Laura Cacdac got a letter from her daughter Charley’s school, letting her know that her daughter’s BMI was “high” and that “From the results of this test, it is suggested that your child’s health be examined by a physician, particularly as it relates to the problem suggested by the screening. A problem such as this that goes uncorrected or untreated can severely affect both the health and academic performance of your child.”
The school delivered the letter in such a way that Charley, all 4’2 and 60 pounds of her, was able to read it, prompting her to ask her mom “Do they think I’m fat? Is there something wrong with me?’ and then to say “If I was fat it would make me kind of sad and kind of feel bad, like I’m kind of different from everybody else.” So good news, this girl has already internalized fat hatred and body shame, and she’s only six. Way to go Palm Beach School System for becoming part of the group of “brave organizations” to body shame young children.
A study recently came out that found that 1 out of 4 children had dieted prior to turning 7, and that 80% of American girls aged 10 have been on diets. One-third of boys and the majority of girls ages 6 to 8 wish their bodies were thinner. So 25% of kids under 7 and 80% of 10 year old girls have been, or are currently, trying to feed their bodies less food than they need to survive in the hopes that their bodies will consume themselves and become smaller. And it seems like the Palm Beach School System wants to see if they can do a little better than 25% for the under 7 set.
For those of you currently wringing your hands and asking “Won’t somebody think of the children” and gearing up to tell me about how important it is that we focus on the weight of children as a path to their health, please be assured that I am thinking of the children, I would just like to think of them, and “health” interventions foisted upon them, from an evidence-based, empathy-driven approach that considers their physical and mental health and doesn’t fuck them up.
There is literally no evidence that these programs lead to healthier or thinner kids (two different things by the way, there are healthy and unhealthy kids of all sizes.) These programs were put into place based on the current hysteria-led idea that if a thin person thinks something will make people thin, it gets treated like an evidence-based health intervention (Thanks Michelle Obama!)
When people started doing the research, it turns out that not only don’t they work, but they have serious adverse effects.
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.
Another study found that “school based healthy-living programs” had some pretty big problems. It turns out that these were and are being instituted in lots of schools, despite the fact that there is almost no 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.”
I also can’t find any research that discusses the impact that these programs have on the reality of kids and growth spurts – they gain weight, then grow, gain weight, then grow. At 6 years old, it’s pretty likely that Charley has some growing to do. If her school’s Public Weigh In and Body Shame Day falls during weight gain for a growth spurt, and everyone freaks out and tries to get her to lose weight, what does that mean for her growth?
There is no reason to expose kids to these risks because there is absolutely nothing that can be accomplished by singling out and shaming supposedly “fat” kids that couldn’t be accomplished by a program focused on health for kids of all sizes. Not just school lunches that are delicious, but cooking skills, PE classes with lots of options so that they are fun for kids even if they don’t enjoy having balls hurled at them or hoping that the popular athletic kid doesn’t pick them last for a sport they don’t enjoy playing. And since there’s no evidence that suggests that making kids hate or be ashamed of their bodies increases the likelihood that they’ll take care of them, how about teaching kids to respect and appreciate bodies of all shapes and sizes, including their own? How about not making exercise something that is either punishment or preventative for having a body that is “too big” and instead is something that kids can have a chance to actually enjoy? And how about taking all the OMGDEATHFATKIDS childhood obesity money and putting it towards removing barriers to health like oppression and poverty. That would truly be brave.
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