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by Abigail Van Buren

Obesity Is More a Problem of Quality Than Quantity

DEAR ABBY: I am appalled and saddened when I go out to a restaurant and see the number of adults who force their children to eat. There are so many overweight people in the United States, why try to make a child finish a meal? They will eat when they are hungry; just don't give them anything between meals.

It hurts me to see parents say, "We can't leave until you clean your plate" -- like they are bad children for not eating. Please tell me if I'm off base on this issue. -- MILWAUKEE GRANDMA

DEAR GRANDMA: Perhaps you shouldn't judge so quickly. The problem of obesity in this country has less to do with parents force-feeding their children than with children and adults who are consuming fattening foods in excessive portions and not burning off the calories. It may be that the children you are seeing want to consume only sweet, sugary foods -- and the parents are simply trying to get them to eat a balanced meal.

DEAR ABBY: A member of our family is very difficult to get along with and has a low boiling point. We never know what is going to trigger the anger, nor how long it will last. This person also likes to play the victim. Everything gets blown out of proportion and 99 percent of the time is unmerited. To us, this behavior is rude, mean and cruel. Some people avoid personal contact because they are tired of having their feelings hurt.

We know we can't change this person, but is this a form of mental abuse? Should we continue to ignore the punishment we are getting and continue to be kind and thoughtful and hope the mood will pass? -- TIRED OF THE TIRADES

DEAR TIRED: The tirades could be considered a form of mental abuse, but they could also be signs of substance abuse, a mental illness or a personality disorder. Your relative's behavior should not be ignored. In fact, I recommend you consult a licensed mental health professional to help you better understand what's going on and how to effectively deal with it.

DEAR ABBY: My parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and my mother's 70th birthday in March. They have invited my siblings and me, plus our spouses and grandchildren for a Caribbean cruise. The celebration was planned around a time when most of us could take time off work and school. Unfortunately, the event coincides with my stepdaughter's due date. Her mother (my wife) has already said she will stay behind for the birth.

The problem is, my stepdaughter has said that anyone who misses the birth of her baby will not be allowed to have a relationship with her or her child. How do I make this right for my parents and my stepdaughter? -- TROUBLED IN ILLINOIS

DEAR TROUBLED: You can't. It will be up to your wife to make her daughter understand that the world doesn't revolve around her, and that her attempt to blackmail you into being there for the birth of the baby will not punish you or your family, but rather isolate herself and the child. It's a mistake she'll regret in the future.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)