A child’s eating habits can significantly impact his/her life as an adult. A recent study conducted by Özgür showed a connection between child obesity and adult obesity. In fact, Özgür found that 26-41% of obese preschool children and 42-63% of overweight school children ended up being obese as adults.
Obesity is thought to be more dangerous when it starts before the age of 5 years or after the age of 15. It has been shown that the dramatic increase in obesity in children which has occurred in the last three decades can lead to depression and various diseases such as asthma, fatty liver, sleep apnea, hypertension, orthopedic problems and type 2 diabetes (Özgür, page 163)
Children’s literature also deals with topics of children’s eating habits. In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle traces the journey of a caterpillar as it transformed into a butterfly, bringing the reader along with its growing up process, its nutrition preferences and challenges which the soon-to-be butterfly will face. Beatrix Potter, in The Tale of Peter Rabbit also considers the theme of food. However, Peter has a different relationship to food from The Caterpillar. Nonetheless, both Peter and the Caterpillar feel sick after eating a certain type of food. Yet, Peter eats in a more spaced timing while the caterpillar is never satisfied, spending its early life going after food; The Caterpillar is more enthusiastic about feeding himself whereas Peter does not show quite excitement when it comes to food.
The first notable aspect that Peter and The Very Hungry caterpillar share is that they feel sick when they ingest some food. Nevertheless, the contrast between both lay off on what makes their stomach unease. Whereas the Caterpillar feels sick with a low nutritional value food such as sugar and fat, on the other hand, Peter feels sick with food primarily considered to be healthy, such as lettuce, french beans and radish. In cases like this, children can be taken as fussy eaters and often, the concerning parents do not look further into it, unaware that this behavior perhaps can be caused by a food allergy, disorder or simply the child’s preference. According to Walton, this concern may be exacerbated because of parents’ perception that their child’s refusal of certain foods constitutes disobedience or noncompliance such that parents’ focus becomes compliance to authority rather than the promotion of healthy or diverse food choices (page 2).
As agents of their own preferences and actions, children may resist eating foods that are unappealing to them. Many of these food selection behaviours that are considered normal in the development of children’s eating habits (i.e., neophobia and food jags) are often considered by parents to be ‘picky.’ (Walton, page 3)
Another relevant contrast between Peter and The Caterpillar is the timing and frequency they demonstrate to be hungry. One example of it is that despite the fact of Peter being in a garden surrounded with plenty food options, he only takes a few of them and continues his journey. Conversely, The Caterpillar is never satisfied, and it is always looking for something to eat. Although it can be illustrated to teach the reader about the metabolism of small insects, which is faster and for this reason they would eat more frequently as opposed to Peter Rabbit, the insistence of the author in stating that The Caterpillar “was not full yet” can be viewed as a compulsive eating disorder as well. As if, while Peter eats to live, the caterpillar lives to eat.
Finally, and perhaps the most interesting contrast between the Rabbit and The Caterpillar is the excitement of both main characters towards food. While the caterpillar shows to be more passionate about food, on the contrary, Peter prefers going after adventure in unknown and dangerous terrain rather than reaping blackberries with his siblings. In the first eating scene of both stories, Peter and The Caterpillar present a very different experience with what they ingest. While Peter feels sick, The Caterpillar grows stronger and healthier. Furthermore, Peter had an unpleasing life experience with food, horrifically losing his father to a tragic event where he was fed to humans. These very odd circumstances can have a high impact on the way both of them feel about food, and perhaps it explains in parts why Peter prefers other activities rather than feeding himself.
To conclude, both stories leave space to an open debate about food
habits in childhood life, The Caterpillar more than Peter Rabbit. Throughout
the stories, the authors show the relationship Peter and The Caterpillar have
when it comes to food, each of them behaving accordingly to its unique
personality. Both cases show that one of the challenges of growing up can be a
proper nourishment understanding. Whether is discovering what makes children
healthier, the frequency they eat or how they feel about what they are
eating, all this is part of a child
turning into to an adult, discovering new flavours, whether it is suitable for
them and what actions to take when the food that was supposed to make them
stronger makes them sick instead. Growing up is a challenge, and teaching
children about a healthy diet will positively reflect on their lives when these
children become adults ready to share the acquired knowledge with the next
Pirgon, Özgür, and Nagehan Aslan. “The Role of Urbanization in Childhood Obesity.” Journal of Clinical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology, vol. 7, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 163–167. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4274/jcrpe.1984.
Walton, Kathryn, et al. “Time to Re-Think Picky Eating?: A Relational Approach to Understanding Picky Eating.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity, vol. 14, May 2017, pp. 1–8. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0520-0.
Carle, Eric, Allison Rice, and Adrian Peetoom. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Jefferson City, Mo: Scholastic, 1989.
Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Publications International, 1993.