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Check your ‘chubby’ son into obesity clinic

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Question: Is it possible for an 8-year-old to have an eating disorder? I have a wonderful, bright son who wears size 14 husky jeans. He's fixated on food. He eats until there is nothing left. For instance, I recently left the table for 10 minutes, and when I returned, I found he'd eaten an entire 16-inch pizza.

He has always been this way: When he was 4 or 5, I remember him climbing over people to get to cupcakes at a birthday party. He crammed four into his mouth before anyone could stop him. When I asked his pediatrician about this, he told me that this was normal behavior for a boy. Now, however, the same pediatrician is worried about our son's weight gain.

Do I put him on a diet at 8? That seems almost sadistic to me. I have tried upping his exercise by having him walk and run with me, signing him up for soccer, tying Sony Playstation time to time outside.

His father and I are both overweight but we became so in adulthood. I work out every day as much for my health as to have my sons see me try to become fit.

When he was very young, I didn't limit sweets or food intake because I had read that children will naturally eat what's good for them over the course of a week and will eat until full. That didn't work with him, obviously. His younger brother loves sweets but will hand back a half-eaten ice-cream cone, announcing, "I'm full." He is slender.

I don't want to make a huge issue out of this or have him think that I don't love him as he is, but I know the problems this can cause. Already, a girl in his class has announced, "I don't want to sit next to that chubby boy." — S.L.P., via e-mail

Answer: Children certainly can and do have eating disorders. Your son's history sounds worrisome enough to me that I suggest you press your pediatrician to have him checked out at a clinic for overweight children at a children's hospital, where he could receive a comprehensive medical evaluation.

Meanwhile, it sounds as if you are doing all you can to help him divert some of his attention from eating. Television watching and other media can certainly contribute to weight gain in kids today. Restrict his watching time and the junk food intake that usually goes with it. It is likely, however, that your son is suffering from a metabolic disorder.

I'd urge you to have him evaluated as soon as possible — before he begins to lose friends and self-esteem. If you find that his weight is not due to a physical disorder, it might be worth consulting a child therapist.

Question: While I know your column is called "Families Today," I find it difficult to understand why so many letters come from grandparents. These well-intentioned grandparents are consistently interfering with their children's childrearing.

This behavior can only harbor resentment. Do they not respect their children's right to raise the grandchildren in the manner in which they see fit?

Instead of focusing on their children's failures, perhaps they could appreciate and applaud the triumphs. Raising a child is difficult enough without the disconcerting opinions of a disappointed parent. If the grandparents truly want to help, they should be more supportive and less critical. — Name and address withheld

Answer: I agree with you. As a grandparent, I sometimes need to be reminded of how hurtful my remarks to my children can be. They are very vulnerable to my criticism, and I should try to use praise rather than negative comments.

I'm glad that grandparents read my column and write to me, for it demonstrates their passion for their families. I will try to help them understand the vulnerability parents feel when things are not going well.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 10168. WEB SITE: www.brazelton.org