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Fat Kids Targeted

Let's start with a basic fact. Build is as heritable as height; obesity is predominantly hereditary. Many fat parents have fat children. Why? Is it because fat parents are teaching their innocent children their lazy, gluttonous habits? Not so much. It's mostly because fat parents are passing on their genes. Here's a short article from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that discusses the evidence: "Obesity: still highly heritable after all these years"

The First Lady thinks that encouraging Americans to eat healthy diets and be physically active will eliminate obesity. This is because, as everyone knows, fat people (and especially fat kids) sit on their asses eating all the time, while thin people follow the food pyramid and recommended caloric intake while exercising for at least an hour a day. Also, back when people ate less and were more active (do we have proof of that? No?), there were no fat children. Remember "Our Gang" and "Little Rascals" from the 1920s - 1940s? No fat kids there! Oh wait...

Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative... the front page of the web site looks so positive and harmless. Encouraging kids to be active is a fine idea. However, click on any of the tabs and you'll find some questionable stuff. Weight is equated to health. Nowhere is it acknowledged that people can be active, eat a healthy diet and still have a BMI in the obese range. Nowhere does it mention the fact that some fat kids grow up into thin adults, or that some fat kids grow up into healthy, fat adults with long, productive, joyful lives.

Finally, the stated goal of the program is "solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight." Trying to eliminate obesity from the population by encouraging children to exercise and eat less? Given the heritability of body size, that's just not going to work. People naturally come in a variety of sizes. Why would anyone want to eliminate an aspect of human diversity? And of course, trying to wipe out the defining characteristic of an culturally denigrated group of people... it's not pretty.

All of this tsk tsking and oh-so-magnaminous concern about the size of children will rightly be interpreted by fat children and their families as more unjustified shaming, bullies will take it as encouragement, and thin kids will be even more likely to shun fat kids. Speaking as a former fat kid, if there's a reason to hide inside in front of a screen while eating comfort food, then being bullied and shunned by your peers is it. And, while being active and eating a healthy diet may not make most fat people thin, it is true that comfort eating and hiding indoors tend to make us a bigger. Nice.

And if parents refuse to take part in the shaming and fail to treat their higher-than-average BMI children as if their bodies are unacceptable? If they dare to believe that their healthy, active child is all right in spite of population-level statistical tools saying that they're at the large end of the bell curve? They're considered incompetent. It's assumed that BMI means more than the knowledge that parents have about the health and habits of their specific, individual children.

If the government were really interested in helping fat kids, they'd have a program encouraging all children to do well in school, live balanced lives, develop self respect and respect for others, and take care of their bodies. They wouldn't call attention to kids' size, but they would be aware of things that are more physically challenging for heavier kids and offer help in accomplishing them, if it's wanted. Fat kids should learn to listen to their bodies - to trust them and to push their limits - just like other kids. They shouldn't be taught that their bodies are inherently wrong and unhealthy. Being a fat kid who grows into a fat adult shouldn't be viewed as a horrible fate. A lot of fat kids do grow into fat adults, and that's fine. It is not a guarantee of poor health, underachievement, and loneliness, but targeting fat kids with the kind of attention that's bound to worsen bullying and social isolation certainly makes those outcomes more likely.

Lesley Kinzel has written probably the best material I've read on this topic on Newsweek's site and on Fatshionista. If you only read two of the links in this post, read these.

There's also an excellent article at Huffington Post that's full of good points and good links.

Even We Are the Real Deal agrees that there are problems with this approach.

BFB members: What do you think? What were your experiences as a kid? What kind of experiences are your kids having? What's really best for kids, fat and thin?

Oh, and if you've posted about this topic on your blog or know of a good post on another blog, feel free to share the link in the comments.

I Love Bacon | Nothing Has Changed

Viola's picture
September 29th, 2010 | Link | And of course, trying to

And of course, trying to wipe out the defining characteristic of an culturally denigrated group of people... it's not pretty.

I think this is an interesting jumping off point. I think a lot of people take issue with the idea that obesity is a characteristic that can define a subculture, or that it is anything else but a health issue that has to be changed, and of course they get angry at those who hold this view. I think almost everyone thinks that overweight belongs to them as much as anyone, because anyone who has 5 lbs to lose can claim the pain of the battle of the bulge. I've gotten into arguments about this, because even though I know many people suffer from body image issues and the like, it's a different thing when you are so far outside the majority of body types, and when it affects what you can physically do because society cannot accommodate a person of your size.

Anyway, good topic, I hope for much fruitful conversation.

Meowzer September 29th, 2010 | Link | I think Viola has it right.

I think Viola has it right. I was recently at a summit for people with disabilities; a bunch of us were called to Kansas City to help out with hammering out an initiative that would help more PWD live out in the community rather than being stashed away in institutions. I was instantly struck by the difference between this government initiative and the one that's supposed to "help" fat kids: In the case of the PWD summit, they actually wanted to know what we thought, what we had experienced, what we wanted, and they believed us when we told them what things were like for us. At least that was the impression I got, although of course it could have just been a bunch of pious hot air that will amount to nothing or not much.

Yeah. They believed us. Even if we had mental/cognitive disabilities or serious mental health issues, they still assumed we were capable of understanding and describing our own realities. We weren't just dismissed as liars, delusional, lazy pigs, etc., or told that if we just tried hard enough we wouldn't be disabled. What a contrast to how the government treats fat people! Fat kids -- or adults -- are not considered reliable witnesses to our own experiences, so no seat at the table for us; we'd just use up the time stuffing ourselves with donuts anyway, so nothing valuable could possibly get out of our mouths when all we care about is cramming naughty things in it.

And who knows, I may blog about that. But personally, I think this is about a marketing opportunity for corporate interests more than anyone else. Big Food and Big Pharma are heavily sponsoring this initiative, and for them to be doing anything like that, they HAVE to smell money, with lots of zeroes before the decimal point.

DeeLeigh's picture
September 30th, 2010 | Link | That's an excellent point,

That's an excellent point, Meowzer. Being fat is not a choice for most people, and some types of disability have an element of choice - either in the creation of the disability (risk taking in physical activities, for example) or in the judgment and effort that's put into treatment and recovery. So why are disabled people treated with so much more respect by the government and society?

lilacsigil September 30th, 2010 | Link | I was not a very fat kid,

I was not a very fat kid, but I had a pot belly and, more importantly, I was much, much taller and heavier than my mother. I was also very active - I cycled everywhere, played (field) hockey and other sports, and was energetic and healthy. Constant fat-shaming, a permanent diet where I had to eat different and smaller meals while the rest of my family could eat what they wanted, and being forced to exercise (all this was at home, not at school) encouraged me not to lose weight, but to binge eat, lie and drop out of everything where people might see my disgustingly fat body, so no more sports. I suspect this is a common story.

I do feel lucky that this was the 1980s in rural Australia. I was not the only fat kid. I was not fat-shamed at school. I was very healthy (apart from later-diagnosed PCOS!) and rarely saw a doctor, so wasn't fat-shamed by them, either. I wasn't so big that I couldn't buy clothes (though I could only shop at Target, which was in another town 20km away). There was no national campaign to eliminate me.

Viola's picture
September 30th, 2010 | Link | Are disabled people treated

Are disabled people treated with a lot more respect? I mean I think disabled people, physically or emotionally, probably know very well the feeling of being treated like there is something wrong with them, that they are flawed and not whole; definitely of feeling like the accommodation of their needs is a politically correct inconvenience half the time. There is always the idea that they aren't ideal people, as there is with fat people, although usually not the blame, more like pity. I don't know, just thinking out loud here. I am not disabled and I don't want to ignore the full body use privilege I have, but I don't know, it's a different kind of issue...still the same in that I think there has to be accommodation for different body types, and we all are deserving of equal treatment. And, yeah, we definitely are not getting that from the government and the big healthcare agencies.

Kunoichi October 1st, 2010 | Link | Are disabled people treated

Are disabled people treated with a lot more respect?

Compared to the past, yes. There's still a long way to go, though.

To answer DeeLeigh's question as to why, that would be through a long, hard fought battle, and it's far from over. We currently live in an unusual housing complex, in that we have a relatively high number of adapted units - I think it's at 1/3rd. I might be mistaking that with subsidized units. If I am, then the number of adapted units is closer to 50% of 88 units. The only reason there are so many is because the people involved in having this co-op built wanted it that way from the start - many of them were disabled themselves. That was 20 years ago, and in all that time, we're still unusual for having so many adapted units, and for the highrise portion of the complex to be so accessible in all areas. When new members move in, the existing units will get renovated to meet their individual needs, whether it's for accessible counters or to have all the carpets taken out due to allergies.

It bothers the heck out of me to see a wheelchair bound friend of mine trying to get through the front doors of the condo complex she lives in. The complex is only 2 years old and, while they do have handicap parking and curb cuts, with wide enough hallways and unit entrances for a standard wheelchair, there isn't a single adapted unit, and the doors aren't automated. She can't get into her own complex without someone to open the front doors for her, never mind the fight with the inner door, which can only be opened with a key that needs to be held in the turned position while pulling. She can't turn the key and pull the door open at the same time while in a chair. It's just plain stupid! I'm hoping she can move into our complex.

As I've got to know my neighbours, I've seen both how far things have come, and how bad it still is. On the one hand, there are people here who are able to live independant lives that, in the past, would have been either institutionalized or in highly dependant situations, with no autonomy. Simple things that we now take for granted, like curb cuts, wheelchair accessible public washrooms and ramps leading to automated doors, were things some of my neighbours fought for for years. Yet when one of my neighbours, after the end of her marriage, went to the doctor for the first time without a husband to help her onto the examination table, they were unable to accomodate her. When she asked for birth control, she was asked "what do you need that for?" When she questioned why they would ask such a thing, she was told "we've never had that problem before." How strange that a woman in a wheelchair asking for birth control would be viewed as a "problem." !! The staff at the clinic actually believed all their wheelchair bound patients were not sexually active.

There are a lot of commonalities between the discrimination the disabled encounter, and those encountered by able-bodied fat people. The disabled get a double whammy if they are also fat. There are too many people who assume fat people are stupid (if they were smart, they wouldn't be fat, right?), just as they assume someone with a speech impediment is stupid. And when a fat person is in a scooter, wheelchair, using a walker or cane, lots of people assume they are disabled *because* they are fat, and get treated worse than if they were "just" disabled, but thin, or "just" fat, but still able bodied.

People with physical disabilities have been fighting for decades for more respect and to be accepted as contributing members of society, even if they physically can't do what so many of us don't even need to think about - like being able to talk clearly, or control movements. Thanks to their efforts, people with obvious disabilities today do get treated with far more respect, and discrimination against them is illegal. It's still hard for people with less obvious disabilities (recently in our local news, there was a story about a guy who wasn't allowed to get on a bus because the driver mistook his disability for being drunk), and there's plenty of more subtle discrimination.

It's still open season on fat people, though, and it's a very different fight for respect. A person who was born without limbs, or was brain damaged in an accident, etc. doesn't usually have their condition blamed on their behaviour, even if they are sometimes told their complaints are all in their heads (with the exception of the fat disabled, as I mentioned earlier). If anything, I think far too many are given the label of disability too easily; especially kids - the schools get more funding if the students are diagnosed learning disabled, with matching increases in drug sales for treatment, etc. Behaviour that used to be considered just eccentric or something is now given a "disabled" label with associated drug treatments.

Right now, even though we've got "experts" telling us that obesity is a disease or a disability in need of treatment, our culture increasingly tells us that our bodies are the result of our actions - or lack of them. We have this "disease" of obesity because we're just too damn lazy, stupid and undisciplined to be thin. This discrimination is still on the upswing, and I think there's going to be a long battle before size acceptance becomes as normal as seeing someone with a disability out in public and living independantly, instead of shamefully hidden away.

buttercup's picture
October 1st, 2010 | Link | There are too many people

There are too many people who assume fat people are stupid (if they were smart, they wouldn't be fat, right?), just as they assume someone with a speech impediment is stupid.

Oh the looks I get when I engage people in conversation about anything beyond the weather. The mind boggles. Sometimes I even get a "hey, you're smart!" Why yes, I am. Thank you. My brain is even fatter than my ass.
It was worse when I used to dye my hair blonde, sad to say.

Meowser, I hope you do blog about your experience-I love it when you blog. Smiling

Meowzer October 1st, 2010 | Link | Yeah, believe me, it's no

Yeah, believe me, it's no utopia out there for PWD. Even at this meeting, the people running it sometimes did not grasp the concept of what constitutes "access" for people with cognitive disabilities and invisible disabilities like fibromyalgia, and were sometimes kind of flippant about their ignorance.

And I heard some horror stories there about the indignities people had to experience being institutionalized or placed in "group homes," about basically being hidden away from even the people you love, having zero privacy, and having every single thing you do circumscribed for you. This shit is still going on now, today. It ain't over yet, not by a lot.

I'm just saying that simply being believed about your experiences and being asked what you really want (instead of having that assumed for you) is something to cherish, and while it doesn't happen anywhere near as often as it should to PWD, it happens to fat people almost never.

vesta44's picture
October 1st, 2010 | Link | Another thing about Michelle

Another thing about Michelle Obama's campaign that really chaps my hide is that the government is cutting food stamp benefits to pay for it. Does she not realize that taking food stamps away from poor families, who use those food stamps to feed their children 3 meals a day when they aren't in school (weekends, summers, and holidays), just to give those poor kids supposedly more nutritious lunches at school isn't going to do a damned thing to end childhood obesity, will probably increase it, and will definitely increase hunger for poor children? How fucking clueless is she? Does she really think that hungry kids are thinner kids? Does she really think that kids whose parents can't afford to feed them breakfast or supper (because her campaign to make those kids thin took their food stamps away) are going to be able to concentrate on their studies? Especially when those kids are told at lunch "No, you can't have seconds, you'll get fat/ter if you eat seconds" (never mind the fact that these kids probably aren't getting enough to eat at home). Do-gooders like Michelle Obama should mind their own damned business until they educate themselves about how the real world really works, about how poverty and obesity go hand-in-hand and starving people isn't the way to make them thin, and it sure as shit isn't going to make them healthy, which is supposed to be the goal of this ill-conceived program of hers.

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

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