Girl Scouts – Cookie Sales and Calorie Counting?

The Girl Scouts of America made a massive misstep by partnering with the profit-motivated Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation and misappropriating $250,000 to teach Girl Scouts weight control tricks, the most likely outcome of which is an unhealthy relationship with food and disordered eating…

Or that’s how the press release should have started. When I read the actual release (which is from November, 2011 but has recently been recirculated) it struck me that they seemed strangely proud of the fact that they are touting Calories In/Calories Out, otherwise known as “energy balance” theory.  In fact the title of the press release is “Fighting Obesity with Calories In Calories Out.”  I think I can explain that (and I will in a moment) but first let’s take a look at how many ways this is wrong:

First, “Simple Calories In/Calories Out” is probably the most prevalent and persistent myth that exists when it comes to health and weight. Even if they are suggesting it as a method of “preventing obesity”, the main problem is that it’s so difficult to figure out the calories out part of the equation.  Almost everyone knows someone who eats tons of food never works out and stays thin.  On the other side, almost everyone knows a fat person who eats healthy and exercises but doesn’t lose weight (although, curiously, the calories in /calories out proponents typically say that the former is perfectly normal and the latter is impossible).  There is no evidence to suggest that this works.  Worse, it tells girls not to trust their bodies and hunger but to count calories and focus on their weight – a dangerous combination according to studies.

Surely they’re not suggesting it for weight loss since  it’s been studied repeatedly since at least 1959 with consistent results:  utter failure.

In fact, encouraging weight control in kids is highly suspect, perhaps even dangerous.  Over the last decade (since we’ve been focusing on kid’s weight) the number of hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under twelve is up 119%.  According to research from the University of Minnesota “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.”  And yes Virginia, that includes “energy balancing”.

I think that the biggest problem with this completely overblown “OmigodChildhoodObesity Panic” is that it has given way to the idea that we don’t need to test interventions because there’s just. no. time.  So we’re experimenting on a generation of kids.  And we’re doing multiple experiments at the same time – their school has some untested, unproven interventions.  Their doctor has some unproven, untested interventions.  Their extracurricular activities are apparently getting in on the mix.  I got an e-mail from a read who was watching the Armed Forces Network and they had a commercial where a little girl was a role model because she was taking things off her friends trays and telling them what to eat.  Where’s the evidence that little girls bullying little kids results in greater health or thinner kids. If I tried to get IRB approval for this I would get laughed out – it’s dangerous and inappropriate.

So how did this go so wrong?  Who is the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation?

Let’s start with the information that it’s President is also on the board of the Girl Scouts.  She has an impressive brand management resume but absolutely no background in health or scientific research.

The board chair is the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo.  Impressive business resume, not a single health qualification, or research background.

The Board Chair Emeritus is the CEO of Kellogs. No health qualifications, no research background.

The Vice Chair is the CEO of Hy-Vee (operates more than 230 retail stores in eight Midwestern states). No health qualifications, no research background.

Not to brag, but I have a decently impressive business background as well as research and fitness credentials so let me float a theory:  These people are interested in promoting “energy balance” because it takes to focus off the quality of the food – which is an area where they would otherwise be heavily scrutinized.  They get to say that they are “doing something” about childhood obesity while taking the attention off of their food, and they are doing with with government money and, unbelievably, public donations which they are comfortable asking for on their website (minimum donation – $50)

I don’t actually care what their major malfunction is, they have absolutely no right to run for-profit/CYA experiments on kids.

Whatever your beliefs about the so-called “Childhood Obesity Epidemic”, it’s important to know that we have no idea how to change kid’s weight (or whether a kid’s extra weight is due to their upcoming growth spurt, their body’s natural size, or something else).  There is no proof that teaching calorie counting to Brownies and Girl Scouts makes them healthier or less likely to be fat.  There is plenty of evidence that suggests that teaching calorie counting to Brownies and Girl Scouts makes them more likely to develop eating disorders and an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. There is no reason in the world to risk it. If someone is suggesting an “obesity prevention” initiative for your kids (or for you) demand to see the evidence that it works long-term and that it doesn’t do harm.  We do not have to be the subjects in a grand (and highly profitable for everyone but us) anti-obesity experiment.

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37 thoughts on “Girl Scouts – Cookie Sales and Calorie Counting?

  1. There are no words to describe how much this saddens me.

    I did a lot of research before I allowed my daughter to join. Only after I was certain that they portrayed a positive image for girls, and encouraged them to be strong, independent thinkers, did I give her the ok.

    This goes against everything that I thought I saw in the organization.

    My only hope is that my daughter’s troop leader doesn’t buy into this and choose to pass it on to the girls. I would hate to have to pull her out of something she enjoys so much, but I refuse to encourage the body hatred and fat shaming I grew up with.

  2. Next, they’ll be changing the name Brownies to Iceberg Lettuces. Because “Brownies” sets a bad example! It might make people want to eat brownies!

  3. Just me, or does anyone find the attempt at trying to link Girl Scout cookies with healthy eating hysterically funny? Of course I can’t speak for “all y’all” (occasionally my 13 yrs in Nashville rears its head), but I’ve never ordered a box of GS cookies and NOT eaten the whole dang thing within ten minutes. And Lord help me if I bought more than one. AND if they’re samoas…well, just call me Titanic. LOL! Just sayin…

      1. Even if she wasn’t kidding….how is it your business to comment on it, esp with “personal responsibility” crap?

  4. I’m very upset about this. I just supported them by buying 3 boxes of their cookies. I guess this will be my last time doing that. Hopefully it doesn’t happen.

  5. I’ve heard some issues with Girl Scouts of late so this doesn’t entirely surprise me. It used to be a really good program but due to the times and the political climate, the program has been torn between trying to remain politically correct and trying to remain true to its program and I think it’s bending unfortunately. And too, some of it does depend on individual leaders and troops so what goes on in one troop may not go on in another.

    I like their cookies though. 😀

  6. Oh no! Not the Girl Scouts! I love them…(though, now that I think about it, more in theory than in reality – my troop was especially boring and I was shy). Hey, Ragen, I just read an “Ask Amy” column and thought of you, since you advocate standing up for yourself and your body. Someone wrote in and told about being bullied about her weight, and her solution, which was to look them in the eye and say “you’re hurting my feelings”, and not let them get away with “just joking” but making them acknowledge that there’s a person here. Anyway, thought I’d share.

  7. Something this reminds me of. My Cousin, a girl scout who’s about 7-8 years old..her and her family came to visit a while back and I remember her sitting at the counter with my Fiance drinking a class of Milk. And she stopped about half way through and said this verbatim “I really shouldn’t drink the rest of this, I have to watch my Trans Fats” I looked at her Shocked, as did my Fiance, and s asked her “Sweety do you even know what trans fats are?” and she gave some complex explanation and that she just knew she wasn’t supposed to have a lot of them.
    SHE’S 7!!!!!!

    This is the SAME child that when she was a toddler (3-5ish) she pretty much only ate Cheetos and nothing else.

    Her Mother is a bit of a weight Nazi, and I really dislike using that term, but I remember one time when I was younger, teenager I think, we were talking about something and my weight came up and she just about fainted. She put her son who was older on a VAGARIOUS Diet program when he was about 7-8, and kept him on it until he was in high school and got into sports. Now he is arrogant and stuck up, does Modeling and such, and worse, He claims he is Hispanic instead of his actual Korean Heritage. So somehow she instilled in him a body shame so deep that he doesn’t even want to be proud of his heritage!
    And his little sister is starting to do the same. The Fat hate, the calorie counting and vagarious cutting of things in foods hat she doesn’t even understand! And some of that came from her girl scouts.

    It’s really difficult being around them. Everyone else in my family is loving and accepting of me and of everyone else’s body size, but she (my Uncle’s Wife) just isn’t. SHe is SUPER nice, but the weight gets really strong.
    Makes me sad. Heck I was in Girl Scouts. We had contests to see who could sell the most cookies. We helped our community, we learned about acceptance and to be kind to everyone no matter what they looked like. I NEVER remember there being ANYTHING about weight. We learned about the food Pyramid, but that’s about it.

  8. I remember when my cousin was in middle school, she started he subway diet. She was the fat kid and she did lose weight calories counting. But, she doesn’t trust herself to make her own sandwiches. She is about to graduate from college and still eats subway almost exclusively. She is thin but thinks she’s still fat.

    She still hates her body.

    My parents helped me throughout grade school. I was the bullied fat kid. They told me that nothing those kids said mattered, I was beautiful and that I shouldn’t belive anything they said. I believed my parents. I grew into a person who didn’t need others to make me happy. But imagine my surprise when I got to middle school and my mother told me that were both fat and needed to diet.

    My mom recently lost weight and even though I’m married and living away from them, she still seems angry that I didn’t lose weight too.

    Maybe when seven year olds come home spouting some of this nonsense to their parents, they will realize how silly they sound.

  9. Thank you for all your work, Regan! You are helping me to be more accepting and understanding of my body and that, in turn is helping my kids with theirs : )

  10. I thought the girl scouts was supposed to be a program that promotes fun activities and learning experiences. If they wanted girls to learn about omg-don’t-gain-weight-or-you’ll-die….don’t they learn that in health class at school? Poor girls need SOMEPLACE to have fun and not have to worry about this, and goodness knows it isn’t school (or, likely, at home).
    And where are the BOY scouts in all this? Are they left out of this issue just like the girls scouts were when the omg-the-kid-better-not-be-gay-in-boy-scouts thing flared up? (Or am I wrong about that? I didn’t pay too much attetion)

    1. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have been separate entities with separate agendas for a long time. They started together, but have different values now. Thus the Boy Scouts clinging to some of their very conservative views (like banning gay troop leaders) while Girl Scouts openly accepts any girl or woman.

  11. The girl scouts have always been a massive gaping disappointing failure as an organization anyway. As a little girl, I found out about boy scouts from a book. A camping club that teaches you how to tie knots and use a utility knife?! Holy heck sign me up! But it was only for boys. Then I found out there was a GIRL scouts! Heck yeah! I got my mom to let me join the local troop… of boring frikkin baking and crafting projects I could do at home any flipping day of the week. Where were the ropes? Where was the wilderness survival badge? Where was anything remotely related to scouting? Mom made me stay out the year but I couldn’t quit fast enough.

    I’ve really held a grudge, they’ve had nothing but my contempt since. XD

    1. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with your troop, but that’s not necessarily reflective of the organization as a whole. I definitely learned various outdoor skills (water sports and safety, backpacking, backcountry necessities & etiquette, etc.) as well as meeting up with folks from various troops across the country for similar activities. Is it possible your grudge is held on a small sample size?

  12. @April
    The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts are completely separate organizations. One doing something doesn’t mean the other one is. My boys have yet to get any weight control advice from being in Boy Scouts and I hope it stays that way.

  13. boy scouts hasn’t bothered the boys about weight but they do the leaders – you can’t go on excursions as a leader if you are over a certain BMI no matter if you are athletic and or approved by your doctor. (that and the no gay leaders allowed either crap)

    1. Yes, this. Certain trips are forbidden if your BMI is above a certain cut-off, no matter your fitness level. The assumption is that if you are “normal” BMI, you MUST be healthy and fit and not at high risk for heart attack, but if your BMI is high, then you must be unhealthy, out of shape, and strongly at risk for a heart attack.

      No restrictions on the kids yet. But the Boy Scout magazine has been pushing the weight awareness thing. Ugh. So it’s there, just not as strongly and obviously as Girl Scouts.

  14. Nooo! Not the Girl Scouts too! Doesn’t undermining girl’s self-confidence through weight shaming go against a lot of what Scouts is supposed to stand for?

    1. This was posted by a HAES FB page and I thought it was fitting somehow with this push on the Girl Scouts. Because what better way to counter the leadership skills and self-confidence that the girls might be learning than to get them focused on all these fears about their bodies?

      “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”― Naomi Wolf

  15. I plan to write to my local council and ask them not to support this program. I think it flies in the face of the accepting, diverse community that Girl Scouts is otherwise known for. Girl Scouts was the shove in the direction of body acceptance that I needed three years ago when I worked at one of their summer camps. I’m definitely going to share that experience with them when I ask the local council to nix this program at the local level.

  16. Things the Girl Scouts taught me in the 10 years I was involved in no particular order:
    1.) How to babysit.
    2.) How to string beads.
    3.) How to glue things other than paper.
    4.) Archery.
    5.) How to babysit.
    6.) Orienteering.
    7.) How to give myself a facial.
    8.) How to smoke without getting caught.
    9.) I can be friends with lesbians.
    10.) How to babysit.
    11.) “You should really do something about your zits.”
    12.) How to sell cookies and multiply by $4 a box.
    13.) How to clean a latrine.
    14.) That Affirmative Action means that I get shat on because of my skin color, people are okay with that, and they expect me to be okay with that too.
    15.) How to babysit.
    16.) A plethora of camp songs.
    17.) That an adult in a leadership role can call a 14 year old a bitch and get away with it.
    18.) How to fold an American Flag.
    19.) How it feels to be a scapegoat.
    20.) How to babysit.
    21.) Spelunking.
    22.) Crowd management with minors.
    23.) Wearing a uniform in public is embarrassing.
    24.) I’m allergic to Apple Cider Vinegar.
    25.) How to babysit.
    26.) Fruit floats.
    27.) How to sleep in a swimming pool.
    28.) How to shave my legs in a shower.
    29.) How to do a screech owl impression.
    30.) How to babysit.
    31.) I really wanted to be a boy scout.

  17. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started offering badges in dieting and weight loss surgery.

  18. “I got an e-mail from a read who was watching the Armed Forces Network and they had a commercial where a little girl was a role model because she was taking things off her friends trays and telling them what to eat. Where’s the evidence that little girls bullying little kids results in greater health or thinner kids. If I tried to get IRB approval for this I would get laughed out – it’s dangerous and inappropriate.”

    I would tell that little girl to keep her hands off my food. Who died and made her Queen of The Diet? Nobody taught her any manners, I suspect!

  19. Ashley – guess what. I can and have been known to eat a box of Girl Scout cookies in ten minutes. No, I am not kidding. Do I buy many boxes? No, because there are usually other things I have to buy. It is not within anyone’s province to tell someone else not to eat something. Unfortunately that is now the message coming from the Girl Scouts. Instead of giving girls skills and pride with which to cope with a fat-shaming world, they have joined the fat-shaming chorus. Sounds like a new organization is needed: The Girl Pride Organization.

    1. I wouldn’t want to tell someone they aren’t allowed to eat a whole box of cookies in 10 minutes, but what I got out of her comment was very different. I sensed blame on GS for making cookies and I got a sense of helplessness in her eating the whole box of cookies. I just found is emotionally triggering for me to read because I felt it contradicts some of the messages being promoted in fat acceptance/haes, etc and the truth of the matter is, there are quite a lot of things I am still confused on because I feel there are a lot of mixed messages and things I can’t seem to agree with or fully support and I will usually filter myself in order to not offend anyone, but I guess yesterday my filter wasn’t working properly and I do apologize that it was an insensitive comment

      1. Check this out, then, Ashley. It may help Mary Stein, FA activist and blogger, talks about exactly this issue – food shaming.

        And yes I realize that for you -someone who is a model and weighs 95 pounds at 5’2- it may be difficult to filter some of the differing messages of FA at times. But that means, I guess, that we are becoming a real movement, with different orientations and directions at times.

        I am glad you are persevering in trying to understand.

        1. Sorry I’m so late jumping in here, this is an interesting thread. I’m not so sure that Ashley was food-shaming at all. I didn’t read where she said that people shouldn’t eat a whole box in ten minutes, or that there was any shame in it - just that how many cookies someone eats is not the responsibility of the people who sold them those cookies. I absolutely agree with that statement. I think if the phrase had been “personal choice” instead of personal responsibility it may not have triggered such a reaction. I’m at fault for going for the cheap alliteration tool in the title and bringing cookie sales into the conversation. I didn’t think Ashley’s comment was an “eyeroll” comment at all since, if we went after the Girls Scouts Calorie Counting Program on the basis that it’s somehow their fault that we all eat their cookies by the box in 10 minutes, that would be utterly ineffective argument, and would probably backfire – not because there is shame in the eating of the cookies (there isn’t), but because it has nothing to do with the dangers of the calorie counting program.

          Does that make sense?



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