Experimenting on Kids, Maybe Not So Good

Think of the childrenThe first thing to know is that all of the interventions being used for “childhood obesity” are experimental at best.  There is no long term data showing that these interventions lead to more “normal weight” kids/adults, or healthier kids/adults (remember that those are two different things.) The research simply doesn’t exist.

There is definitely evidence that trying to get children to be as weight-obsessed as their parents may not have been the best call:

Research from the University of Minnesota found that: None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.

A Canadian study found that eating disorders were more prevalent than type 2 diabetes in kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that hospitalizations of children younger than 12 years for eating disorders rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006. (Children UNDER 12) There was a 15% increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in all ages across the same time period.

A new study is looking at the effects of “school based healthy-living programs.”  Turns out that these programs are being instituted in lots of schools, despite the fact that, per the researchers,  there is little research on the effectiveness of these programs or any inadvertent harmful effects on children’s mental health.

This study found that these programs are actually triggering eating disorders in kids.  Dr. Leora Pinhas said “The programs present this idea that weight loss is good, that only thin is healthy…We live in a culture that stigmatizes fat people, and we’ve turned it into this kind of moralistic health thing.”

Well said Dr. Pinhas, well said.  But I would say that it goes beyond that.  Fat people have been the unwilling, un-consenting victims of experimental medicine for years.  Now we are moving the experiment to kids.

With her assertion that she is going to eradicate all the fat kids in a generation, despite having not a single intervention shown to lead to long-term weight loss in kids (or adults), Michelle Obama has helped to usher in an era wherein anyone who says that they have an idea for eradicating fat kids is taken as seriously as if they had actual research backing their idea.  Kids are being subjected to interventions that were created by rectal pull, no evidence necessary. So when someone said”It makes sense to me that if we have kids focus on their weight, count calories, and think of exercise as punishment for being fat, then they’ll all be thin” authorities, including health professionals, just went ahead and implemented that intervention in schools across the country.

The problem is that someone’s belief – no matter how sincere – does not an evidence-based public health intervention make.   When we consider dart-throwing and rectal pull to be appropriate methods of developing public health initiatives for kids, we open ourselves up to things like what the evidence is uncovering:   the interventions don’t work, they have the exact opposite of the intended effect, and they result in dangerous side effects.

We need to demand that kids not be subjected to a ceaseless barrage of experiments in an attempt to manipulate their body sizes in ways that we don’t have any proof is possible or helpful.  While we’re at it, we might demand the same standard for ourselves.

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30 thoughts on “Experimenting on Kids, Maybe Not So Good

  1. A friend’s first-grader buys lunch at school. She can choose hot lunch or PBJ. She goes for the sandwich most every day. School calls her mom. Child, who is not fatBT

    1. BTW, is eating too much bread they say. They are tracking her lunch for state requirements. Could she have peanut butter and crackers instead some days?

      Crackers are better than bread how? These people do not need to be giving nutrition advice. Since when is one sandwich at lunch too much?

    2. That’s horrible. I’m so worried about kids not getting enough to eat these days — not just because their families are poor, and can’t afford enough food, but even kids whose families *can* afford enough food being denied enough to eat at school out of some misguided notion of what “enough” is.

  2. Oh, this really strikes a chord with me! I was a “chunky” 11-year-old when my mother drove me to a meeting of a weight-loss group which I will not name here. We met in the home of the group leader, and every week weighed in on a bathroom scale in her kitchen. The member who lost the most weight for the week won a little plastic trophy, and I will say that I did win a few of these. But the person who gained the most weight had to put on this horrible baggy pair of overalls, and stand in the middle of the group while they sang a song about “I’m a Little Piggy.” I remember being forced to eat a reduced-calorie diet prepared by my mother. To her credit, when I finally told her (years later) some of the things that were done in those meetings, she was shocked and said she would never have had me continue with the group had she known then. But, being a kid, I just figured out that this sort of thing was normal for weight-loss groups. Now, this was a national group which is still in existence. I don’t know how much of what was done was recommended by the national group or just the brain-child of the leader.

    Well, all of this just started a round of forced dieting instigated by my mother. When I was in high school, it was Weight Watchers. I did manage to lose some weight, but ended up having a rabid hatred of things like tuna salad, diet cheese, diet bread, and other similar foods. I learned to have extremely negative feelings about keeping a food diary, and learned to simply write down what I should have eaten. I learned to become a compulsive eater, sneaking more palatable foods like potato chips. Now, bear in mind that during this time period I had a brother who had a metabolism that was the opposite of mine, skinny as a rail and moving all the time. Our mother used to push things like snack cakes and high-calorie foods down him. Things I wasn’t allowed to have.

    When I finally left home, and I was able to eat what I wanted to, my weight ballooned. And, as the stigma associated with my weight poured in from my family and others, I began a desperate search for a solution to my weight “problem” that led to some fairly serious health problems that I still suffer from. I still have the severely restricted intake that came about as a result of weight-loss surgery, and yet my stapled stomach is not able to digest many of the foods recommended for weight loss.

    I hear all of these stories about “childhood obesity,” and I just cringe.

    1. So many parts of your post struck a chord with me. My mother did not send me to weight-loss programs, but spent most of my childhood leap-frogging from one fad diet to another, convinced of her fatness. I look back over her photos and wonder where her horrible body image came from, and realize where I got mine.

      I was “chubby,” especially compared to my gracefully slender older sister. Between said chubbiness and being a picky eater, I was food-shamed regularly by my hypercritical and controlling father. When I was little I loved to swim, ice skate, ride my bike and climb trees, even though my father always loved to “tease” me for being a “klutz” or clumsy. His impatience and exasperation when I couldn’t keep up with his set pace during our family-togetherness cross-country skiing excursions made me feel utterly worthless. To this day, he still mocks me for crying.

      I didn’t get into organized sports until I joined the town swim team with my friends in middle school. It was fun! Then I started growing breasts, which kept growing, which then earned me admonishments from my father not to run or jump in public because I “drew attention” to myself, implying that if grown men had dirty thoughts about me, or acted on them, it would be my fault for flaunting my body. He still doesn’t get why I gave up on swimming, cross-country skiing and all sports soon afterwards, and why I still have an aversion to exercise.

      When I went away to college, food was my rebellion. Away from my father’s critical eye — and tongue — I could eat what I want, when I wanted. So I did. Which led to a large weight gain I still live with.

      I wish adults would realize — and remember — how much kids internalize stuff.

      1. This! My mom wasn’t understanding that early puberty = weight gain. What do I do that summer? Join a swim team and starve, then get praised for it. I’m thin today, but reading Michelle Obama and Nanny Bloomberg’s BS triggers me. This view of thinness as a religion has to stop. If you think about it, demonizing food and fatness is on par with cult-like tactics.

        1. I’m really new to reading this blog and I think it’s absolutely wonderful, as are all the comments and personal stories. What you guys are describing is very similar to me. I was always quite overweight, I was frankly shocked when, as an adult, saw a picture of my 4-year old self who wasn’t overweight. All my memories are of being “too big”. I however also come from a family of very very large people. My dad’s side of my family all lean to being overweight but also just have huge frames. My dad, two brothers, 2 uncles, and a cousin are between 6′ 3″-6’8″ and I definitely took after that side of the family. I didn’t get to be too tall comparatively, I’m 5’9″, but I’ve been 5’9″ since I was 12. My mom’s side isn’t all super petite people but their frames aren’t the same.

          So even though my mom and I, in my teenage years, were roughly the same height and weight, my hands were bigger, my wrists and ankles were much bigger. And so throughout my childhood my mom (and admittedly most other adult family members) always wanted me to lose weight and diet. I was praised by relatives for dropping a few pounds. There was always and underlying current in any conversation about weight that thin was good and fat was bad and I should definitely not like who I am but always be striving to lose weight and be thin and pretty.

          Once I got my own job and own source of income, it was so easy for me to just eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I’ve gained a lot of weight since hitting adulthood (not super long ago, I’m 24 now) that I look back on my teenage years and wonder why I was even so worried. I know now it had a lot to do with everyone else’s perception of me. I’m finally within the last few years coming to understand that those opinions don’t matter and fat doesn’t = unhealthy, ugly, or morally reprehensible.

          I feel that I was lucky though in some respects. I remember a distinct memory of a conversation between my mom and grandma, telling my mom that I was too young to be put on a diet, that it wouldn’t be healthy for me. So thank goodness really I haven’t been dieting since I was like 5. I have however since about 10, which isn’t too great either. And it’s another case of the same cycle of fad diets and restrictions. It frankly just made me sneak to get food I wanted because I was so miserable with the amount/types of diet food.

          I just feel that my experiences though have made me to desperately want to not do that to my own children (once I get some). Everything that’s happening with the healthy kids movement in schools is really scary to me. I’m not a parent yet, but I already have issues with how public schools are run, having worked in them for 5 years, and this just makes them look that much scarier and potentially harmful.

  3. Only when kids starve themselves because of their “healthy living” programs do these people start to give a shit. They obviously don’t have a problem with telling fat kids that their bodies are defective and inherently unhealthy. THAT couldn’t possibly do any harm…

  4. Great post, Ragen. As an employee in a public high school and good friends with our kitchen staff, I can tell you that the cooks are as upset and frustrated by the restrictions and state/federal mandated guidelines as we are. As far as I can tell, we are not monitoring information on the individual kids for nutrition tracking here in my district. One thing I have noticed in our high school, there are a great many more fast-food meals being brought in and dropped off to our students who are no longer eating the hot meals or even the ala cart. Every single recipe was changed in our school menu.. .including the size of banana.

    We used to have a good salad bar every day. Now we can onlly put out a full salad bar IF it is on the menu as the main item. Insane!!!

  5. Like Ragen said – I think the number of eating disorders coming out of this situation will be astronomical. I just cannot understand why the bureaucrats keep going with something that has absolutely no evidence of success and, in fact, has evidence of causing harm. What is their point? Somebody please enlighten me! I’m sure it all comes down to the almighty dollar. It’s like the blind leading the blind out there. Poor kids – can’t even eat a damn PB&J sandwich for lunch. My son ate PB&J everyday too – I made them for him myself. That’s what he always wanted. What is the world coming to?

  6. My eating disorder is absolutely directly connected to being put on strict diets and constantly told I was fat as a kid. There’s not a single doubt in my mind about that.

    I worked in preschool and daycare for years. I had a THREE year-old student who wouldn’t wear her coat one day. Her goose down coat that was a miniature replica of her mother’s. She had a total meltdown. I couldn’t understand why she suddenly didn’t want to wear her coat, which was new and which she HAD loved because it had pink and purple. She finally told me, I don’t wanna be fat.

    When I told her mother – a very thin and athletic type – about this, her mother looked mortified and whispered, I said to my husband I looked fat in my coat. I guess she heard me.

    This mother was insane about her daughter’s meals, too… so it didn’t surprise me in the least. I hope that incident helped make her more conscious about what she said in front of her child.

    People fail to realize that the stigma only makes life that much harder for the child who does have a weight issue, and furthermore, most of those kids, if left alone and encouraged to adopt ACTUALLY healthy habits will often reach what is – for their bodies – a healthy weight without intervention. If they are pushed or shamed, it leads to a myriad of ritualistic, disordered eating behaviors and distorted perceptions about their bodies.

    I think Barack & Michelle Obama should both be incredibly ashamed of themselves for what they’ve said about their own daughters and their bodies. As if they haven’t already chosen a life that makes their daughters the center of unwanted (and often unfair) media attention, they then think it’s okay to go out and publicly discuss their daughters’ bodies. That just makes it that much more okay for the media to criticize… and what happens if, as those two girls go through puberty, one or both of them gains weight (very common)? She then has to feel like she’s publicly shaming her mother. It’s a hell of a lot of pressure to put on young girls who didn’t ask to be shoved into the public eye, and it makes me despise the Obamas (though admittedly I have plenty of non-weight related reasons for that already).

    1. I have often wondered what I would have been like, had I just been left alone to develop into the woman I would have become. No telling what that would have been, but it would have been great to learn to live my life instead of constantly thinking about food. I was starving myself, eating too much, losing, gaining, losing again. Now I weigh over 300 pounds (at 50 years of age). No matter how old I am, I am so grateful that I know how to take care of myself and riding the weight loss/weight gain rollercoaster is definately out for me now.

      1. I wonder the same. In my case I didn’t starve myself. Actually, I could just never manage to do it, not for lack of want to. Despite having asthma (not as easy to manage then) I lifted heavy things and rode my bike long distances, and as a teen was a dancing fool. However, I got the message that strong and healthy wasn’t good enough. In my case I said “The Hell with it, why stop at one piece of pie? If I’m gonna get criticized I might as well eat half!”

        It would be a wonderful experiment to see how parallel universe me turned out at 50… I’m certain she would be healthier by all objective measures regardless of weight.

  7. The worst of it is that the evidence is right there in front of us how harmful these interventions are. We have hard evidence going back decades that calorie control is not only useless, but often winds up causing the opposite effect from what is desired in the long run. The potential health horrors caused by yo-yo dieting were known to me in the 1970’s. You know, things like: strained/weakened organs, spiraling weight gain, mental health issues when one tries over and over again to do something the body was not designed to accept, and so on.

    Eating disorders are skyrocketing, toddlers are running in fear when offered one damn candy bar, and meanwhile roughly one in five children in America gets the majority of their secure food from school lunch programs that are now required to force children onto diets. We are starving children physically and teaching them to fear the one thing that can end that starvation… all in the name of making them healthy.

    War is peace, freedom is slavery, starvation is sustenance. Newspeak rules the day and we cower before it.

    In protest, I think I’m going to bake a cake today. I haven’t had cake in a while. And if one of the neighbor boys comes by to mow my lawn or ask me a question, I’ll send him home with a slice or five.

    So there.

  8. If there were actual healthy living programs in schools, I’d stand up and cheer. Y’know, gym classes that give options for fun and enjoyable movement instead of bullying; school lunches that are nutritous and tasty, and a focus on healthy habits instead of BMI. Instead, we’re getting more and more skinny-living programs that call themselves healthy. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!

      Gym should be about exploring lots of different ways to be active and see what your own body can do rather than about proving who in the class is the best at something and pretending team sports are great for teamwork skills when they’re actually about allowing the talented kids to shine while shaming the rest of us.

    2. My high school – an alternative program – had “recreational arts” instead of “phys ed.” We got the chance to do activities like bowling (noncompetitive), step aerobics, walking, pool (as in billiards)… and we had an option to volunteer one day a week at a nursing home and it counted for one of our 3 “gym” requirements. I used to do that one day a week and it made me a better person than phys ed ever did, let me tell you. I also bowled 2x a week. When the nursing home no longer had patients who we could visit, I began doing step aerobics. It was very low key, no pressure. I still put pressure on myself to be the “fat girl who could” and forced myself to not even take breaks. But that was all me, not the teachers who led that activity.

      They had the more traditional activities, and team sports, too. Nowadays they offer mini-golf, weight training, DDR and yoga. The point is, they provided students with all fitness comfort and skill levels a wide variety of activities that let them be active. I LOVED bowling. We had fun, I sucked, it didn’t matter. We’d laugh and have a great time. We moved for the fun of it.

  9. I don’t know what most schools cafeteria food is like these days, but my school’s ‘healthy options’ aka something with vegetables in it, were so gross that I usually opted for a nutter butter and a soda. And then ate some real food when I got home.

    For a lot of kids, school is an escape from things going on at home, making this war on childhood obesity even more gross. “Hey teacher, leave them kids alone!”

    1. Hey, now… despite the lyrics quote, don’t be blaming the teachers. We are not the ones who make decisions about school lunch programs. That ALL comes down from state and federal government and ties up the cooks into unhappy knots becuase if they fail to comply, the food service looses federal funding.
      While I agree, school lunches leave something to be desired (especially from the 70’s and 80’s), let’s not stigmatize and stereotype all schools and teachers as promoting BMI based programs because they want to… they are told to in order to get federal funding.

  10. I wish there as a more germane title for your emails. My computer insists on bouncing “comment-reply” to the SPAM file.

  11. It would be nice if they just concentrated on poor kids getting food to eat and left everything else alone.

  12. So, what is it going to take for people to realize that the medical interventions aimed at fat people, are closer to the type of medical experimentation that took place at German concentration camps and Unit 731 in Japan, than they are to actual medical health? Oh, it doesn’t matter if people die, as long as it’s behind closed doors they say.

    Image is of the Genocide Pyramid.

    In the UK when children die of eating disorders, people are shocked and upset. In the USA, when children are choosing to starve themselves to avoid getting fat, it’s called “being healthy”. I still think it’d be fascinating to compare the number of children who died from the war on fat people, to how many children died in Newtown. Maybe people will care, when they realize that our country is murdering their children and calling it good for them.

  13. Why don’t they do studies on why people just can’t except you for who you are. I am so sick of society picking on overweight people. It is hard enough being a kid and when you are a larger size it just gives bullies the go ahead to shame these kids. I love it that they now have stores that have junior plus sizes so they can still dress in style. There are plenty of beautiful people inside and out that are NOT thin. Use some of this money they are wasting on these studies for cancer research and other diseases.

    1. I think a good reason there are more junior plus size stores, is due to fat acceptance activism. I’d kind of like it if clothing stores recognized that adults exist as well, instead of acting as if only teenagers and children do.

      1. I am not sure where you live but I shop at Catherine’s and C.J. Banks and I have to tell you they have beautiful clothes. Hope you get the chance to shop there but wait until they have sales and they always do!!

        1. Two plus size stores, doesn’t make up for the seemingly endless variety of clothing available to those who are thin. I appreciate your helpful advice, and I shop at Torrid. It’s just BS that fat people are not only relegated to special stores that carry their size, now there are signs telling them don’t even bother shopping at certain stores, fat people need to shop online.

          So then, if these signs become common, are we discriminated against by the clothing industry then according to the privileged?

      2. I agree with you and while Catherine’s has nice clothes, they don’t tend to be in my size. If you’re a smaller fat person, you can buy stuff at Target, Walmart, Catherine’s, Lane Bryant, Avenue… but if you’re a larger fat person, you’re basically screwed and stuck ordering online. It sucks.

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