Experiments with Fat Kids

grade on curveI took part in a panel about childhood obesity tonight.  It went well and I’ll do a full write-up later, but in the meantime I wanted to re-post this just in case anyone from the event is looking at the blog for follow up.

The first thing to know is that all of the interventions being used for “childhood obesity” are experimental.  There is no long term data showing that these interventions lead to more thinner kids, or healthier kids (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 and to see fat bodies as a negative thing is problematic:

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.

Though she has since thankfully backed way off her obesity rhetoric, with her assertion that she was 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 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 starting in elementary school 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 are possible or helpful.  While we’re at it, we might demand the same standard for ourselves.

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can help keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

29 thoughts on “Experiments with Fat Kids

  1. My oldest daughter is a tween. I got her a highly recommended book about puberty written for girls who are on the verge of the big changes. Reading it has really opened up a dialogue between us.


    There is the inevitable section on healthy eating, which is of course about calorie restriction above everything else. So now when I buy our bimonthly treat of ice cream (damn the recession), she wants me to get frozen yogurt instead because it’s healthier according to the book. In other words, she will consume fewer calories if she eats the frozen yogurt instead of the ice cream.


    If she asks for a pint of chocolate ice cream, it will take her two or three days to eat it, because it is glossy with satiety-inducing milkfat and tongue-stunningly laden with the flavors that are carried and bound by fat. (We buy the premium brands.) If she asks for a pint of chocolate frozen yogurt, from the same company even, she eats the entire thing! It simply isn’t satisfying enough to cue her to stop. So she ends up consuming more calories because she chose the option that was supposed to reduce her calorie intake.

    Now, I don’t want her to count calories at all, but I don’t want her to make herself ill on foods that are designed to be unsatisfying while still packing a huge energy punch. I have remarked that if the frozen yogurt is tasty and satisfying, then of course she can choose it for her treat, but if it isn’t tasty and satisfying then it doesn’t matter how healthy it is. Hopefully she’ll hear me.

    1. I wish there were companies making good full fat frozen yogurt but it all seems to be “eat this it’s less calories”. I have to eat frozen yogurt instead of icecream because I’m lactose intolerant and yogurt is much kinder to my tummy.

        1. I just made a batch of homemade pineapple mango sherbet. Used honey (because I didn’t want to make simple syrup and wait longer for the stuff to cool) in equal parts with water and a splash of whole milk.

          I can easily eat 3 scoops of store-bought ice cream or sherbet and still feel like I want more. That stuff? 1/4th cup and I’m happy.

          I’m going to continue make my own. Good reason to keep buying local honey too. 🙂

      1. I’ve found that ice cream in small-ish quantities is ok for me, but does tend to give some cramping. I’ve never liked frozen yogurt, even at the beginning before it became popular. The lactose free yogurts that companies are making in Canada now (iogo and yoplait) are all “full” fat: they are 2.5% (about 6g of protein and 5 g of fat). They come in about 5-6 flavours now, and iogo makes a plain variety.

        Unfortunately these are all probiotic, which makes me ill, so I can’t have too much of that either.

          1. I took that at the beginning, but after about a month I was throwing up on it. Apparently others can’t tolerate it either.

      2. Just thought I’d share–My favorite frozen yogurt is a brand called Stonyfield. They make both ice-cream and frozen yogurt. Its thick and creamy plus it still contains the live cultures found in non-frozen yogurt. My favorite flavors are the double chocolate and the creme caramel.

  2. Hey, I love your blog. Here’s an anecdote for you: my kids are healthy. They are also skinny (not necessarily a correlation). What is happening, though, is that the focus on “healthy” eating they are getting from the powers-that-be in their school has created tremendous anxiety about whether they are fat and how fattening the food I cook for them is. It’s a freaking nightmare.

    1. My kid is UNDERweight and whenever the school convinces him to make “healthy” choices it is foods (like lowfat frozen yogurt, mentioned above) that are not healthy for him.

      Luckily, he rarely likes the foods he chooses on the basis of “it’s healthy” so the experiment usually only lasts one try. But he’s also not a tween yet either.

  3. Thank you for this! I can’t remember a single health class that told me it was just as unhealthy to be underweight as overweight, as so as an unfortunately overweight tween and teen, I struggled to lose weight by cutting calories. It wasn’t until my late 20’s, through my own dedicated research that I learned the difference between skinny and healthy and how food actually correlates to that. Then I became angry about all the misinformation I had been given as an adolescent. I have so much more to say on this subject but I could write my own blog post on it. Anyway, thank you for your thoughts on this, I will be sharing.

  4. This national obsession with fat kids is very worrisome, to say the least. We are an Army family, and recently I took my almost 13 year old to the doctor for a sports physical, a requirement to, you know, play a sport. This army clinic that we have to go to (we are stationed overseas so we can’t go to another doctor), has recently implemented a procedure whereby anyone considered overweight or obese by the awesome 1940s BMI chart the Army uses gets a visit from a nurse, peddling the “wellness” center, a place you can go to to have metabolic testing, speak with nutritional counselors, therapists, whatever it takes to make you drop those irritating (to the Army) pounds. So, back to this appointment with my daughter. Because of the way we are built, and because of a few extra pounds, my tween daughter, with me in the room, received a visit from te obesity fairy, ie, this nurse, to talk to her about becoming obsessed as early as possible with her weight and go to this clinic to run on a treadmill while breathing into a tube with electrodes lied to her chest and then speak with a therapist about how she must have all sorts of issues because of her chubbiness. I was so angry! You better believe I stopped that nonsense AND spoke with the clinic commander, who met me halfway by at least making it mandatory to ask a parent of any minor before bringing in the obesity fairy. I also mentioned the healthy at any size movement and your website. In our house we don’t focus on numbers on a scale but on happy and healthy movement and nutritional food with treats and things as we want, because life is short and should be awesome. I am constantly shocked and angered by the Army’s ever present war on childhood obesity, from infomercials on the Armed Forces Network to posters about watching your calories in the elementary schools. It is a shame.

    1. Any thoughts about at what age it makes sense to tell children that mainstream society is making some serious mistakes?

      1. It’s never too early to tell the kids that many people are fools, and that you should pity them, and you should not believe everything you are told!

        Well, maybe there is a little too early. Wait until kindergarten age.

      2. Just as it is never too early to tell kids that what they see on TV isn’t reality, it is never too early to replace misinformation with information.

  5. I’ve been working on a paper about the best way to feed children and I did a lot of research on overweight kids. Nothing I found would be surprising to this audience, but I’ll say it anyway. First, dieting is a precursor to weight gain, the more extreme the diet, the higher the weight gain. Second, overweight kids who don’t hate their bodies are more active and have better health markers overall. Third, despite the evidence that dieting in kids is dangerous, it remains the recommendation action.

    The whole thing made me sick. I used a pretty long quote from Dr. Katja Rowell from TheFeedingDoctor.com about raising a generation of binge eaters because it really spoke to me and I see it happening all around me, My heart hurts for the this generation because there are going to so many people so screwed up about food. I know my relationship with my parents will never really be truly good because of how they treated me like I wasn’t worthy of being loved because of my weight.

    1. This was a truth I learned later in life. I actually stopped dieting because I didn’t want to end up getting bigger. Every time I dieted, the weight came back plus at least 20 more pounds.

  6. I already hat these experiments done on me, in a way, as a pre-schooler in the 1970s. When I started school, I already know how to count calories and that “let yourself get fat” was like “not look both ways when crossing the street, get hit by a car and end up in a wheelchair”. It meant you could not have nice things ever again.

    In later years, as a teen, I tried diet and exercise and gained 30 kilos, and not one centimetre in height. Many of my classmates took up smoking to stay thin, the more daring or desperate tried ephedrine. It seemed to work for them. At least they were skinny.

    But at least none of us believed we did this for our health. We did it to be loved.

    1. I tried to convince myself it was “for my health” when I took the ephedrine. I can’t believe I ever took that stuff. If I did it now, I think my heart would blow up!
      When I was in my 30’s, I nearly ended up in the E.R. after taking an “all natural” diet supplement. My heart was pounding so fast and hard, I literally thought I was going to die. I stopped taking ephedra after that.

  7. Does anyone know of research about the eating disorders and the age of first attempt at weight loss? My impression from reading a lot of accounts of eating disorders is that there’s a correlation, but that’s hardly evidence. Weirdly(?), I don’t get the impression that there’s a correlation between whether the early diet is forced or chosen and a later eating disorder.

    When I say early, I mean something like before age 15. It’s possible that dieting that young is so common we should be studying people who *don’t* get eating disorders.

  8. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Here’s what happens when you teach a kid to be so terrified of being fat that they will do anything to stay thin.
    You get a kid with an eating disorder.
    A kid who, like me, starts forcing themselves to vomit after eating when they can no longer fit in a size 9 boys’ jeans (or some other such measure of “failure”.) I hated the fact that I was developing hips even more than I was embarrassed when my breasts started developing.
    I was twelve years old.
    I’ve actually had a disordered relationship with food for much longer than that. My family prided themselves on eating hardy, and if you didn’t have seconds, you were insulting the cook. However, my father’s side of the family has always had fast metabolisms. I didn’t inherit that.
    Speaking of metabolism, dieting and eating disorders screw it up.
    So, yeah. When fat bodies are vilified and thin at any cost is promoted, you get kids with eating disorders. Abra-ca-duh!

Leave a Reply to The Real Cie Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.