New Way to Give Fat Kids a Failing Grade

grade on curveAn 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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12 thoughts on “New Way to Give Fat Kids a Failing Grade

  1. In the UK recently there was a case where criminal proceedings were going to be taken against the parents of an 11 year old autistic boy, who had “ballooned” in weight to 15 stones (210lbs to you in the USA). They were told that as they had “allowed” him to become that size, it was a matter of child neglect, and he was taken into local authority care for a while. That was in March 2014, and the parents were released from bail restrictions only yesterday, with no charges now being pressed. There had been no suggestion that the boy was actually unhealthy in any way. This all came about because teachers and social workers became “concerned” about his size. Personally, I would have said that there would be far more cause for concern if the boy was a bag of bones. How appalling that people could be criminalised in this way. At least good sense seems to have prevailed in this instance, but there is still talk about penalising parents if their children are considered to be not conforming to some nonsensical ideal of health.

    1. Wait what? They tried to throw the parents in JAIL because of the child gaining weight? Are you kidding me? Wow, that’s a scary new level of fat phobic BS.

  2. Unbelievable. Do they really not get that what caused the outrage here is their abominable treatment of this kid, not what words they used to describe said treatment? Apparently someone in charge there mistook English for Draconic, capable of altering reality when spoken. Pity it doesn’t really work like that, or I could say “all fatphobia will cease forever this instant!” and that would happen.

    Since it doesn’t, I’ll go with, “Naak key denek, Fitnessgram.”

    1. I know, it’s like, “But we didn’t say she was worthless, we said that her value was null! Why is she upset?”

  3. Ragen, I’m so glad that you can express some of these issues so thoughtfully. I get so angry about it that I can barely talk. Thank you so much for that.

  4. I’ve gotta say, I fuckin’ love your creative use of profanity. You made me think of this, so here’ s to you:

  5. I grew up in New York State, not the city, and this was years ago, but I was placed into “Special Gym,” which seemed to be remedial gym, for, apparently, being “overweight” (in elementary school, between the ages of 6 and 11). That designation (overweight = out of shape, uncoordinated, unfit, last-to-be-picked) has stuck with me to this day.

    1. I was always last to be picked, and I was sure I had asthma. I still think I do, but it’s unlikely that I will find any doctor who will prescribe an inhaler for me.

      1. “For those of us who knew the pain
        Of Valentines that never came
        *And those whose names were never called
        In choosing sides for basketball*
        It was long ago and far away
        The world was younger than today
        And dreams were all they gave for free
        To ugly duckling girls like me”
        –Janis Ian, “At Seventeen”

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