Playing the Fat Kid

If you're a Desperate Housewives fan, then you know Juanita (Madison De La Garza), Gabrielle's (Eva Longoria Parker) older daughter. Juanita is a portly kid, and last season, her weight was an ongoing issue (and source of embarrassment) for Gaby. As a viewer, it was often hard to watch the "fat kid" discussions, with jokes and insults flying around Juanita. Sure, it's a fictional TV show, but wouldn't these scripted comments have an adverse effect on De La Garza, the 6-year-old, overweight child who was playing the overweight child?

Last year, Us Weekly raised this question in its October 20, 2008 issue. De La Garza, whose mother is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, is the second child in her family to appear on TV. Her older, half-sister, Demi Lovato, is a pop singer and actress who plays the lead in the Disney teen show, "Sonny With A Chance." In the Us Weekly piece, big sis Lovato (naturally) set the criticism aside.

"We are very protective of [Madison, and] I have heard that [writers and producers] have been really good about not hurting her feelings at all," she said. "There's a controversy, but you know what, if we were to take her out of that position, it would have been so bad. She loves doing what she loves, and she's awesome. I love to see her face light up when she watches her episodes!"

This season, the Gaby-as-mommy storyline is no longer focused on Juanita's weight, though there are occasionally references here and there. (Last week, when Carlos learns that Juanita turned down Gaby's offer to go out for ice cream, his eyes widen with concern. Juanita apparently never turns down ice cream.)

Recently, while on a Web site for moms, I noticed that an initially even-handed forum board discussion about Juanita eventually became heated. Child obesity is a very touchy subject with parents these days. On the one hand, you want to raise a smart, confident child who doesn't fall prey to societal views on weight. (In its extreme, this thinking can lead to disorders like anorexia.) On the other hand, child obesity is a grave epidemic. In 2006, 16.3% of American children (ages 2-29) were obese, according to the CDC. One mother suggested that casting De La Garza might send a message of acceptance about obesity, adding that unhealthy eating and lack of exercise shouldn't be the norm.

In the next Desperate episode, Gaby will try to get Juanita into Catholic school. Maybe the nuns will be more tactful about her weight?

How do you feel about childhood obesity? Chime in below!

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