Thirteen Year Old Girl Refuses Weigh In

You Cannot Be SeriousReader Laney e-mailed me this story:  when she was called in front of her class to be weighed, Ireland Hobart Hoch decided to be brave, and said no.  Even when teachers and other students pressured her to do it, even when they sent her to the office,  Ireland Hobart Hoch refused to be weighed to have her BMI calculated.

“I really wasn’t comfortable with anybody but my mom and doctor knowing my weight,” Ireland said. “For another person to know — that’s not important to them.”

The adults involved used this as an impetus to look into the issues with publicly weighing kids at school and using BMI as a health measure and, based on the research, changed what they were doing with quiet dignity, modeling for the students that it’s ok to make mistakes and important to correct them.

Just kidding, they freaked out like feral cats in a bathtub.

“If it’s a math test, is a teacher not going to include something that is vital for a student’s math skills?” asked Jennifer Peterson, president of the Iowa Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

A student’s height/weight ratio is not vital to any skills.  A measurement of a student’s height/weight ratio should not be compared to an academic test.  Jennifer Peterson should have to find another job.

“I think there are some body image issues with this girl,” Ellen Latham, Southeast Polk’s curriculum director said. “The more attention to it, the more it challenges her.”

How do these people get to be in charge of children?  Ireland made a very rational argument about why she wasn’t willing to be weighed, and their response is to call her “this girl” and claim that she is the problem? (And I shudder to think what they would have said about her if she were fat.)  Fuck that.

“The use of BMI is widely recommended by the Institute of Medicine, by the Centers for Disease Control and almost every other agency because of the obesity epidemic,” said Gregory Welk, professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and scientific director for the Cooper Institute’s FitnessGram.

The use of heroin as a (“non-addictive”) substitute for morphine, and Lysol as a douche were also highly recommended but that didn’t make them good ideas.  Suggesting that the existence of a certain number of fat people somehow justifies the use of a deeply problematic measurement of “health” makes absolutely no sense.

But what does the CDC actually say?

The CDC “acknowledges that little is known about the outcomes of BMI-measurement programs and their utility for young people.”

“Little is known.”  And we’re strongly recommending it why? What has research found about the results of focusing on the weight of kids instead of focusing on health for kids of all sizes? Let’s take a look:

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.

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 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.

Fat adults have been the unwilling, un-consenting victims of experimental medicine for years.  Now society is moving on to experimenting on kids (that’s the definition of an intervention where “little is known about the outcomes… [or their] utility”)  .

So let’s be clear on what’s actually happening here.  The CDC, the state of Iowa, and her school wanted to practice experimental medicine on Ireland Hobart Hoch, and she refused to consent.  Good for her, good for her mom supporting her, and shame on all of the so-called experts bloviating about things they obviously don’t know anything about.

Activism Opportunity:  Find out if your kids’ (nieces/nephews/grandkids etc.) school utilizes BMI and/or weight based health initiatives. Insist that they provide you evidence of efficacy in improving kids health and avoiding harmful outcomes like disordered eating and eating disorders.  When they can’t (because none exists) insist that your kids be pulled from the program.  Bonus points if you get other parents involved.

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31 thoughts on “Thirteen Year Old Girl Refuses Weigh In

  1. I don’t know if BMI existed when I was 11, but along with several other children I was taken out a lesson one day to be weighed by the school health nurse, told I was”too fat” and needed to eat less. I was a socially inept child; when the girls at the top of the class pecking order wanted to know why I had been taken out, I told them. This started years of bullying in school. And I wasn’t really that fat at the time! When my daughter was in her early teens, the whole class were weighed and each child told whether they were under or over weight. They had to queue up in a long line by the medical room, and other students could hear what was said. In my daughters class of 30 children only 3 children were told they were “normal weight” everyone else was told they were either or under or over weight.

    I was furious and kicked off big style: first thing I did was to withdraw my permission for any school nurse, doctor, health care assistant etc to see/examine/anything else my daughter without my permission in writing after I had received prior notice along with an invitation to attend the examination. I was not the only mum doing that by the way.

    I then spoke to the school nurse herself and told her exactly how emotionally abusive her behaviour was, and the harm she was doing to young people.

    To be fair, the school expressed concern over how the nurse had conducted the weighing session, although they couldn’t do much because they don’t employ the nurses directly they are part of the health services. I complained to the health services too

  2. “I think there are some body image issues with this girl,”

    Is this suppose to discredit her arguments? Because it sounds more like a reason why they shouldn’t be weighing kids in school. Body image issues are incredibly common among middle school kids, especially girls, and having your school weigh you in front of your class is not going to help. There is a reason the Eating Disorders Coalition thinks this is a bad idea.

    I’m so glad this wasn’t done when I was in school. Even without weigh ins at school I was bullied a lot for my weight, which contributed to an eating disorder in middle school. Public weigh ins at school would have just made that even worse.

  3. I hope her parents move out of the State of Iowa as soon as possible and find a state where the authorities, responsible for the schools and their doing, do not participate in violating patients’ secrets. If you want to include calculating a BMI into HEALTH-education it is something that should be done without other than medical personal present! Or do the teachers involved do public colonoscopies?

    1. Where would that be? Once Michelle Obama got her fingers into the school age children’s lunches, there were many ‘grants’ available to school nurses to promote healthy lifestyle by starting ‘walk to school’ days and they did bulk evaluations of students to have a starting point for watching changes in BMI over a period of time. I was outraged. I got a letter informing me my daughter was over 30 on her BMI, but ‘don’t panic and put your child on a diet’.. “encourage activity and healthy food choices”… and ‘if you’d like more information… blah blah blah.
      My fattie daughter was STRONG.. she could hand over hand on the monkey bars until she blistered her hands. The nurse told her not to play like that anymore… rather than suggest, oh I don’t know, training gloves!!!?

      sorry.. this post is too close to home for me

    2. This does seem a bit problematic not only because there’s really no where that you can go that hasn’t been firmly entrenched in the “childhood obesity epipanic” but also because not everyone can afford to simply pick up and move to another state despite the failings of the schools where one is. 😦

      1. And here I am, in Germany, thinking the US of A are so much more mobile than ourselves … Most Germans still live within a 60 mile radius of the town their parents live.

      2. We’re going to homeschool our girls and this is among one of the reasons why. As a former teacher, I was, and still am, shocked by what agendas the public schools IN ALL STATES are forcing down our throats. They will not be experimenting on our girls…EVER!

  4. Dear Ragen.

    I cannot tell you how much i love your posts. You speak such truth, it is fantastic. Your messages touch me on a personal level because they are about self acceptance, body acceptance and self love. Is it relevant to say that i am not fat – never have been and am unlikely ever to be, because that is simply not my body type? I think so, because that gets to your point: our society wrongfully, and ultimately very dangerously, judges people on this random, misinformed and even cruel criteria of “fat v thin”.

    This is bad for us all, from the thin to the fat and anyone in between who is made to feel shame instead of love for his/her body. (And who isnt?). Your message sooooo needs to be spread. It s a radical one, though, and one that will probably have trouble finding acceptance. I continue to learn so much from your posts, and repost often. Keep it up, the world needs you.


  5. I remember one bizarre episode where all the kids in my elementary school were screened for hearing issues. Each classroom of kids was sent to the cafeteria. Everybody sat outside the cafeteria waiting their turn while the child being screened went into a small area as far from that door as possible that had been curtained off. The only people in that little space were the child being assessed and the doctor. Nobody knew what was said about a specific child unless they chose to tell someone else, and I don’t recall even being verbally informed of the results.

    While I consider BMI assessments the opposite of helpful, unlike hearing screenings which may well have identified a few children who needed some form of help that would actually, well, help, if schools insist on doing the BMI BS boogie, this episode proves there is a way to do it discreetly.

    But that isn’t the point of having BMI assessments in school. The point is public shaming. It’s all about making sure the fat fatties know they are fat and unworthy so they will become thin and deserving with a side of making sure the thin kids know whom to bully for being fat fatties who are fat and disgusting.

    BTW, kids aren’t given their IQ tests before the entire class, nor are kids’ IQs read out to the other kids.

    Incidentally, did you know the IQ test is also grossly misused today? It was never intended to be a specific measure of the intelligence of a child. Its original purpose was to help teachers identify children with borderline learning disabilities such as very mild dyslexia in order to know which children might need a little extra help in class. There was a chapter on that in The Measure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. Terrific book for anyone who wants to know some history of racist, classist junk science.

    1. You must mean The Mismeasure of Man. My library has a copy of that, but not with with other title. I will definitely have a look.

      1. D’oh! Thanks for the correction, Mich. I didn’t even notice I did that.

        Still, it’s a fascinating book whatever it’s called. ; )

  6. I don’t remember being weighed in school (1960s and 70s); if I was, it wasn’t a big deal. But my mother told the story about being weighed when she was in high school in the 1930s; she weighed 160 pounds then, at about 5’9″, and the nurse said, “You’re a big girl; you can carry it.” Can you imagine anyone saying that now?

  7. Wow. I’m surprised that no one has pointed out the HIPPA issues to the school officials. Regardless of the fact that BMI is not a real health measure, it is curreny used that way. That means it is personal health information, as is body weight, and both are protected by HIPPA. Would tbe teacher make the kids publicly reveal blood test results during a lesson on heart health or diabetes or Thyroid disease or STIs? Are they required to take a physical and show the results to the teacher to pass the class? No. Because that information is private and protected by law. I’m surprised the district lawyer isn’t freaking out.

  8. I sincerely hope the law gets involved. That kind of private information needs to stay private. I can see weighing kids in a sport like wrestling, where there are weight categories, but even then, you just need to see if a kid falls into the range, not an exact number.

  9. I wish my mom had had my back during the annual ritual of Telling All Non-Athletes How Broken and Stupid They Are, AKA the Presidential Fitness Challenge.

    For non-U.S. readers, that’s a totally optional contest held once a year during which all students who choose to participate can publicly show their ability to do situps, chinups, sprints, etc., to a level acceptable for athletes and earn a paper certificate. Again, this is totally optional and there is no stigma applied to those who choose not to participate due to lack of interest or lack of desire to be publicly mocked and put down for being who they are, i.e., not athletic.

    Which is why refusal to participate in the stupid Challenge counts against your grade and gets you punished for your bad behavior.

    I went and looked it up. The Challenge is being phased out in favor of a new improved program that is going to “teach our kids the fundamentals of healthy living” by including an award for “Balanced Body Composition” that can be given as early as Kindergarten. I had no idea the godawful ritual could get even worse.

    1. I remember the Presidential Fitness Challenge from when I was in 3rd grade (8 years old) in 1964. I remember blinking back tears as I was unable to do a chin-up, and realizing that the daily mocking I faced on the playground for being unable to throw or catch a ball was only going to get worse. At age 8, it didn’t occur to me to refuse to take part — and we were told that we HAD to. “Children, today we’re doing the President’s Fitness Challenge.”

      And I remember the public weigh-in, in front of all my classmates, in 1967 when I was almost 11 and hit 100 pounds for the first time. I remember crying to my parents that night and saying “I don’t believe the scale!” and my older sister saying “Well, *I* believe it!” (siblings are so good at that sort of thing). I remember that night was the first time I seriously considered suicide–at not-quite-eleven years old. I could not imagine how I could face the mockery and bullying of my classmates when everyone knew that I weighed ONE HUNDRED POUNDS. (I was several inches taller than anyone else and already well into puberty, so of course I weighed more than they did — but I felt it, heard it, as “you’re fat.”)

      This public humiliation of children shit has been going on a long time. But I’m afraid it’s only getting worse.

  10. Some trigger warnings: fat shaming and insults targeting overweight children.

    There’s a scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America says to David Banner (encouraging to become the Hulk) “Dr Banner, now might be a good time to get angry.”

    Dr Banner replies: “That’s my secret, I’m always angry”

    That is what I feel like this week, after the news of Dillards fat shaming sign, the crash test dummy fiasco and the opponents of Fat Acceptance (oh just the media and the government) creating completely false and terrifying stories about crematoriums catching fire and people dying on collapsing couches. Now this story, which I take very personally.

    I was raised in a military family. My dad is retired Navy Captain who flew fighter jets in Vietnam. He was a hero on every base we moved to around the world, and people we did not know always were coming up to him thanking him for this and that. But that contrasted to me being weighed at every new school (I went to mostly DoDDs schools and schools on base) I went to and being told that I had to slim down for the good of my health and the pride of my father (and sometimes even god!). I remember two very distinct occasions when me and some of the other overweight kids would brought in front of our gym class were berated for being fat…one coach specifically targeted me and said “I cannot believe you are Commander *****’* kid, you look like melted butter in garbage bag.” To the uproarious laughter of the entire gym class.

    I am so proud of this young lady standing up for herself, because in a way she is standing up for all of us.

    1. (((((((((((Simon))))))))))). And hugs for all of us. I have always been plumper than average & I have cerebral palsy, with mobility issues, an obvious limp, etc., & I was also extremely near-sighted, & wore thick glasses, so I know about being singled out, bullied, ridiculed, &, since I also had abusive alcoholic parents, generally & constantly being told how ugly, terrible, worthless, etc., I was. I was also bullied by gym teachers, who had apparently NO concept of disability or any idea that some people, no matter how hard they try, CANNOT do all the things a lot of able-bodied people, or any concept of the idea (which I myself have only realized since I grew up) that able-bodied people also have different abilities & not everyone is SUPPOSED to be either thin or athletic. Many of us carry scars which will never completely fade from abuse we endured at school at the hands of people who were supposed to have our best interests at heart.

    2. Banner’s name is Robert Bruce Banner, but is more commonly known as Bruce. (I’m a total Marvel geek)

      I do agree though with all of this crap lately it is hard not to feel like Hulk and smash things..

    3. I just watched the series premiere of Atlantis (there was a marathon on Sat. for the new season) and Hercules is ridiculed as fat, so he says he’s big boned. Fat hate has infiltrated a show about time travel/ancient Greece. Shame.

  11. Good for Ireland.

    ‘“I think there are some body image issues with this girl,” Ellen Latham, Southeast Polk’s curriculum director said.

    So, basically, the school’s official line amounts to, “It’s all HER fault!”

    No. No it isn’t. I reiterate: Good for Ireland.

  12. Schools like to teach children to fall in line and obey authority. They don’t want someone questioning or refusing what the school is making them do. The school will not back down on their stance on this because to admit they were wrong to force kids to weigh would be to admit that a child has the ability to stand up to authority and say no!

    The only thing that knowing your BMI at that age would do is get them starting early on their body image issues. Are they telling kids what to do about their high/low BMIs? Is there a school dietary guideline for weight loss? Do they know that while some dieters will lose weight on their diets, they end up regaining all the lost weight plus more? Are they going to teach kids that?

    “I think there are some body image issues with this girl.” It sounds like she probably knows other people who have body issues and has decided for herself she doesn’t want to worry about her weight all her life like that.

    In schools, they should be teaching healthful eating, not how to diet for weight loss. The two are very different things. Someone should send them some literature about how body image issues develop in young children. And how dieting usually leads to yo-yo weight loss/regain cycling with the weight trend going upward.

  13. When I was 13, our principal. who was also our teacher, announced he was going to weigh us in class. I only had 10 ids in my class and I was the fattest one. There was one girl who was little overweight. As he weight each kid and announced the weight he would tell them where they were on the BMI scale. I of course started crying. When it was my turn and the teacher moved the scale into the other room and weight me in there and told me where I was on the scale and wouldn’t tell the other kids my weight. When one of the students asked “Why does Diann get special treatment” My teacher said “because Diann is special” lol. I loved him for that, but I felt like no one should of had to endure that. Kids feel exposed anyway, this is a horrible idea.

    1. Fantastic teacher, I remember when I was chair of the school board locally and the older children had been on an activity day of some sort. One little girl couldn’t fit through the tyres which were part of an obstacle course of some kind. The head was genuinely upset about it, and made his feeling known to the centre, saying that our children wouldn’t be taking part any more unless they made the activities suitable for all the children – they got larger tyres I gather.

  14. When I started 7th grade, in 1965, the first thing they did in phys ed was to measure our height and weight and SHOUT the results across the entire room. I went home from school crying. Mom took me to my pediatrician, who put me on my first diet: prescribed amphetamine diet pills. Thus began my 16 years of yo-yo diets. This is not a new thing.

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