Grading on a Big Fat Curve

Pierre Dukan is a French diet guru.  He thinks that, in their last two years of high school, students should be awarded extra exam marks if they maintain an acceptable Body Mass Index (BMI). He makes no mention of the vast shortcomings of BMI (including that it does not, in any way, measure health).  He makes no mention of what would happen to students who are very tall or very muscular who would be punished academically for their strength and height.

He claims that it will be “a good way to sensitise teenagers to the need for a balanced diet.” I think it is just as likely that it will sensitize them to the ability to use dangerous behaviors to try to “make weight”.  It’s not like he’s suggesting an education program about a balanced diet (one that, were it evidence-based, would likely denounce the low carb high protein diet that has made Pierre millions.) He doesn’t want to measure kids’ health, or the health of their diet (which would be problematic in and of itself).  He wants weigh kids and grade them on their weight. That’s not educational, and it’s not about health, it’s punitively punishing fat kids.

Pierre says that it would not punish fat children: “There is nothing wrong with educating children about nutrition. This will not change anything for those who do not need to lose weight. For the others, it will motivate them.” It sounds an awful like what he’s saying is that it won’t punish thin kids or kids who manage to get thin.  Of course it punishes fat kids – that is the point.

Those aren’t my biggest problem with this however.  My biggest problem with this is the same as my problem with the Georgia child-shaming billboards and all of the campaigns whose goal is to end “childhood obesity”:

Where is the evidence? Where the frickity fricking frick is the evidence?

Where is the evidence that punishing fat kids with poor grades “motivates” them and makes them healthier or thinner in the short or long term?  Where is the longitudinal study with the statistically significant sample, and the controlled variables? What is he basing this on…rectal pull?

Where is the proof that nutrition education leads to kids eating more nutritiously?  Where is the proof that eating more nutritiously will make them thin?

Where is the evidence that billboards that shame kids under the guise of making their parents “aware” that they are fat lead to them becoming healthier or thinner?  Where are the studies to back up this method?

Where is the evidence that sending home a BMI report card from school will positively affect kid’s health?

Where is the damn evidence?

The current “logic” that we’re working under seems to be “Fatness is such a horrible problem that we can’t stop to prove that it’s a problem or see if our intervention will make things worse before we start solving it!”  And that’s just dumb.

I would call this a grand social experiment but it’s not.  An experiment would be way better than this.  First because they would need to get IRB approval.  This might be difficult since they’re messing with the physical and psychological health of kids. But let’s pretend that they get this approval.  They would then have to do all the scientific method stuff that’s apparently just too much trouble for these people – form a hypothesis, design an experiment, institute controls, blah blah. It’s just science, how important could it be?

But here’s the kicker: Let’s say the hypothesis was “punishing fat kids with bad grades will make them thin”.  (Now, it would probably also behoove them to prove that that making kids thin would cause them to be healthier but that’s a different deal.)  At the end of the experiment, they would evaluate the results and if kids didn’t get thin they would say “this intervention doesn’t work.  Our hypothesis was wrong.”

But that’s not what happening.  Anybody and their French brother can apparently say “I think this will work” and then treat their brainchild as if it’s a proven intervention and foist it onto children.  Then when kids don’t get thin they don’t say that the idea failed, they say that the kids failed. And that’s unacceptable.  You can file it under T for “Things that are total bullshit”

We need to stop letting people do this to kids, and while we’re at it we could stop doing it to ourselves.  There is not a single study of a weight loss method that works for more than a small fraction of participant long term, not one.  So when we don’t succeed at losing weight and we blame ourselves, it’s like putting a roast in the microwave and blaming ourselves if it doesn’t brown.  If there is absolutely no evidence that something will work (and in fact a mountain of evidence that it won’t) why would we blame ourselves when it doesn’t work for us?

We, and our kids, deserve access to evidence-based health interventions.  I believe that the burden of proof is on the person who wants to implement the intervention.  First they have to prove that there is a problem, then they have to prove that they can solve it, then they have to be honest about the pros/cons/side effects of the solution.  Then, and only then people get to choose if they want the solution.  You’ll notice there is no step where someone gets to force other people to implement their best guess of a health strategy.  I think if people really cared about kids health, they would take the time to find out what works before risking irreparable physical and psychological harm.

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42 thoughts on “Grading on a Big Fat Curve

  1. All I can say about this is, our society is really, really sick. Kids are stressed enough without having to worry about this stuff. We are under so much pressure to be perfect in so many ways. It is really awful. I can’t believe anyone would want to put even more pressure on our children. They are already being forced into worrying about college in the sixth grade, and taking home homework in kindergarten. This has to stop!

  2. Circumstance and life style are also factors this person with the grand idea may not have considered! Sometimes kids eat poorly because their parents cannot afford much for food. More often, those parents don’t even know how to feed their family a proper diet. Or maybe they have busy life syndrome (careers + running kids to after school activities) may make parents choose take out and tv dinners over a home cooked meal.

    I agree that some kind of advocacy is needed, but why not add it to the curriculum like a sex-ed class? A mandatory class with hand outs that must be taken home and signed. Parents need to be educated on proper diets too.

    I’m sure if some folks actually brainstormed on how to make eating well a PLUS. Present it to kids in a fun and interactive way as something positive rather than something shoved down their throats. Conform or else!

    Furthermore, the time to get kids involved is not the last 2 years of high school, but at age 14 when kids start to feel more self aware and are still developing their identity. Not at 16 when rebellion and pushing boundaries is in full swing.

    The sad thing is that the kids are the ones to pay the price.

    1. Who says the fat kids are eating poorly? Who says the thin kids are not?

      This program isn’t about eating well. If it were, they would actually research the eating habits of their kids. But they are not. They are ASSUMING that the fat kids aren’t eating well or exercising.

      This program about bigotry, and shaming and punishing fat kids.

  3. Thanks for writing this. I read this in the news a few weeks back and just don’t seem to be able to articulate all the points as well as you do. This is something that I fear will come up again and again, just a matter of when and where. It will be good to have this information available to continue to object to these dumb-arse programs.

  4. What a lousy idea. Making kids wait a whole year for a grade isn’t giving them the instantaneous feedback that they need.

    I have a much better idea.

    Let’s beat them with a stick. Publicly. Maybe lock ’em in stocks and throw donuts at them. Don’t let them out until they’ve lost weight.

    If that doesn’t work, more drastic measures will be necessary. We should move on to burning them at the stake. Watch the fat melt off them!

    1. Maybe fat kids just shouldn’t be allowed to attend schools? I mean, they will die of fatness before they are 30 so it’s such a waste when the teachers’ time could be spent on thin children. It’s not discrimination against fat children – they could just be thin and not be discriminated against, after all!

      I can’t believe how ridiculous this whole thing is. Okay, I can believe that some idiot decided this was a good idea and that he was a genius and the world would be fixed if they all listened to him. People do that all the time. But why is anyone publishing it? I suppose it’s for the same reasons they would have mentioned the Dukan diet in the first place. It’s got a name and vague science-y facts, that makes it true! And everyone knows fat is the worst thing in the world! Besides, he is an “expert”!

  5. Not to mention, I’d wager that 99% of fat kids are ALREADY motivated to lose weight. But wanting it doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily happen. As unlikely as long-term weight loss is for adults, I’m sure it’s even MORE unlikely for kids who don’t have control over the grocery shopping or what gets made for dinner, who don’t have the option to join a gym or buy fitness equipment without parental approval, and money, and probably a ride. For most kids, “healthy” weight loss (although I’m pretty skeptical about that whole concept anyway, but that’s neither here nor there) isn’t even possible. Over-restricting is probably their ONLY option, since they don’t get to choose the nutritional content of what’s on their plate two out of three meals a day.

    1. You forgot the biggest reason that weight loss isn’t an option for kids: Because they are GROWING which means they are going to have fluctuations in their weight as it is.

      Before puberty I was a slim kid. During puberty (around 12) I put on a lot of body fat — you could see it in my face in pictures. Then, around 8th grade I started to slim out again because my body was adjusting.

      Kids grow and they don’t always grow evenly. That’s why a kid can have huge feet then suddenly they’re in proportion when the rest of his body catches up. Or why some girls might have slim hips but be a D cup before they hit high school.

  6. If we need to educate children about good nutrition why not start a class and after school club where they can grow their own food and be taught how to cook it. They could learn about the benefits you get from each type of vegetable and the food could either be eaten by the pupils or donated to a local charity for distribution to those who are poor. The initial costs shouldn’t be too high and the children get to take pride in what they have learned and give back to the community.

    1. I agree with this idea, largely because I’m working to make it happen.

      I teach in a low SES school district. We partner with the nearest university to bring both nutrition education and safe, healthy movement options to students (both in the form of after school clubs and events during our advisory periods). We are also working on partnering with our science department and community food bank to maybe start a garden at school (space issues are in flux right now, so that part is going to be waiting a bit).

      There are no grades attached and precious little talk of weight. (I won’t say zero but much less than I’ve seen in a lot of other places.) It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s SO MUCH BETTER than any idea of “BMI for grade” that it’s not even funny.

  7. Agreed 100% – this is pure hateful bs, not science. Also, LOL @ “rectal pull” – perhaps he was looking to pull his head out of his ass but got this instead!

  8. I personally think the objective is more insidous than most rational people would believe. This isn’t about fat people. Its propaganda to prepare people to accept starvation. To think of “thin” as sacrifice for the “greater good” (hmmmm, how many totalitarians have used THAT one before?!). To prepare the world for peak oil and peak food production and the new world order, where a few state-owned (or large multinational) companies control most of the food production and that production is severely limited.

    “The answer to 1984 is 1776”.

  9. Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence, because everybody KNOOOOOOWWWWWSSSSS that fat kids eat crap, and everybody KNOOOOWWWWSSSS that fat kids are unhealthy, and that shaming them makes the world go round, and blah blah frikkity blah.

    There was a post by Linda Bacon the other day talking about how after a presentation she gave on HAES, another researcher wrote a completely inaccurate report on it based almost entirely on “everybody knows” nonsense about weight and health. This perspective is just so deeply ingrained in our societies, not only in average people but also supposed-scholars, that fighting it can seem sisyphean. But we have to keep telling our truth. We have to keep trying. Because we’re right.

  10. I flipped through the Dukan Diet book at my library out of curiosity. It’s pure, unbalanced starvation, plain and simple. It’s pretty appalling that he would be considered an expert — he’s an expert in disordered eating.

    I thought in H.S. gym class that grading us on how fast we could run a mile was bad enough. This is simply appalling…

  11. I’ve got a fantastic idea!

    How about giving the heavy children a ‘D’ , and the children who are heavy AND have acne, lets give them an ‘F’ and make them repeat the year!! Everyone knows that teenagers with acne eat too many greasy, oily junk foods and need to be punished.

    Besides, it’s never too early to learn the lesson that the life is tough, and no matter how hard you try, you’ll never measure up!! Let’s squash the dreams before they start!!

    Who’s with me?!?!

    (PS~I wish Apple would invent a sarcasm font for my MacBook.)

  12. The other thing to remember is that if he’s talking about implementing it in France, the rate of childhood obesity in France are three times higher in the lowest socioeconomic group when compared to the highest socioecomonic group. By doing a program such as this, he’s also calling attention to the fact that the poorest children in France, who more likely have the least ability to buy the healthy nutritious food he’s suggesting they need to be eating, are being punished more so than the highest economic group. And since education is the surest way to raise one’s socioeconomic status, he’s making sure that three times the children in France stay within their current low economic state.

    1. Absolutely. It’s known (in the US at any rate, but I’d bet you’d find something similar in other developed countries) that fewer fat kids go to prestigious colleges, that they more often have to support themselves through college, that fat adults (especially women) are less likely to be picked in job interviews than their thinner, equally qualified counterparts, and that they earn less. And this is the group of kids (and later, adults) that this guy now wants to penalize further?

  13. UGH. Shame, fear, and self-loathing are NOT good motivators, and they are NOT a healthy thing to impose on someone else.

    I don’t know what I weighed through most of high school, but I was a little chubby (not nearly as big as I felt, at the time…but isn’t that how it always goes?). I was probably in the “overweight” range, for BMI, though, judging by the year and a half or so I decided to starve myself, was acutely aware of my weight, and had fallen into the “normal” range. I guess this is the kind of thing they’re hoping kids will do. I would not recommend this to anyone.

    But, I mean, who cares if these kids are emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy, as long as they conform to the wishes of people who ultimately don’t matter in their lives, right? We fatties are just gonna have to suck it up and be miserable if we ever want to become worthwhile people.

    I repeat–UGH. I hope this guy’s idea doesn’t catch on. It’s all based on a bundle of lies and prejudice, and would undoubtedly do far more harm than good.

  14. For some reason I’m thinking of segregation of black and white people, of Hitler’s Germany and his craziness in trying to create a master race..

    I see the future being not pretty. Fatter than ever, traumatised adults, who started dieting desperately even younger than in our own times, ending up fatter as a result of the yo yo diet effect. And poorer as a result of not being able to get the jobs they deserved because of poor grades…

    Leave the kids alone, Dukan.

    1. The thing people like Dukan don’t understand is that if we DID have a perfect master race, they would have NOBODY TO HATE OR LOOK DOWN ON!! They would be so bored!!!!

      Imagine having to spend your whole life without criticizing someone for something they can’t help – well, I just wouldn’t want to live! end/ sarcasm

      1. I often say that if God meant us to fit some preconceived notion of ‘perfect’, He would not have bothered creating each and every one of us to be so different and uniquely special – instead of being born we would have all been rolled off some factory production line like plastic barbie dolls.
        We are amazing in our uniqueness – perfect in our imperfections. i just wish more people would realise that – and not wreck kid’s ability to believe that about themselves at ever younger ages.

  15. Thanks for this. As the parent of an 8-y-o and a 3-y-o, I am very much in the trenches, and it is infuriating. My son’s school has been doing this “Healthy Habits” program encouraging things like eating veggies and watching less TV. I totally support all the goals, and in fact there are really none of the habits that have come up that we didn’t already do as a family, but my son now looks on these things as some kind of onerous punishment! Kids are funny; they don’t like being told what to do. My son was always the kind of kid who would choose carrot sticks and celery over fries because he liked the veggies better, but now that they’ve been beating the kids over the head with all of this nutritional info, he wants the fries.

    There’s an expectation that kids won’t like the things that are healthy for them and that they should therefore be forced to do them. Oftentimes it has the opposite effect.

    1. That whole “Kids don’t like healthy food!” stereotype always bothered me, even when I was that age. I loved vegetables, and my favorites were ones that “kids don’t like”–broccoli, spinach, squash. I liked some “junk”, too, but I was pushing middle school before I ever had anything like fish sticks or chicken nuggets or other supposedly typical kids’ foods.

      Very young children are quite sensitive to what they believe is expected of them. If we keep giving them the message that other kids think vegetables are gross, or that they are somehow difficult to eat, they’re going to pick up on that. So, yeah, I agree.

      1. Exactly.

        If kids just naturally didn’t like veggies, then kids who grew up in areas where a vegetable-heavy diet was the norm would have starved to death.

        Sure, there are those who don’t, but it might have less to do with being kids and more to do with being super tasters. Or, the vegetables are poorly prepared.

        Growing up I loved raw carrots, home grown tomatoes, cooked spinach, corn, lettuces, broccoli and cabbage. But I hated a lot of cooked vegetables because they were boiled into unrecognizable sludge.

        Boiled okra anyone. Speeyack!

  16. I wonder if some of those who implement and monitor these programs (pogroms) are half-consciously responding to job dissatisfaction and insecurity. Schools are under the budget cutting sword. But everyone hates fatness, right? So if we target fatness we can get funds, kudos, promotions. As for self-reflection or scientific reality, well, there’s no need, because “everyone knows” fatness is totally curable and all about bad habits and blah blah blah. If kids “fail”, blame them and their families. And we can flatter ourselves that we do it all out of our kind goodness.

    Thus does the echoing fatphobia perpetuate.

    1. I hadn’t seen that before, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least. Kids feel like they’re under a microscope at school, anyway–having the adults, who are supposed to be their allies, in on it only makes it worse.

  17. I couldn’t give a damn whether it works or not, with extensive proof. It is unethical and dishonest. Anything good that could be achieved by it, could be achieved in a positive way just as well. Anything else has to be considered choice. As well as being a way of fulfilling the much touted insistence that fat people are less intelligent. If this kind of manipulation increased, it would be counted as proof, people are that stupid when under d’influence.

  18. Is it just me or are people just getting more nutso as time goes along?

    Aren’t our schools bad enough without doing something this stupid?

  19. I just figured this out. Pierre Dukan is a stupid man and therefore was a very poor student and got poor grades in school, but he was thin, so he thinks that should have counted for something.

  20. what drives me nuts is this….your FUTURE depends on your grades. being smart, getting good grades was the only thing i COULD control in school, my weight certainly didn’t listen. the fat chick is also usually the educated chick.

  21. I’d be all in support of a plan to bring home economics back to school and kids could then be graded on their ability to put together a healthy meal…

    The part of it that defies logic the most is that children who are obese (and there are many of them) wouldn’t have TIME during a school term to get their weight to a healthy BMI (I’m putting aside the BMI argument because it’s just icing on the cake) so even if a child desperately wanted to lose weight they wouldn’t have time during a school term to actually succeed.

    It’s all very sad and the only good part of this is that that people are actually discussing the fact that our kids aren’t getting a fair shot at a good life when they’re pumped full of processed, sugary, fatty foods.

  22. Dear Pierre: The kids with “normal” BMI already get bonus points in their grades. Studies show that students who are considered more attractive get better grades (and pay later). Those “normal” BMI kids get better grades in PE classes that are pure ableism in action. I was a smart, fat, asthmatic kid with thick glasses and a strong personality. My grades were all I had. If that had been taken away I would have needed my own personal series of “It Gets Better” videos to make it through. Except that it hasn’t. Only my ability to stand up for myself and form my own opinions has improved.

  23. This totally disgusts me. It’s this sort of attitude that destroys children, teens, even adults. And for what purpose? So the diet industry can make extra money? So people who aren’t as fat can feel better about themselves?

    High school is already too focused on appearances, and who is popular, who is on this team or that… Why make things harder for the bigger kids?

    I was lucky – I was respected because I was smart, even though I was fat (enough to be considered “morbidly obese” from childhood, even though I was an active child and didn’t eat any more than my THIN brother and sisters) But if this had happened, and my weight had been part of my grade, I’m not sure that it would have turned out how it did.

    Besides, is that REALLY the message we want to send to our kids? Don’t worry, you don’t have to study or work for your grades as long as you’re not fat?

  24. I’ll say this here: Pierre Dukan is a fraud. Being French myself, it absolutely disgusts me to see his books advertised in pharmacy type places. I’ve taken to calling his method the “Ducon diet” (con = moron). It was all the rage a couple of years ago, now in France it’s starting to decrease in “noise” on TV/Radio, etc. I suspect as more and more people “give up”… just as the method started to be advertised overseas! I wonder why that is, eh?
    He got famously challenged by Gérard Apfeldorfer and Dr Zermati (two French weight/eating issues specialists who’ve been working closely with French FA circles for decades as well as a group of researchers, with an actual scientific approach), the former saying in substance that Dr Dukan was “sending him new clients” who’d have been shaken/badly hurt by his nonsensical diet.

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