An article in the New York Post today shows us exactly how screwed up our society has become when it comes to weight, health, and kids:
“Gwendolyn wound up on The Post front page in May 2014, when she was listed as [overweight] on her DOE-issued “Fitnessgram” — despite being 4-foot-1 and weighing just 66 pounds at the time.”
The knee jerk reaction to this is often “How could they classify a girl that size as overweight in the New York City Department of Education issues “Fitnessgram” that was sent home to her parents?” The question I have is – why, why in the world, is the DOE sending “Fitnessgrams” home in the first place?
The annual fitness reports, meant to evaluate students’ health, were revised with more sensitive words that won’t diminish a child’s self-esteem.
Categories of “underweight,” “health weight,” “overweight” and “obese” were swapped out for the groupings of “very low,” “healthy fitness zone,” and two different categories of “needs improvement.”
The fuck? How is telling Gwendolyn that her body “needs improvement” better than telling her that she’s “overweight?” As I remember “Needs Improvement” was what we got in kindergarten when we failed to keep our desks neat, or has less than admirable penmanship (it was part of a pre-letter-grade grading convention – Satisfactory Plus, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement) So instead of an arbitrary word for an arbitrary ratio of weight and height, they are giving kids a bad grade for an arbitrary ratio of weight and height. Celebrating this is like pulling kids out of one hole, shoving them into another hole, and then patting ourselves on the back that they are in a different hole.
Also, “healthy fitness zone?” What, precisely, in the hell is that? Are they trying to say that all kids with a certain height weight ratio have the same health and fitness level? Because that’s completely ridiculous and should be a sufficient indictment against this entire misguided program. Everyone with any amount of sense knows that body size, health, and fitness are three separate things. In terms of statistics, being underweight is correlated health issues so why aren’t underweight kids found in “need” of “improvement”? To be clear, I’m adamantly against that happening, I’m simply pointing out yet another way that this policy is yet another example of government sanctioned weight bias.
Also, when did the NYC education system become so well funded and problem-free that they have time to body shame kids? Every teacher I know is overworked and underpaid and would rather teach math than use it as a way hurt kid’s self-esteem with things called “Fitnessgrams” that don’t measure fitness at all – just a simple ratio of weight and height. Especially considering that:
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.
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.”
So tell me again what we have to gain from the NYC Department of Education declaring that a kid’s body “Needs improvement” (not to mention misleading kids to believe that if they can get to a certain height/weight ratio they’ll be magically healthy and physically fit regardless of their habits)? Tell me again why we can’t focus on providing an environment and options that let kids have a chance to develop not only habits that take care of their bodies, but where they can develop healthy relationships with their bodies, food, and movement. Gwendolyn and her mom opted out of the NYC DOE’s Super Official Government Childhood Weight Shaming Program, and that’s something that I hope more parents do for their kids, because there is for damn sure a need for improvement here, and it has nothing to do with kids’ bodies.
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