The War On “Obesity” is Seriously Harming Kids

grade on curveRecently PS Mag posted an article called “The Youngest Casualties in the War on Obesity.” It opens with the story of Jaime, a 11 year old who developed an eating disorder after she her school publicly measured and announced her BMI, and she decided that lowering her BMI might make her more popular.

“I don’t think she even knew what a BMI was before that,” her mother says. But as soon as she did know, it was all Jane could think about…

By the time she graduated high school, Jane had been hospitalized three times for her eating disorder and attended three separate eating disorder programs, sometimes thousands of miles away from her family…

“I don’t believe that the public school weigh-in and BMI screening caused her eating disorder, but rather they were significant factors, among others, which triggered her illness,” she says.

In a decade we saw a 119% increase in eating disorder hospitalizations in kids UNDER TWELVE. That is straight up horrifying, but not surprising. We put fetuses on restriction diets, and then give babies low calorie formula, schools grade kids on their weight, people who claim to be experts on kids’ health don’t feel the need to have any evidence before implementing interventions on fat kids, the First Lady holds up those who emotionally and physically abuse fat people as role models, we perform medical experiments on fat kids without informed consent or permission. The outcomes are tragic and, more tragically, exactly what we should have expected.

The piece continues:

No one doubts that these policies are well-intentioned. It’s impossible not to want children to grow up healthy and happy. And the current data says that, for many children, this isn’t happening. Most children don’t eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables, nor do they play vigorously for an hour a day. Since children spend much of their day at school, it seemed logical to intervene there.

Stop the logic train, we had a bunch of people fall off. Research says that most kids don’t eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetable or get enough activity.  So schools decided to weigh them publicly and focus on body size as a proxy for health with no evidence to back up their approach.

What with the who now?  If kids aren’t getting enough fruits, vegetables and activity, then how about the school works to get them more deliciously prepared fruits and vegetables, and more options to engage in movement that are fun, non-humiliating, and help develop a life-long love of movement instead of leading to therapy sessions about the recurring nightmare you have of people hurling dodgeballs at you.

The truth about the BMI programs instituted in schools is that they were instituted without evidence as to their efficacy or of their chances of harming kids, and they continue despite the fact that there is no reason to believe that they work, and evidence that they are doing harm. According to research from the University of Minnesota “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.” Again from the PS Mag piece:

The CDC never encouraged states or school districts to mandate BMI testing in students. Even on its own website, the Center notes that BMI testing is not the answer: “There is insufficient evidence to conclude whether school-based BMI measurement programs are effective at preventing or reducing childhood obesity,” announced a 2007 study in the Journal of School Health

“School districts are passing policies ahead of the evidence,” says Allison Nihiser, who works within the division of population health at the CDC.

So instead of embarrassing and shaming kids while ruining their relationships with food, exercise and their bodies under the guise of making them healthier, what could we do? Kathleen Kara Fitzpatrick, a psychologist who works at the Stanford University Eating Disorders Clinic seems to have a pretty good idea:

“We need to teach kids to value their bodies and themselves, regardless of how they look or how they feel about themselves. The right time is right now.”

What might that look like?  First of all, kids don’t take care of things they hate, and that includes their bodies.  If we teach kids to value their bodies and view them as amazing and worthy of care, we give them a shot at actually having a good relationship with their bodies.  If we give them lots of options to be involved in movement (competitive and non-competitive sports, walking, yoga, dancing, weight lifting, video games that involved movement etc.) and if we teach kids to find ways to make movement fun, and not consider it a punishment for the size of their body (or because they should be terrified of having a larger body,) if we teach kids to eat a variety of foods and not to be scared of any foods, then we help them to have healthy relationships with food, movement, and their bodies, and they deserve that.

If you’re looking for resources, The Association for Size Diversity and Health has a great list here!

We need to do better for our kids than this, and the first step to helping is to stop hurting them with these ridiculous body shaming, hand-wringing over hard evidence interventions. And we need to stop right the hell now.

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37 thoughts on “The War On “Obesity” is Seriously Harming Kids

  1. Ragen, you were right on target here. The discrimination against fat children is hidden under the guise of being “helpful”. Probably money is a factor to some extent in abusing these kids, however I personally believe the attacks have a more insidious, subliminal cause.The people who are pushing this hurtful behavior want nothing less than to eradicate fatness from the human race. Screw up fat children who presumably have fat genes and they as outcasts are less likely to meet significant others and have their own children. This theory explains many other aspects of the discrimination fat people face. Doctors often will not listen to the facts that diets rarely work and push them anyway without giving sensible treatment. If you view it as covert “eugenics” the behavior makes sense.

    1. I totally agree with you. I’ve been reading up on late-19th and early-20th century ideas of rich vs. poor, white vs. black, Christian vs. Jewish, and the ideas used to get rid of the “undesirable” people in the sterilization programs and the Holocaust, are the same and have the same basis.

  2. This article gels perfectly with my experience of being a fat kid… in all the wrong ways. It acknowledges flaws in weight-based health paradigms and pays lip service to vegetables and exercise while still stressing that kids need to be thin and the goal of so-called “health” programs should be to make them that way. So, adults admit BMI is worthless and calorie restriction is unhealthy, then they turn around and saddle you with a weight goal based on the BMI system that you can only reach through calorie restriction. Yup. That’s the environment I grew up in, all right. Back in the 80’s.

  3. It’s horrific, and it’s not new. We were publicly weighed, starting in fifth grade, en masse, and had our weight called out in the 70’s. I remember my weight as being the highest (it might not have been) in the 6th grade. What I never recalled at the same time was that I was also the TALLEST student in that class by about two inches. I think that experience did cause some of my earliest weight trauma.

  4. Schools declare that ketchup is a vegetable, and that children don’t need recess, then demand that parents put their “hyperactive” children on Ritalin.

    Mind you, hyperactivity is a real thing, but if you don’t let the kids have plenty of wiggle time, at fairly frequent intervals, almost any kid will appear hyperactive.

    And if you’re so worried about kids eating their vegetables, how about serving REAL vegetables at the school lunch, rather than ketchup on a hot dog? Seriously, I’ve had some delicious salads at my school lunches, and some tasty entrees, and some really good green beans (although I still hate ochre and boiled spinach). It can be done! It is entirely possible to feed the students well at school.

    “But we can’t afford it!” Well, how about redirecting all that money you spend on weight-harassment and fat hatred, and putting it toward the lunch menu?

    For that matter, how about having a nice healthy snack-time, as well. Give the kids an apple a day mid-afternoon. Keeps the doctor away, right? And it helps to keep them perked up for that last stretch of school.

    I recommend three breaks per day, including lunch, THROUGHOUT the school career. Yes, teens need recess, too. Give them a “playground” that actually fits their larger bodies, and they’ll probably play on it. Or give them some sports equipment, weight-lifting equipment, treadmills or bicycles, or the like, and encourage them to use them WITHOUT being graded on it. Or just a bin with jump-ropes and hula hoops. Really, teens still enjoy physical play, but most playground equipment doesn’t fit them, any more. Give them actually fun options, though, and they’ll get active.

    This would probably do much more to encourage healthy and fit children than any of the current programs, and I’ll be they’d have fewer discipline problems, as well.

    1. Also, can we please re-vamp Physical Education classes, to make them live up to their name? Really, what do kids learn in P.E. right now? They learn to hate their bodies.

      I’d like to see P.E. classes that consist of the following:

      1) Education about the body, including how it works, and how to get the most of out it, including basic nutritional information, sleep advice, as well as signs and symptoms to watch (which are potentially serious, and which can be treated simply at home with a basic remedy, which require immediate medical treatment). Basically, health class.

      2) How to exercise without hurting yourself – so basic instruction in proper weight-lifting, proper running, proper swimming, etc., with the focus on form, and being aware of your body. You need to learn your limits, you need to learn when to push through, and when to give your body a break.

      3) The rules of various sports games. Everyone should learn the rules of football or soccer, or whatever sport is popular in your area, so they can understand the game, and participate in conversations about it. This instruction does NOT involve choosing teams and forcing everyone to participate. This would be a classroom study, excellent for inclement weather days.

      4) How to play/perform a variety of individual sports and exercises, such as yoga, Tai Chi, dance, track-and-field stuff, etc. Give the students the chance to experience a wide variety of sports and exercises they can do by themselves, or in very small teams (relay-races take four people, generally, right?)

      5) Organized sports for larger teams, with the OPTION of participating. Give everyone a chance to try it out, at first (you never know if you’ll like it or if you have a talent for it until you try), and if they don’t like it, then they can opt for the individual stuff, instead. There would be no team captains choosing the teams. Anyone who wants to participate is assigned randomly to a team for the day. Simply drawing colored cards from a black bag would do the trick. Go ahead and encourage the teams to use strategy and skills, and go for the win, but NEVER at the expense of good sportsmanship, and with the instruction that sportsmanship is about being gracious to your opponents AND to your team-mates.

      6) Once these things have been taught, you can let your students go to P.E. period, suit up, and just start engaging in their sport/exercise of choice. Logistics may limit the options available at once, but you should have at least three choices for each child, each day (team sport, individual or small-team sport, individual exercise). So then, for example, you split the class up into those playing soccer, those learning to dance, and those lifting weights. Anyone who has to sit out can be in charge of scorekeeping, running the music, or the like – still involved, but not physically active, due to whatever reason they need to sit out.

      If I had ever had the chance to take a P.E. class like that, I would have LOVED it. As it was, it was always the same old thing – shaming anyone who wasn’t able-bodied, agile, strong, fast, and well-coordinated, and who already knew all the sports rules, because my teachers never taught the difference between a quarter-back and a goalie. I hated it.

      1. These are all important options. However, by labeling foods as “healthy” or “unhealthy”, we set kids up for eating disorders and for craving “forbidden” foods.

      2. At the very least, how P.E. is taught needs a complete revamp. Every year it was like this: “You can’t get up the rope?” *glare* “sigh* “Here’s your C minus.” Next year: “Still can’t get up the rope?” *glare* *sigh* “Another C minus.” Lather, rinse, repeat!

        The idea that kids who weren’t naturally good at something might need, gosh, EXTRA STUDY AND PRACTICE was just not in play at all. Imagine the kid who can’t get up the rope being sent home with instructions to pick up two cans of soup or a pair of boots or something and do X arm exercises X times every day until that gets easy, then add more weight or reps. Just imagine!

        Noooope. Let’s humiliate her in front of the entire class and give her another C minus.

        1. I’d rather have a glare, sigh, and C minus than screaming and a failing grade. But, yeah, they rarely actually tell you how to accomplish any physical goals.

          There is very little “education” in most American P.E. classes, although I certainly did learn a lot. I learned that I was worthless, useless, ugly, and undeserving of basic courtesy.

  5. Wasn’t there some research that showed people who experienced starvation tended to have descendents who were fatter? Aren’t we just setting ourselves up for more fatness? Is the current fatness due to deprivations from the Great Depression?

    And seriously, kids need good nutrition way more than anything else.

    1. This may be true, but “fatness” per se is not a negative or a condition. It is simply one of the various shapes in which humans come/arrive.

    2. Yep, the Dutch Famine, the Greek Famine,* and Ramadan all contribute to larger offspring. Not to mention that organs/nerves/stuff is put together wrong with a dieting mother, so that the children are born with a disadvantage. Examples are external holes in the wrong place, neural tubes developed wrong, brain damage, shorter adult height, decreased fertility period, and a whole swath of others. The Great Depression is not the only factor here.

      *Both of these were Nazi created.

  6. When I was in grade school, back in the sixties, we had to exercise along with a ghastly little 45 rpm called “Go You Chicken Fat, Go.” To this day, my older brother and I are depressed by the sound of that “cheery” little tune. Guess what? We had “chicken fat” and in the days of the Presidential Fitness program or whatever that horror was (you had to meet certain standards so you would be fit for war), anyone not in good physical condition was mocked and considered a failure as a citizen. Shudder. Robert Preston sung the vile little ditty and my brother hated him as an actor for years before we made the connection. He forgave him and learned to appreciate Preston but still HATES the song.

    1. Chicken fat! Ugh!

      The very few times I had fun in P.E. were all centered around dancing: not dancercising or jazzercising or whatever, but folk-dancing and this silly little number we did called “Black Cat” that was like goofy disco for kids. We weren’t performing for the coach or trying to reach a fitness standard: we were just having fun moving our bodies.

      1. Oh, the ONLY P.E. classes I ever enjoyed were when we learned CPR and square dancing. That’s it.

        CPR wasn’t fun, but I felt like I was actually accomplishing something. But the square dancing? I LOVED dancing. I would have danced for hours, every day, had they let me. But, no, I wasn’t allowed to dance for hours, every day. We had one week of square dancing, and then it was back to the big team sports, without any instructions, but with plenty of shaming.

        1. The funny thing is, I DREADED square dancing. I was very unpopular in middle school/junior high and the boys would refuse to be my partner or to touch my hand for an alaman left. I was a fat (but not nearly as fat as I was told) asthmatic kid with glasses (not cool in the 60s/70s). That was the year I learned to self-induce asthma attacks to get out of PE. The only time I remember PE being tolerable was one quarter in high school when we got to sample “real” sports and did archery, bowling and golf. No running and no touching!

          1. And your teacher allowed them to refuse to partner you, or to touch you? That’s on the teacher! Well, and the boys. The thing is, a polite person just does not DO that.

            I was taught, in fact, that a polite person does not turn down an invitation to dance, unless they have a compelling reason, such as a sprained ankle, and then they give a counter-invitation: “Oh, I’m afraid I can’t dance right now. Would you care to sit this one out with me?”

            But what can you expect? Lessons in good manners, when the teacher is the one yelling at you for being less than athletic? UGH! I mean, it’s bad enough to have to face that kind of rejection at an actual dance, but when it’s an actual CLASS?! Where the teacher is in command? Oh, Ugh!

            I’m so sorry you had such a fun activity spoiled by jerks, both young and old.

            1. I was also cringed at by every dance partner I ever had in gym from fourth grade on, whether it was boys doing the choosing or girls. Either way it sucked big time. The teachers never interfered unless the boy actually refused to actually dance, when he was forced to dance with me, and I WAS FORCED TO DANCE WITH HIM. And what fun that was, dancing with someone who would have a constant grimace of distaste, exclaim in disgust if I dared to actually hold his hand instead of pretending to (often a necessary part of dances like swing), and, when he could, escape back to his peers shouting, “Ugh, I had to dance with BLUM!” All this had a wonderful effect on my socialization and self-esteem, you bet.

              1. Children are TAUGHT to hate people, and likewise, they can be TAUGHT to like and respect people.

                Your teacher should not have allowed that behavior.

                There’s an old rule I like: You can think and feel anything you want, but you have to keep the negative stuff to yourself.

                Your teacher should have taught them that they can, and MUST, control themselves, and be polite, regardless of how they actually feel about their dance partner.

                And it’s really painful to be forced to dance (or otherwise socialize) with someone who obviously hates you. How awful!

  7. Isn’t it the case that gym class doesn’t follow the basic precepts of all other classes? All others are based on brain development and how the children’s understanding changes. That’s why calculus is taught in Grade 12 or university, not grade 1. You need the previous base to expand upon. Gym doesn’t operate that way. You are expected to play MLS/MLB/NFL/NHL right at age 5. How many of us actually got a ball in the basket at that age?

    Also, encountering gymnastics for the first time in grade 7, and not having the strength to do the parallel bars or uneven bars, I was consistently made to write essays on the history of gymnastics, otherwise I would receive an F or 0% for that unit. You could practice a highly technical Olympics-style routine of the balance beam on a low beam, but you had to do the one that got graded on the same height beam that Olympians use. Also, starting in grade 5-ish, the other kids and teachers convinced me that I was too heavy for the vault to support me without breaking, so I ceased to try to jump high enough to get over the vault, and always got stuck and was laughed at.

    1. Other classes also provide actual instruction rather than just assuming that “everyone knows” how football and soccer are played. My gym class wasn’t nearly as bad as a lot of people’s in this thread, as we were given a passing grade on effort (I’m not actually sure whether there even were letter grades), but it also was very clear that so long as you vaguely ran around when you were supposed to they didn’t care whether you learned anything.

      I’ve finally started to enjoy running after actually learning how to build up strength and stamina and correct form rather than just being thrown at a track twice a year and told to “run a mile” (I *still* can’t reliably run a whole mile in a row). If I’d been more motivated in gym class I probably would have injured myself trying, rather than giving up and walking while making sad wheezing noises after about half a lap.

      1. I remember playing “flag” football one year. First class of the fall and it was assumed we all knew the rules. NO effort was EVER made to teach anything until high school, when we learned to rules to volleyball and the popular, athletic kids cheated. Waste of my time for 10 years. Probably part of why I hate exercise to this day.

  8. I had my first period the same week I turned 10. My PE teacher told me “This only happens to lazy girls. If you were active in my class, you wouldn’t be a bleeder until you were 14 or even older.” Yes, you guessed it, I started hating my body.
    She would always pick the teams for ballsports. When calling out my name, she had the class chant “Those who get M are losers! Those who get M are losers!” while clapping their hands. Extra points were awarded to students who could make me cry during class.
    Once she had me standing on a stool in front of the class, while pointing and saying “This is the ugliest, fattest, laziest student I have ever had!”
    One lesson she was handing out pamphlets about puberty, sexuality etc. This was what counte as sex-ed in that school. The gym teacher handing out a booklet and telling you to read it in the privacy of your own home. I was not handed a booklet. “You don’t need to learn this. No one will ever want to have sex with someone as fat as you!”

    The headmaster was informed. Told my mum that “Yes, that teacher is strict. That is her way of doing things, and she gets results. On average her students go up half a grade after being taught by her for a year. I fully support her methods.”

    So how fat was I really? I was 1.71 meters tall, weighing 63 kilos.

    I had my first suicide atempt at 15. Stole and swallowed my Granny’s blood pressure mdication. In hospital I was told that “If you start jogging, you will get as fit as everyone else, and they will stop teasig you. Now stop being a drama queen!”

    I’m now 46. Still a virgin. Never had a friend in real life. Never masturbated, since touching my own body makes me feel revolted. I can honestly say I HATE my own body. From my hair that is too greasy, right down to my uneven toes. I wear loose jumpers and long skirts.

    I hope there is a Hell, where that teacher gets to burn!

    1. WTF kind of “results” are we talking about here? Half a grade increase in PE? Like that’s going to matter at any time later in life.

      What you describe isn’t “strict.” It is abuse. A grade increase is the “reward” for the emotional damage you suffered at this teacher’s hands? F that! If I were your parent, I’d sic lawyers on this PE teacher and the headmaster and the school administration responsible for employing both. Course, I’d have you out of that place first.

      I don’t often agree when parents make a teacher’s life difficult by getting involved in student-teacher interactions. But this is one instance where parents should have the power to remove their child from abusive situations- without any penalty for the child for being removed from a teacher or a class. And if any admin persons can’t comprehend the reasons for doing this, they ought to be relieved of their jobs.

      And I think that hospital needs some angry young lawyer at their door as well. If nothing else, for not recognizing the harm caused by abusing someone with emotional issues. “Stop being a drama queen”- really? Start taking your role as healers seriously.

      Okay, rant over.

    2. My heart is broken, reading this. That is flat-out abuse, and the fact that the school administration supported it, and that you continued to receive abuse from your “healthcare providers” after an attempted suicide just make it so much worse!

      If you had succeeded in your attempt, would that @#*@%#& have stood over your grade, shook their head, and said, “Well, she should have just jogged! If she’d just jogged, she wouldn’t be a dead drama queen.”?

      I just feel so stabby right now, for you, and I wish there was something I could do, to go back in time, and give that little girl a hug. No, more than that. I would have been all over those so-called “adults,” about their abusive behavior.

      THIS is why I support every parent’s right to home-school. All three of my niece/nephews have tried public school, and chosen to leave, despite making friends there, because they were bullied, and the school admins did nothing about it. And they were bullied by children. To be so shamed and bullied by a teacher! It’s maddening!

      Oh, yeah, that teacher’s students are learning so much about physical education. No. They are learning how to abuse and harm other people. They are learning that it’s OK to abuse and harm other people. They are learning that they MUST abuse and harm other people, or else be abused and harmed, themselves. They are learning that if they do not fit into a very narrow mold, they will deserve abuse and harm, and that there is not a darned thing they can do about it, except to collude with the abusers. Oh, and they get graded on it. It’s like a school for demons.

      I’m 44, and also still a virgin. You’re not alone. Our stories are different, but I also had to deal with hang-ups because of abuse at school. It CAN get better. You can learn to love your own body. It takes a lot of hard work and plenty of time, but it can be done, and even if you never find a lover or companion of your own, I assure you that loving yourself is SO worth it. You don’t have to masturbate to love yourself, and your body, so don’t stress about that.

      All the hugs, if you want them, are coming your way, via my Jedi mind powers.

  9. One gym memory I will never forget was the first time we played volleyball. This was in second grade; I had never played it (possibly barely heard of it) before. I think we did get a two-minute rundown of the rules.

    I was playing earnestly and sort of liking it, but at the end of the game I threw the ball OVER the net when I was supposed to toss it under and won the game for the other team. I was excited, I was trying hard, I had never played before and was confused.

    I was pretty embarrassed and having the whole opposing team and the teacher laugh at me was harsh, but one of the girls on my team yelled at me viciously–I don’t remember what she said. I replied “it’s only a game,” to which, with veins popping out of her neck and her eyes bulging, spraying spit, at the top of her lungs, “NO IT’S NOT!!”

    This was a silly little game played in twenty minutes in gym class, not any sort of league. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a gym class again, having discovered everyone knew something I didn’t, and that I didn’t understand the importance of it. It would have made a huge difference if the gym teacher had given me a pat and said, “You worked hard! I’ll go over the rules again next time.” Which didn’t happen.

  10. I can’t even imagine how much more screwed up I would have been about food and my body size if I had the message of thin is the only way also coming from school. I loved school as a kid. It was where I excelled and being smart was how I coped with being fat. I was good at something so I still had some self esteem to get me through. This whole concept sucks so much.

  11. Yup, I remember this shaming in both primary school in the UK in the 1970s, and in HS in the US in the 80s. I seemed to cause an automatic sense of revulsion in every PE teacher I ever had. I remember the day we all had our waists measured (nothing else, just waist size), and being so grateful mine wasn’t the biggest number. In my head, I was so fat, and everyone told me I was fat, but I look at photos from then and see a perfectly average-sized child. Body hate should not be a mandatory lesson in schools.

    1. Just waist size? They weren’t even going for that questionable waist/hip ratio? JUST the waist?

      Not waist/height? Waist/wrist (for bone thickness)? Waist/shoe size?

      What a perfectly meaningless measurement, and a perfect way to body-shame children who frequently are carrying more weight around their waist at the time, in preparation for a growth spurt.

      Institutionalized abuse – it’s not just for Dickens novels.

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