The little boy tagged along with his father to a meeting held at an all-you-care-to-eat buffet restaurant. I guess I could describe him as stout or portly or chunky but, truth be told, the child was obese. He was probably 60 or 70 pounds overweight. His Spiderman T-shirt strained across his belly and his neck had disappeared into his chins. He had breasts.
He made trip after trip to the buffet line, filling his plates with foods that were uniformly brown: fried chicken, french fries, fried okra. The only spot of color was the marinara sauce on his spaghetti.
His father joked about his son's healthy appetite as he packed away similar plates of food.
I attempted to start a conversation with the boy but he was too busy working the fork from plate to mouth to plate again to do much more than mumble.
I once was that child. Eating not to fuel my body but to anesthetize it. To eat until I was exhausted, so tired I couldn't feel all the misery and humiliation that came with being an obese kid.
It's a relentless cycle, one that's fed a childhood obesity epidemic in Georgia that's second only to Mississippi. Fully 40 percent of Georgia's children are heavier than is healthy.
A lot of parents are just as clueless as that little boy's jovial father. When Children's Healthcare of Atlanta did a survey of parents of overweight and obese children, they discovered that 75 percent did not recognize their child's obesity or the associated health risks.
It was time for a wakeup call. An ad campaign was developed. It pulled no punches. One ad featured an image of an overweight child staring into the camera. It read, "Warning: It's hard to be a little girl if you're not."
A commercial showed an overweight young man asking his plus-sized mother, "Why am I fat?"
Another addressed the health issues that come with childhood obesity: "My fat may be funny to you but it's killing me."
Children's Healthcare didn't just spotlight the problem. They came up with creative solutions, strategies to help families change eating habits and become more active (www.strong4life.com).
Since no good deed goes unpunished, there was an outcry, with critics claiming the ads humiliated fat kids. That I don't see. The ads are heartbreaking but not hectoring. They're aimed at parents, the 75 percent who don't realize there's a darn good reason why their child begs to stay home from school on a regular basis. The ones who fill shopping carts with sweet and salty processed foods and make a trip to the drive-thru window part of the daily routine.
I've never seen a 7-year-old shopping alone in the grocery store. Kids aren't the ones making the food choices for the family. Certainly they have plenty of input, as evidenced by the pleading and wheedling going on in the cookie aisle.
But when all is said and done, the responsibility rests squarely with the parents.
And we're killing our kids. This is the first generation that may not live longer than their parents. This can't be sugarcoated.
The best way to encourage kids to make healthier food choices is for the parents to lead the way. Everyone has to find their own path. This isn't a commercial or an endorsement but I'll tell you what's working for me: Weight Watchers.
I joined last summer and, to date, I'm 35 pounds lighter. I'm cooking and eating healthier and feeling at least 10 years younger. The desire to binge has left me, and now chocolate is simply a food option not a siren song.
Even though my husband isn't participating in the program, he's lost 15 pounds just by osmosis.
I've struggled with food-related demons my entire life. When it came to raising my children, I've tried to pass on lots of things - my love of reading and animals, a strong feeling of place and community involvement and a enduring faith to support them.
But not the food obsessions. Those have to stop with me.
Love isn't a cupcake and encouragement doesn't have to come in a bag of potato chips. A family outing is a trip to the park, not to the Golden Arches. Comfort is a hug, not an ice cream cone.
The Strong 4 Life program is a lifeline. I hope lots of families grab hold.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.