Ok, today’s post is going to be a bit of a rant. My niece was at the local library in Oklahoma yesterday and there was a sign posted in the children’s section. It had a picture of the “Hungry Caterpillar” from the children’s book by Eric Carle. But written on the sign, “I was banned for encouraging obesity”.
Let that sink in for a bit – banned for encouraging obesity . . . All I can say is WOW! This is wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to start. Ok, yes I do. The first thing I did when I read this was react, and then share it with the youngest. She is 19 years old now, and a healthy weight. She grew up with this book, had two copies as a child, and still has them. It is one of her favorite childhood memories. She told me one thing the book taught her was “that something ugly can become something beautiful!” My reaction was to say that the book will not make a child obese; being raised by parents who would instill the mentality that they are the same as a caterpillar. Well that is another issue.
Ok, let’s back up and look at this practically. First, for those who do not know the book, it tells the story of a caterpillar’s cycle of life. After hatching he eats his way through first healthy foods, and then some not so healthy foods (which by the way makes him ill), and then a “nice green leaf”. At this point he is no longer hungry, but fat and ready to build his cocoon where he stays for weeks (living off the nutrients he stocked up while eating), and emerges as a butterfly. And how does this relate to real life? A parent will explain nature and how the animal kingdom is different from humans.
How on earth does this encourage obesity? I read once a supposed quote from Albert Einstein –
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
To me that is it in a nutshell. A fish can’t climb a tree, and a human being can’t become a butterfly. Oh they can in a human sort of way. But not an actual butterfly. We teach our children the differences. How, as humans, we have to nurture out bodies in order to make them grow up healthy and strong. That there will be times we overdo it, and pay the price. Just as the caterpillar did by getting sick from eating all the bad food. But you then find what is right for you and in the end you will emerge as the best version of yourself, just as the caterpillar became the butterfly.
Does this make “The Hungry Caterpillar” a book that teaches a child to be obese? On the contrary I think it is the opposite, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees. In 2011 they partnered with The Alliance for a Healthier Generation to use the book to promote helping “families learn about healthy eating habits”. Go to the AAP website to read all about it. Or for a more abbreviated article check out healthychildren.org.
The AAP suggest tips for parents to discuss with their children:
- Teach your child that apples, pears, plums, strawberries, and oranges are all fruits. Ask them if they can name other fruits.
- Talk to them about how fruits are good for your body.
- Talk about how when the caterpillar overeats, he gets a stomachache— so it is important to stop eating when you feel full.
But most importantly parents should be reading with their children. If a small child is left to interpret everything they read themselves, well then there is much more to worry about than being obese. It is back to the title of my post today, nature vs nurture. We as human beings have the ability to vocalize to our children, teach them, and be examples for them. Nurture them to grow up to be healthy and happy, just like we would aspire to ourselves.