Chicago Fat Panic – Think of the Children!

In case its not immediately apparent, these are enchiladas. Source: Chicago Tribune

Today we’re going to talk about how the Fat Panic has lead to a school telling parents that they are not allowed to send their kids to school with lunches, but must pay for the school lunches – one of which is pictures in the photo – and doesn’t it just look tasty and nutritious.

Before I get started, if you’ll allow me some quick shameless self-promotion.  I’ll be in NYC in May and the fabulous Golda Poretsky and I will be putting on a  “Dancing with Body Positivity” workshop.  Click here for details (and to see the amazing flyer that Golda made!

Onto today’s blog:

Readers Karen and Lauren sent me an article about what passes for helping children be healthy these days:

In this article  a public school in Chicago has banned students from bringing their own lunches, except in cases where a student has a medical excuse.  Although this has been in place for 6 years, it is getting coverage now because of the whole won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children ob*sity epi-panic that is being led by our First Lady.  The school Principal said “Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school…It’s about the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke.”

The excellent quality of food, huh?  This time last year Chicago students got National press for PROTESTING the quality of the lunches. According to the school they’ve got more vegetables and less junk now, and they only offer reduced fat and fat free mayo and salad dressings. We just talked about this, I highly doubt that foods predominantly composed of chemicals are more healthy than foods that have fat in them  The students say that the food tastes bad and parents say that means that more food goes in the trash and their kids go hungry.

Take another look at those enchiladas.  Yikes.

This doesn’t really add up to me, I wonder if there could be another reason the school wants to do this? Hmmm…Each school lunch is $2.25 for those who don’t qualify for school lunch.  That’s about $400 per student per year in revenue. It’s a k-8 school so each student is worth $3,600 over the duration of their stay to the schools food supplier.  I wonder if they were involved in getting this implemented?  In cases where students are on free or reduced lunch, the school is paid money by the Federal Government.  I wonder how much that revenue factored into this situation?  I know that I could pack a good lunch for less than $2.25 and if parents are having to pay extra for school lunch that’s less budget they have for foods at home.

There is something else that I think bears looking into and that is the way that childhood ob*sity is measured.  It’s our old friend BMI.  As flawed as it is for adults, it is even worse for children.  You know how some children will gain a lot of weight and then have a big growth spurt?  I wonder what happens to those kids when parents and schools restrict calories and force movement in an attempt to make them lose that weight? BMI certainly can’t tell us how tall a kid is going to get. Plus the growth charts used are from the 1950s and included white children almost exclusively – we are telling kids that their weight should be judged based on white kids in the 50’s.

The original article calls this “Nutritional tough love”, and part of an effort to “Combat the country’s childhood ob*sity epidemic”.  First of all, it’s not an epidemic.  Second, since when do we want kids in the firing lines of “combat” of any kind?  Why can’t we manage to be for healthy kids without being against fat ones (especially when Health at Every Size is an option).

Let’s not forget that according to sources sited on the non-profit National Association of Anorexia and Associated Eating Disorders website:

•47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

• 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.

• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.

• 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

If we really stopped to think of the children, I think we would be doing better than this.

17 thoughts on “Chicago Fat Panic – Think of the Children!

  1. Ragen, how do I love thee, let me count the ways…

    Seriously though, you hit on pretty much every single thing that bugged me so much about the whole situation in the article, and even managed to bring up points that for some reason I simply didn’t think of before you said something about it. Thank you for such a good look at something that is extremely important to me, and as I am sure, so many other people, be they parents or not.

  2. Them be some funky-ass enchiladas–bleah!
    I know that I was “inspired” right into an eating disorder by photos in magazines–and this was back in the late 1970’s. I also know that a lot of the time my mother gave me and my siblings lunch money because she didn’t feel like or didn’t have time to make lunches, but sometimes she’d pack us a turkey sandwich and some carrot sticks and cookies and give us lunch money. I don’t think I ever once saw anyone’s parent send a Coke to school with them for lunch. I asked my own kids if they’d ever seen anyone bring along a sack lunch with a Coke and they couldn’t recall such a thing happening either.

    I would be damn tempted to pull my kids out of that school! I’m none too keen on supporting a Nanny State of any kind.

    1. I meant to say that Mom gave us MILK money when she packed us a lunch, not “lunch money.” She didn’t like sending a Thermos with us because we broke them too many times!

  3. Enchiladas? Really? Looks like a giant pile of dog yack to me. How DARE they tell parents what their kids are allowed to eat? It’s one thing to say “don’t bring cupcakes to school(to share with the class)” it’s another thing entirely to tell people they can’t decide what their own kids can have. If anyone has an obesity problem around here, it’s BIG BROTHER. He’s getting way too big for his britches if you ask me. I’m so glad I don’t have kids…

  4. I plan on blogging about this one to. I just hope the city’s school lunches are better than my kids, because even the menus sound like crap! His sandwich and small back of chips has to be better nutrition than they are offering!

    xo Susie

  5. I saw a friend’s niece Friday night. When she was little she was chubby. Now that she’s 12, she has gotten taller and thinned out. Not all kids will thin out but if adults would just stop clutching their pearls over fat kids and let their bodies do what they’re supposed to do, everyone would be a lot better off.

    As for the food in that picture, the kid hiding his face says it all. I think prisoners get better looking and tastier meals! Big fail Chicago.

  6. As a parent this would really piss me off. How can that pile of slop compare to the wheat-bread sandwich, apple and carrots or jicama that my daughter takes to school every day? She doesn’t get school lunch because the lunch we make is healthier and more cost effective.

  7. BMI certainly can’t tell us how tall a kid is going to get.

    But it can, of course, tell us what kid is not going to become much taller since they are going to be starved for their remaining years of possible growth.

    Bitter, me?

    And these “meals” look disgusting. Fat free milk and chemical mayo. Sure sounds as if there is a war on.

    Anyone wants to take a bet that “kid is not allowed to eat because of fatness” is a valid medical reason not to get even that sad excuse for a lunch?

    1. I don’t even want to think of the implications of something that horrid. Lunch time as the “fat kid” is hard enough. Watching your classmates eat and not being allowed to because you are the “fat kid”… Yeah, literally sends chills down my spine.

  8. My 14 year old daughter goes there and she says that they make them exercise more and she doesn’t even eat lunch there and she’s not that fat but is a little chubby but I have noticed that she was getting thinner so I weighed her and she lost 15 lbs in a month so I think that there plan is working just not the way they wanted it to because kids are losing weight because they are starving not because of healthier lunches

  9. We went over to my patents house for thanksgiving and while we were eating dinner I noticed that my daughter was eating very small portions and drinking alot of water so I asked her why she was doing this and she said her health teacher told them it would make them feel fuller so it would help them keep off some of the holiday weight and that had me worried because she just started at this school this year and she has gone from having some meat on her in the legs ,hips ,and a bit of fat on her belly to having thin legs no hips and a flat as a board stomach and she is also tall at 5 foot 7 inches and weighing in at a very lean 102 pounds

  10. They should not be doing this because kids especially teens thin out naturally and I know this because my son did this when he was about 12 he started gaining weight and by the time he was 13 the doctor said he was on the verge of becoming overweight but not to put him on a diet because he was starting his growth spurt and would even out and as of now he is 14 and slim as can be I was comparing him to one of his friends that hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet and they were about the same size last year but now he is a few inches taller and so much thinner and when he went back to the doctors the doctor weighed him and he lost 7 pounds and grew 5 inches

  11. Another instance of pure fuckwittery masquerading as concern for children.

    In my experience, the whole education system is set up to create food issues in kids. Before my kids went to school, hubby and I worked hard to inoculate them against body hatred and problematic relationships with food. We fed them a pretty “healthy” diet, but we didn’t have good/bad foods, everyday/sometimes foods or use food as a “treat” or a reward for good behavior.

    When eldest kiddo started preschool, all the kids were asked what their favorite foods were and warned that it wasn’t allowed to be an “unhealthy” food. He came home and fearfully asked me whether his favorite thing (kiwi fruit) was unhealthy. Lessons learned: some foods are bad and scary. You need to worry about what you eat.

    Second kid went to school with a “healthy” packed lunch (we include vegetables, fruit, whole grain, protein, and water). The teacher rewarded her for eating the salad component by giving her a voucher for, yes, junk food from the school canteen! Lessons learned: a salad that you thought was fine is actually so yucky that you need to be bribed to eat it. “Unhealthy” food is the payment you get for consuming “healthy” food.

    All the kids were at vacation care. Their packed lunch included a small amount of chocolate in addition to the vegetables etc. We don’t feed the kids chocolate for breakfast every day, but we allow it in moderation along with lots of nutritious foods, OK? Nope, not OK. They were not allowed to eat it, because the center has a No Treats policy. Two squares of quality dark chocolate are forbidden, despite if being OK to pack biscuits full of salt, sugar and transfats with “cheese” that is so processed that it doesn’t even need refrigeration. Lessons learned: Chocolate is A Treat. It is also Bad. You and your parents are not competent to decide what you may eat. Random strangers should choose what goes into your body.

    And I could go on. I think that my efforts at never denigrating anyone’s body and not using “fat” as a negative word have paid off to some extent. I showed my now 8yo daughter one of your dance videos, just to see whether she noticed your size, and her only comments were “Is she the best dancer in America?” and “Can we watch more?”, so clearly she has not (yet) bought into the idea of Only Thin People are Allowed to Dance. But she has come home from school and said “I’m fatter than [friend]. I wish I was thinner.” It’s so heartbreaking to hear that from my child and feel powerless to fight the whole rest of society.

    1. I’m so sorry that you are having to deal with this, your kids are lucky to have a mom who sees what is happening and can help push back against the crap that kids are hearing. Thanks for the hard work that you are doing in utterly frustrating circumstances.


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