A farmer once remarked to Dr. Page, in discussing the tenderness of his pig-pork which he had raised himself, "why, even the bones are so tender, they are almost as soft as the flesh itself."
Fat, rachitic children present about this same condition. But mothers, nurses and doctors all, as a rule, answer well to Dr. Felix Oswald's description in the following words from his Physical Education (P. 202):
"The representative nurse believes in cramming; babies like prize-pigs, are most admired when they are ready to die with fatty degeneration. The child is coaxed to suckle almost every half-hour, day after day, till habit begets a morbid appetite, analogous to the dyspeptic's stomach distress which no food can relieve till overrepletion brings on a sort of gastric lethargy."
The fat-disease is developed in infants as early as possible for everyone admires a fat baby. Such babies, however, are like fat animals; their muscles are very lean and attenuated. Mutton and beef, when excessively fat have very little muscle, and this is so "tender" that it hardly merits the name muscle. Fat hogs have very little muscle, sometimes being actually unable to stand up or to get to the trough to eat. Such hogs are well adapted to fill lard-cans but they are not the kind that supply meat eaters with ham or breakfast bacon. Such hogs are by no means healthy animals.
Of the fat babies so much admired, Dr. Page says -- "The excessive fat, so generally regarded as a sign of a healthy babe, is as truly a state of actual disease as when it occurs at adult age. Not only are the muscles enveloped with fat--they are mixed with it throughout and so are the vital organs--the kidneys, liver, heart, etc. Dissection, in these cases, often discloses the fact that these organs are enlarged and degenerated with fat; the liver, for example, is often double the normal size. The disease finally culminates in one of two things--a considerable period of nongrowth, or a violent sickness, which strips them of the fat, if not of life."
No farmer would think of fattening his growing animals. He knows that this stunts their growth. The same farmer adores his baby when it is "as fat as a butter-ball." The wise farmer has learned that early fattening stunts the growth of pigs, and does not permit them to fatten after they are weaned--they very rarely posses any surplus weight when weaned. The farmer who fattens his pigs never rears the largest hogs. Growing pigs and shoats are fed just enough to keep them growing steadily. They are fattened only after a large, healthy frame is secured.
Animals are born little more than "skin and bones" and are never, with the few exceptions of hibernating animals, fattened, unless man fattens them. Calves that are intended for a useful life are never fattened by the farmer. The young colt is never fattened by nursing.
Examine a litter of kittens and you will find that, however round and plump they may appear, this is due chiefly to fur and not to fat. But you cannot question or doubt their health or the rapidity of their growth.
We may safely put it down as a general rule, that animals do not fatten early in life. On the other hand, we know from our experience with our domestic animals that when animals are fattened while very young they do not grow and develop so well.
Most of us are aware of the evils of fat in the adult animal and man. We know that the trainer of race horses carefully removes all fat from his horses before entering them in the races. The hunter knows that he cannot hunt with a fat hound. The wrestler, boxer, runner and other athletes are in the "pink of condition" and ready to do their best work when there is no fat left on their bodies.
Knowing these things, why do we point with pride to our fat offspring? Why are we so proud of a fat baby? Only a few days before I wrote the above lines there was held here in the city of San Antonio a contest in which prizes were offered for the babies and children who weighed the most at certain ages. The winners weighed from twice to three times what they should. The announcement of the winners and their weights caused my mind to run back to my boyhood days when we used to fatten hogs to kill.
Why not give prizes to the best developed children? Why not offer prizes for the healthiest children? Why offer prizes for those children who show the greatest amount of fatty degeneration--who present the worst stages of the fat-disease? Fat babies are not healthy babies. Why encourage a people, already over-burned with ignorance, to build disease in their children?
Fat and plethoric children, with cheeks so red one can almost feel the fever in them, when he looks at them, are regarded as healthy children. In excessively fat infants says Dr. Page, there: "Follows one of three things--death; a saving sickness; or a feverish freful state, with a gradual reduction of fat, an emaciated stage, when perhaps for a year his body and limbs resemble those of a calf, a kitten, or a young robbin. Under this 'raw bone' state he grows as do the young of other species. The body and limbs stretch out and he grows tall." After a time their digestive powers recuperated, another period of fattening begins. Each year death eliminates thousands who are unable to endure the strain. "This culling process goes on, in a lessening degree, up to about the age of five, when the spindling age is fairly set with the survivors, and there is a corresponding exemption from disease, the proportion of deaths from five to twenty-five being very small."
All around us we see these fat, over-fed babies and children with running noses, difficult breathing, frequent colds, spells of feverishness, etc. If such children live, they gradually "work out of the fat stage into a correspondingly ematiated stage, seldom retaining a fair degree of roundness all the way along."
Surfeiting has gotten in its work. At the ages of ten or twelve, or even younger, we see these once fat specimens, "thin, cadaverous, with fitful appetites; eating at times like cormorants, of such things as they 'like,' at others having no appetite at all."
Fat babies are usually stupid. They usually present an appearance of dullness which is quite a contrast to the appearance and action of healthy and well-fed babies. At a later period, those who survive infancy, and learn to use their legs "run off the fat," and become not only brighter in appearance but more muscular also than during their fat stage.
The normal condition of man is not that of obesity at any age. Why, then, are parents so anxious to see their babies fatten up at the rate of a pound a week during their first few months of life? Why their anxiety to have "the fattest baby in the neighborhood," and "consequently the one most likely to die before it is a year old?" Ignorance, just plain ignorance, is the answer. They run the digestive organs of their babies at high pressure and keep them laying on fat, their little stomachs, which, are treated like toy balloons, vomiting. up what milk they cannot possibly retain, until finally, these little stomachs are so overworked that they no longer possess power to digest anything.
When this stage is reached parents and physicians begin a fruitless search for something that will "agree with baby's stomach" The only thing that will agree with such a stomach is rest, and if it does not receive this, serious illness and, perhaps, death, will be sure to follow. Such a child will waste away from want of nourishment--starve from surfeiting.
Infants are frequency saved from this fatty degeneration and its attending evils, due to the mother's inability to supply an excess of milk. The mother may, and usually does, lament this fact, the child does not. On the contrary it grows at a normal rate.