s a time barrier, that’s what I’m aware of there’s a time barrier here, I have a time, a window of time when, when my daughter’s old enough to be able to influence her own change and say okay yes I’m going to do this and really put some effort into it and the end of that window when, when they are set in their ways and very little will change probably for the rest of their life. And there’s that window in there at the moment and I think it’s pretty short these days because kids are growing up so fast. She’s talking to me about things at 12 years old that I didn’t think of until I was 16 [laughter] she’s, you know, she’s obsessed with boys, her entire year are obsessed with the boys, you listen to them it’s all about boys, I didn’t even think about boys until I was about 14 or 15 and I wasn’t unusual it wasn’t that I was the odd one out at school, that, that sort of cycle happens and that was about the age group we really, really started thinking about boys, certainly wasn’t, it was certainly about 13 plus, it definitely wasn’t 12 and she’s been, they’ve been like this for six months maybe a year, it’s been building for six months to a year. They’re growing up much faster, they’re becoming more body aware much faster so that the image problems are coming on much faster, we can’t wait until they’re in their 20s to deal with them, we have to find a way of dealing with them now  and how we do that, I don’t know, but things like portion sizes, one of the things I read recently was that in America portion sizes have increased by ten times, ten times, I think it’s something like four to five in the UK, ten times in the US.

Sue thinks parents need to take more responsibility to help their children lose weight and...

Do you have any messages for other parents in your situation?
Yes, get informed. Start looking, the things that I have I mean I can put some stuff together for you for the, the hints and tips about, you know, about eating out and the tall glass, smaller bowls, like when you have a snack put the snack into the bowl rather than taking the packet out with you, you’ll eat less. Things like that, that, you know, we have an influence on our children, we have a big influence on our children, if you’re going to give your child, if your child is going to have a packet of crisps and there’s nothing wrong with a packet of crisps, depending on the crisps, occasionally there’s nothing wrong with that, as a stable diet obviously not good. But, you know, occasionally there’s no food that’s bad so if they’re going to have some crisps, you know, put half the packet into a bowl tie up the rest of the packet and put it in the cupboard, they probably won’t come back for anymore but if you give them the packet they’ll eat the lot. It’s things like that; I can give you loads of tips on things like that, loads of stuff like that.
Little things like just adding a little bit to their daily exercise and the parents, sorry but the parents are going to have to do it, you’re going to have to get off your bum, you know, unless you’re going to pay somebody else to walk your child like a dog, you’ll have to do something and, you know, if they are sociophobic you’re not going to get them in a class and even if they did, you know, look at my daughter joining the hockey team as the goalie, I mean talk about shooting yourself in the foot, it’s just, at least she’s standing on the spot [laughs] but it is about that, you know, it’s about actually putting some effort into it you need to do that, you need to get informed.
There are a lot of groups out there, forums and things out there you can get a huge amount of information from forums, that’s most of the research that I did, I backed up the stuff from forums because they’re real people, they’ve done this they’ve been on the diets they’ve been on the different programmes they know what works they know what’s good they know what’s bad, you hear it in their own words, you don’t get better than that. I mean I think the web is a fantastic, just for forums, you can find out the real world just there, forget the professionals, yeah they’ll give you their outline but then you go and look at the forums and see whether actually that works because that is just so true. Forums are fantastic, you can be anonymous, it doesn’t even have to reflect your name, you can say what you want to say, you can ask stupid questions, actually not that stupid, you ask the stupid questions, if you leave it you could leave it too long at the end of the day, when you become a parent you take on responsibility and you are the parent so become the parent, be the parent. The worst that’s going to happen is that you will fail, at least you will try, to do nothing is just unforgivable, it really is.

Take more responsibility and provide hands-on help.

Health care professionals, it is your responsibility. I don’t care which part of health care you’re in, it is your responsibility so take some responsibility, stop passing the buck. Do what you can do, I know you can’t do everything just like I can’t do everything, but you can do a bit, you can get together with other like-minded people, which is what I’m going to do I’m just thinking through as I’m talking to you here, I’m just thinking okay, alright I’m just going to do it whatever, it’s going to have to happen because we’re going to have to do something, get together with other like-minded people and do something about it, but take responsibility. You know, if you’re a health care professional then be professional what you’re seeing in front of you because it’s not just me. Little booklets don’t help, they don’t help, you know, hands-on help, someone standing there talking to these people about their specific problem.
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