Saturday, January 16, 2021

Michelle Obama: No Friend to Fat Kids

August 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured, Obesity

Dear Mrs. Obama,

In response to your e-mail of July 18, 2010, from which I quote:

“…help us tackle an issue that is dear to my heart — childhood obesity. As some of you know one of my top priorities as First Lady is the Let’s Move! campaign, where we have made it our goal to put a stop to the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so children who are born today grow up at a healthy weight.”

Mrs. Obama, my respect for you has taken a serious hit since you initiated your campaign against childhood obesity.

It isn’t that I want to force-feed our nation’s children and turn them all into lumbering giants; rather, I thought you were smarter and had more vision than to approach the issue as clumsily and insensitively as you have.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging children to get more physically active, as your “Let’s Move!” campaign does.  There’s also nothing wrong with educating children about good nutrition.

However, your campaign is unintelligent at its core, because instead of simply encouraging all children to eat right and stay active, you have made the choice to cast obesity itself as the enemy to be destroyed.

When we frame our battle for healthier children as a battle against fatness itself, we’re merely proclaiming open season on fat people. We’re encouraging an already fat-prejudiced society to further demonize those who bear the fat – worst of all, the children who bear it.

If you promote healthful eating and physical activity, then you’re automatically promoting a lifestyle that will reduce the weight of some children.

Therefore, why bring obesity into the equation at all, Mrs. Obama?

See, what happens is, the kids whose bodies don’t shrink in response to carrot sticks and playing tag will be left feeling stigmatized. “What I am is wrong. I’m a freak. What I am is something everyone — including the First Lady — wants to wipe out. What I am is soooo incredibly wrong, that the First Lady chose to use her considerable platform to launch a nationwide campaign against what I am.”

Mrs. Obama, your campaign assumes that all fat children are fat because they don’t exercise or eat right. It’s the same assumption so many people erroneously make about fat adults.

I’ve known kids who were just plain chubby, not because they overate, not because they weren’t active. They were just chubby. Their bodies weren’t finished yet. They were children, you see. And when they got older, they slimmed down — naturally.

I’ve also known children who appeared “fat” by our societal standards, who were only reflecting their family’s genetic code to be stocky. Not necessarily obese, but short and solid. As children, perhaps they “appeared” fat. They, however, like their siblings and parents, were in perfect health.

But what happens when you bring in an entire society, conducted by a misguided First Lady, who wants to fight what these kids are?

The kid who didn’t have an eating disorder before might develop one now. Or develop another harmful way to cope with his or her anxiety. They’re guaranteed to develop poor self-esteem. Because the entire country is telling them that what they are is wrong, and must be fought.

And WOW, no worse time to fill somebody’s head with negative, unhelpful messages than childhood if you really want them to stick.

Look at it this way. Let’s say you have a choice between:

a) standing up before a room full of children and encouraging them to exercise more, or

b) standing up before a room full of children and encouraging them to exercise more, and then throwing a handful of knives into the audience.

Why would you select b), unless you wanted to hurt someone?

You can help children get healthier without doing harm.

By pinning the “fight against childhood obesity” onto messages about your “Let’s Move” campaign, you are reminding fat children that they need to be “fixed” — not the kind of positive reinforcement that generally works.  (And fat children already know they’re fat. BELIEVE ME. We never let them forget it.)

As for the thin children, you’re merely reinforcing the fact that the fat kids have something “wrong” with them, which for kids often translates into the “different” child becoming a target for cruelty, ostracization, etc.

Imagine this. Somewhere, there’s an eight-year-old kid who’s under five feet tall and already 300 pounds. He takes your messages to heart, Mrs. Obama, and makes some changes, and drops 100 pounds. We can both agree that’s a lot of weight, right?  But then, his weight stops moving. He’s eating moderate food portions, his diet is nutritionally balanced, he gets plenty of exercise. If he eats any less he’ll be starving. He’s doing everything right, but still, no further weight loss. His parents and teachers applaud him for his significant accomplishment, but to the rest of the world, this now-200-pound child still appears “fat”.

Meanwhile, your battle against childhood obesity continues to rage. Grown-ups at Little League murmur behind the child’s back, “What a shame, to be that big, and so young. His mother should be reported for child abuse.” The child wonders, “What more can I do to get these people off my back?” He starts thinking of ways to restart his weight loss. Never mind that he’s a growing boy and what’s left of his body fat may shift on its own as he gets older. “What more can I do? I’m still not good enough for them yet.” Maybe he stops eating altogether. Maybe he starts vomiting. Now, we’re in dangerous territory.

Maybe, just maybe, if this kid had understood that his goal was simply to change his habits — not necessarily to “not be FAT anymore” — he would’ve wound up better off in the end. His newfound healthy relationship with food would not have turned unhealthy as he tried to force further weight loss.  He’d be feeling good about himself and what he’d already achieved.

Maybe he even would’ve dropped more weight. After all, the release of stress hormones can hinder weight loss. And if he’d not felt like such a failure after only 100 pounds lost, maybe he wouldn’t have felt so much stress.

We’ve got an awful lot of people out there who are emphatically “against” fatness because they feel it’s unhealthy – including you, Mrs. Obama.  It stands to reason, then, that you and concerned others like you would be in favor of anything that permanently (for lack of a better word) “cures” fatness. So, if encouraging healthy habits WITHOUT harping on obesity MIGHT WORK, Mrs. Obama, why aren’t you giving it a chance? Does it sound too “easy” on the fat kids? If so, then it sounds to me like you want fat people punished, first and foremost. And what’s that about? Good will for the children’s sake, or just plain hatred?

Besides, we have a pretty ridiculous idea of what counts as “being fat” in this country. That’s why we have so many women with anorexia and bulemia. That’s why we have so many little girls who aren’t fat on diets. And that dieting is stunting their growth. It’s making them sick.

We’ve got a hell of a lot of un-fat people going on diets in this country, because they’re scared stiff to be fat. Because they know fat people get the least love, the least respect. But, irony of all ironies, that dieting is what makes a good number of people fatter in the end.

The more we stigmatize “being fat”, the more likely we are to have people who can’t co-exist healthfully with food.

Additionally, there are a lot of short-sighted, angry people in this country who are quick to blame fat people for their fatness. “Buck up and get some willpower!” they seethe. “This is a choice — stop playing the victim!” Interesting, though, that a lot of people got on board with making the tobacco industry take responsibility for pushing its cancer sticks on the populace, particularly young people. And yet not many people are willing to tell Big Food to stop loading up their edibles with combinations of fat, salt and sugar that have been proven to be as physically addictive as cocaine, and which is completely unnecessary. Few people are willing to make the parent companies of chain restaurants take responsibility for pushing huge gooey portions of food on prime time TV viewers, or for creating unnecessarily huge portions, for “supersizing” their meals or inventing “Fourth Meal” as Taco Bell has done — all in the name of SELLING MORE. It’s classic, corporate greed.

Our energy and attention would be much better spent focusing on education, and investigating  the possible variety of causes of fatness – particularly those that have received the least attention in order to protect corporate profits.

But it’s so popular to shit on fat people, few people really want to make Big Food accountable. It would mean we’d have to shift our blame away from fat people, and kicking them is just too much fun to sacrifice. There are so many fat people out there (40% of the population, according to recent stats) that we’re bound to run into a few of them each day — and each encounter is a brand new chance for us to unleash our frustration, our guilt for our own gluttony, our self-hate of our own “imperfect” bodies, onto somebody else. Gee, it’s not nearly as effective a release as directing your hatred towards some faceless corporation. It’s much more satisfying to sneer at a real person, to watch a fat person’s swollen face fall as you reject them — for a job, for a date, for friendship.

Michelle Obama, you need to take “fighting obesity” out of the equation. Focusing on the positive — eating well and exercising — is enough. Children who are perhaps fat because of how they eat will learn to eat better. Period. Mission accomplished, without doing harm. But “fighting obesity” is DOING HARM.

Admittedly, it takes some extra-credit thinking to get it — a willingness to think beyond the media messages we get spoon-fed every day. (Fat always causes disease — therefore, you have carte blanche to demonize people who wear it to your heart’s content. And thanks for towing the line, because it helps sell our products. Love, the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry.)

But making children feel bad for what they are? Reinforcing for other children (and adults) that fat children are flawed creatures?

It’s short-sighted and cruel.

Think about it.


Kim Brittingham

Author, “Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large”

Coming in Spring 2011 Random House


48 Responses to “Michelle Obama: No Friend to Fat Kids”
  1. NewMe says:

    OMG, just brilliant. Have you actually sent this to her? You must!

  2. I’m afraid this doesn’t go nearly far enough. First of all, I don’t believe that there is any such thing is junk food, that everyone can, or should, achieve the same level of fitness, or that there is any such thing as “Big Food.” But that’s a whole ‘nother rant.

    My position is that he needs to hand over his badge and stop being the lifestyle police. Period. No healthy eating advice. No fitness advice. Nothing at all. Stay out of it.

    The job of the president is to manage the budget, protect the country, and serve its people, partly by protecting their rights. Obama has more important things to worry about than whether my kids are in sports. It’s none of his business.

    It’s not that I’m against health or fitness. That’s a personal choice. The key is that choice is the factor. The day he makes “health” and “fitness” compulsory is the day I raise hell.

  3. Meems says:

    Wonderfully written, Kim. I hope you have sent this.

  4. guesswhokristen says:

    I was agreeing wholeheartedly with you until you said this: “But it’s so popular to shit on fat people.” People are NOT declining to fight Big Food companies because they don’t want to not have fat people around! How evil do you think the general population of America is? People aren’t fighting the companies because they either like the food, or they don’t care whether or not someone else becomes unhealthy because they chose to consume the food. Don’t try to paint society as spiteful people who get their shits and giggles from making fun of fat people.

    • Bree says:

      The truth is guesswhokristen, there are plenty of people in society who think it’s cool and fun to ridicule fat people. Read any internet comments lately after articles on fat? How about the radio shock jocks? Fat jokes are the funniest thing on earth to most of them.

      Don’t kid yourself into thinking all of society hates fat people—because most of them do.

  5. Feast Your Eyes says:

    I think this editorial makes some excellent points, and I agree whole-heartedly. I’d like to add the point that just because someone is thin, it doesn’t mean they are healthy. I know a lady who lets her son eat donuts every day for breakfast, because he’s thin, he has autism, and she doesn’t want the struggle of getting him to eat something healthy. But it may be that his unhealthy diet is the very thing causing his autism symptoms!

    Also, JoannaDeadWinter, this article is about Michelle Obama, not Barack, and you should watch “Supersize Me”.

    • .C. says:

      Autism is not caused by an unhealthy diet. Do not be ludicrous in an attempt to support your point; it merely damages your argument.


      • Kat says:

        @.C. :

        Feast Your Eyes wasn’t saying that autism was caused by an unhealthy diet. He or she was saying that the mother in question is more likely to let her child eat doughnuts for breakfast because he has autism (meaning she has a harder time enforcing healthy eating rules, for whatever reason) and appears thin and (therefore) appears healthy.

        Before you jump to a sharp tongue, make sure you understand what you’re criticizing–otherwise it only makes you look ridiculous.

        • 23 says:

          “Feast Your Eyes wasn’t saying that autism was caused by an unhealthy diet.”

          If you want to play internet police then correct, FYE didn’t say it CAUSED autism. However:

          “But it may be that his unhealthy diet is the very thing causing his autism symptoms!”

          And that is just as ridiculous as your attitude.

  6. Erin S. says:

    Was with you right until the end. All you are doing is shifting the blame… you are STILL TREATING FAT PEOPLE LIKE THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THEM THAT NEEDS TO BE FIXED.

    There are a LOT of fat people who don’t eat a shred of your so called “junk” food. And there are a LOT of thin people who eat nothing BUT “junk” food.

    We are never going to get society to stop treating us as if we are broken, defective, and a problem to be solved if we don’t stop assuming that yeah, we’re defective, broken, and a problem to be solved.

  7. sophie says:

    You people are insane. Obesity is a killer that will shorten these kids lives and affect their families in devastating ways. Obesity IS the enemy here. My father was often of the opinion that obesity didn’t mean you were unhealthy, even in spite of decades of cardiovascular problems, joint pain, and organ disfunction. Well, as a child, I chose to believe him. Then he died of a massive heart attack when I was 15 years old. His arteries were almost completely obstructed. Maybe if he had seen obesity as the enemy that it is, I’d still have a father.

    You people are kidding yourselves if you think for even a second that obesity in children isn’t a killer and should be handled with a more delicate touch. It needs to be tackled head-on. Our health care costs are already through the roof due to obesity-related illness, and now we are presented with an entire generation who will have grown up obese. I can only imagine the impact.

    • k.sol says:

      Sophie — first off, please accept my sorrow at the death of your father. That must have been painful to lose him at such a young age.

      I agree that people cannot be in denial about their health. However, I think we’ve conflated body size with health in ways that are not improving health.

      There are two issues I’d like to see a saner approach to. First, there are people (myself included) who carry extra weight, but are healthy, active and eat right. I’m well into the overweight range, but not obese with good cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose & resting pulse. I’ll never be a size 6, but I’m in better health and have better habits than I was when I was younger and thinner.

      Secondly, shame is a demotivating factor. I’ve gotten after people for making fun of heavy people out jogging. Attacking obesity rather than unhealthy behavior is counter-productive.

      We don’t want to discourage people from changing to healthier habits because they’re doing everything right and making improvements to their health, but they’re not dropping the fat. People at every weight can increase their physical activity and have actual control over that. The emphasis on weight over health can even lead to eating disorders — also fatal.

      I do hear what you say. For me, I’m just seeking a saner middle ground.

      • L. G. says:

        Kim, you frequently refer back to this idea that overweight/stocky children will be made fun of more because the First Lady has put a spotlight on childhood obesity. The fact is that larger children have been being made fun of long before the First Lady’s statements, and the only way that will ever stop is by them getting healthier and achieving a healthy weight (by stabilizing their weight as they continue to grow). The truth is when we become healthier even if we don’t achieve some arbitrary size chosen by the fashion industry to display their clothes, we still experience a boost in self-esteem and an improved self image. When a child can keep up in gym because they’ve been staying active, eating well and maintained their weight as they gained a few inches in height, they feel better about themselves and their physical shows improvements as well. You yourself said you are in the overweight range, but not the obese range. You’re not a size six, but you’re happy with yourself and you’re healthy… this is all the First Lady is asking us to try to achieve with our nations kids, an alarming amount of whom are OBESE not just built stocky, and the negative effects of obesity do cross cultural lines.

        The approach of simply getting kids more active has been tried before and has not had a significant impact on the health of children. People, children as well, need to understand the serious health consequences for fast food diets, and video game lifestyles or the average lifespan in this country is going to greatly decrease with the next few generations. This is a life or death issue, it’s not the time to walk on eggshells.

        • Erin S. says:

          That kid in the back is the kind of kid that gets bombarded daily with people like you telling them they’re defective, they are fat, they are disgusting, they’re going to die by the time they’re 30 all alone because only thin pretty people get to get married.

          Tell me that child is “obese”. Or even “overweight”.

          THAT is the size child that you think needs to be ashamed of their body to the point where they develop lifelong issues due to you teaching her classmates that she was defective and “other” and needed to be shamed into losing weight for her own good.

    • Erin S. says:

      And my husband’s second wife treated obesity as this horrific scourge and raised her children to do the same… she is dead now (at 53), her oldest daughter is now about 50 and has a ton of health issues — joint problems, bone density problems, heart problems. All related to spending her entire life as a non-clinical anorexic. Her other daughter has gone on fad diet after fad diet — even gone so far as to take speed to try and lose weight and get “healthy”. She’s in her late 40’s, her knees are shot from obsessive exercise, she’s going blind, she lost all her teeth because of scurvy… SCURVY in this day and age! They’re both completely neurotic and will also, like their mother before them, probably die before they’re 70.

      So which lifestyle is “ideal” again?

    • Heart says:

      Hear, hear. 10% of our healthcare costs are from obesity-related illness and our children’s lifespans are 10 years shorter than their parents’ in a single generation, because of the way we eat and the fact that it makes us fat.

      Michelle Obama is not “shaming” children by explicitly making the campaign a fight against obesity. Children are not stupid. They are fully able to grasp the = fat/obese = equation without anyone talking about it at all. Having the First Lady point out that this is within people’s control and we should work together to help children avoid/escape the trap of eating whatever’s easiest that tastes good while sitting on the couch in front of the TV is a Good Thing, even if it is a betrayal of The Great American Sense of Entitlement.

      The problem isn’t public figures telling it like it is, the problem is people who raise children to think they are entitled to feel good about themselves all the time and that the world is supposed to cater to that, and if it doesn’t somebody needs to get fired, call the manager. I’m really sorry for the ranter behind this post. (not you, Sophie, I meant Kim B.) Somebody taught her to think like that, and book deal or not, it was a disservice.

      • Lori says:

        Where are you getting this shortened lifespan thing? It’s simply not true. People have been getting fatter for, like, most of the 20th century. This last year, yet again, we had the highest life expectancy on record. Life expectancies keep on a-risin’. There is absolutely no reason, except unfounded panic, to assume that kids today will not live just as long or longer than their parents.

  8. Lori says:

    Look at it this way. Let’s say you have a choice between:

    a) standing up before a room full of children and encouraging them to exercise more, or

    b) standing up before a room full of children and encouraging them to exercise more, and then throwing a handful of knives into the audience.

    Why would you select b), unless you wanted to hurt someone?

    You can help children get healthier without doing harm.

    You are a genius.

    I honestly do not understand why anybody thinks that encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits for their own sake for ALL children is somehow taking the health of children less seriously than encouraging fat kids to stop being fat. If the issue is health, why not focus on health, rather than size? Why are we so scared of examining the actual behaviors of children and addressing them regardless of what size a child starts out as or ends up as? My guess: because that wouldn’t allow us to scapegoat fat kids and the parents of fat kids. It would mean that the parent with the “normal” kids would have to look hard at their children’s habits, as well, and not just assuming that inactivity and poor diet are the issue only of those lazy, gluttonous fat kids.

    And I’m sure I don’t need to mention that the reason the language of “eradicating obesity” is so offensive is because it ignores human diversity. I have an almost-five-month-old daughter right now. She is exclusively breastfed, eating every 3-4 hours during the day and once during her 10-11 hour night sleep. She is also friggin’ enormous. She’s about 27 inches long and weighs 22 pounds. She’s at the 99th percentile for height and WAY off the charts for weight. She’s been that way since she was about a month old. I’m assuming it’s because large babies run in our family–my husband was pretty much exactly her size at her age (and he ended up a really thin, extremely tall child, who’s a 6’5″ normal-weight adult). But I think most people can accept that my child isn’t a really fat baby because she’s somehow moving less than others babies or because she’s eating too much; they can accept that it’s simply human variation, and that babies come in vastly different sizes even though their eating and activity habits are pretty much the same. If we can accept that about babies, why can’t we accept that about kids and adults?

  9. Realist says:

    You fail to acknowledge–as do many of your peers–the crucial distinction between REDUCING obesity, and AVOIDING obesity in the first place. It makes for a good soundbite, but a damn dishonest post on your part.

    Are most two year olds obese? No? Then why the hell would they ever need to go eat carrot sticks to lose weight, now or in the future? The goal of a good program is to prevent the carrot-stick-and-grapefruit diet from being necessary in the first place. It’s about preventing weight GAIN.

    Fact is, the pro-fat contingent is writing off health as usual. You’re looking for perfection which isn’t there: Are you really willing to sacrifice the health of all of the kids who are NOT YET obese? After all, it’s far easier to avoid becoming fat than it is to lose weight.

    Not that this is actually the goal, but still: if the goal was “reduce the number of obese children,” then that is theoretically possible to achieve in 18 years without a single person being asked to lose weight that they have already gained. You would simply need to aid children in avoiding the process of BECOMING obese in the first place. Over 18 years… voila! Long term planning, no weight loss programs, and no obesity!

    But of course, the pro-fat folks wouldn’t like that.

  10. This is such a wonderful post!

    I wrote to the First Lady when she announced the campaign, and I often point people to the NAAFA statement in response to it. Now I will point people here as well.

  11. elizabeth says:

    I have been to the “Let’s Move” website and completely agree with some of its goals: to get more fresh produce into school lunches and remove the junk food vending machines, bring affordable healthful food into neighborhoods that lack real grocery stores, bring back recess and gym class to schools where its been cut out in favor of all-day desk sitting, promote outdoor play through parks, safer playgrounds, sidewalks, and teaching people how to cook and grow gardens. These are ideas that could positively improve life for all kids!

    But I also absolutely agree with you on the destructive “fight obesity” phrasing. I believe Mrs. Obama is sincere in her efforts to undo/prevent the health damage our current lifestyle has done to many of our kids, but its so disheartening that she has chosen the “war on XXX” mentality that goes back to the all-male, warrior mentality of the mid-2oth Century.

    As a teacher for 20 years, I know absolutely first-hand how the “war on obesity” idea will immediately shift to another reason to declare war on the chubby, fat and bigger kids. Shame and blame and fear are the WORST ways to encourage anyone to change behavior, and in the socially sensitive
    world of school kids…it might backfire into more isolation and less activity as kids avoid situations where they might be verbally or physically abused.

    I wish there was some way to influence Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” team take a more “health at every size” approach, and shift it from a “war” into a transformation for all kids, regardless of size…

  12. Michelle says:

    Wow, nail, meet the hammer. You are dead on. As I read the comments, I can see that a lot of folks have a hard time understanding your main points. Don’t give up explaining as long as there is hope that more peeps will understand and support your words. I 110% agree that Mrs. Obama would be more productive and have a better overall positive affect by focusing on healthy lifestyles instead of dehumanizing the obese. Health At Every Size, people. Come on, now, get with the program! 😉

  13. drummergrrrl says:

    Not to mention all of us who are obese because of another medical condition … I had an eating disorder for more than a decade because I was trying to hide my hormone imbalance that causes me to pack on the weight. Maybe we should be examining fat kids’ medical situations, as well, instead of just assuming that their “set point” is higher. In my case, obesity is a SYMPTOM, not the disease.

  14. Kat says:

    I appreciate your sentiments here, and agree with you to a certain degree. Its true that by making her fight about “obesity” rather than “proper dietary and exercise habits”, Mrs. Obama is missing her target somewhat. Just because a kid is skinny doesn’t mean he should be allowed to play on his computer all afternoon instead of running around outside. And just because a kid is a little heavier, doesn’t mean he is necessarily unhealthy. Kids can carry “baby fat” with them until years after puberty… because they’re still children.

    However. Obesity IS associated with a number of health risks. That 200 lb. 8-year-old you mention can run into severe medical problems when he gets older. Losing 100 lbs was great, but depending on his height, he probably needs to try and lose more. Denying that health risks are associated with obesity is like denying that cancer is caused by cigarettes… just because sugar and fat and nicotine are addictive, and we need sometimes need help removing them from our lives, does not mean that you can justify allowing children to put themselves at such extreme risk… you wouldn’t let an 8 yr old smoke a cigarette, would you?

    That said, I will agree that American culture is largely out of touch with what a healthy weight looks like. Being rail-thin can be just as dangerous as being obese, especially if an individual has harmed himself or herself in order to get that thin. And don’t criminalize doctors, because they know that thinness can be unhealthy too: I had a friend who ate like a lion but was naturally very, very skinny and tall, and her physician was always telling her to gain weight (in healthy ways). It would be good to make-over our cultural ideals somewhat, and remember that health resides in a happy medium.

    So… I guess what I’m saying is that I have mixed feelings about your message. I wonder whether you or Mrs. Obama really have it right. I’m inclined to think that you both have good points, and the best message would lie somewhere in between.

    • Lori says:

      When we’re talking about obesity, we are not, by and large, talking about 200-lb. 8 year olds. First, any child that heavy that young has some sort of underlying issue. Second, the vast majority of “obese” kids are not particularly fat and don’t even look demonstrably obese to either parents OR medical professionals (a study found that both parents and doctors had a very difficult time determining, from pictures, which children were obese and which were a “healthy” weigh; we’re not talking about gigantic kids here for the most part, just kids a little bigger than average).

      Just like your friend could eat a lot but still be skinny, some people can eat a normal amount or not much at all and still be fat. Rather than asking people who are healthy at the weight they are to change their habits to try to conform to a body size that isn’t natural for them, why not focus on people, fat or thin, who have unhealthy habits?

      Health isn’t in a happy medium between being too thin or too fat: we live in a diverse world, where people’s body sizes naturally fall into something of a bell-shaped curve. Yes, most people do fall somewhere in the middle, but there will always be very thin and very fat people, no matter how much Michelle Obama wishes otherwise. What should matter is somebody’s habits: eating in healthy ways, being active, being positive, getting enough sleep.

      If somebody is eating well and being active, then I don’t see why we should worry at all about what size their body ends up being.

  15. batwingman says:

    This is ridiculous. Obesity kills. Obesity is not a natural state. If your child is overweight, this is child abuse and an example of failed parenting.

    “Mrs. Obama, your campaign assumes that all fat children are fat because they don’t exercise or eat right. It’s the same assumption so many people erroneously make about fat adults”

    Unless you have a physiological disorder (thyroid problem), it is correct to assume that you are fat because you don’t exercise or eat right, there is NO physical way you can exercise regularly (for a proper amount of time at a proper exertion level) and eat right and still be fat, it doesn’t work that way!

    “By pinning the “fight against childhood obesity” onto messages about your “Let’s Move” campaign, you are reminding fat children that they need to be “fixed””

    They do need to be fixed, Obesity is NOT NORMAL, it is not what they are, and it is a symptom of what they eat and how they live! Especially with kids, you cannot blame hormones, etc, they are fat because they eat McDonalds and sit in front of the tv, it’s simple.

    “We’ve got an awful lot of people out there who are emphatically “against” fatness because they feel it’s unhealthy – including you, Mrs. Obama”

    It IS unhealthy!!!!!

    How many of you people get the recommended 3 hours of exercise a week to maintain your body weight? How many do 5 to lose weight?

    Read here:

    The health costs associated with obesity are draining the system. It is irresponsible for the government NOT to do something about the plague of obesity. Read here:

    • Michele says:

      You are the perfect spokesperson to show how much people fail to remember life and the science behind weight is not black and white. There are MANY levels of gray!
      Let me set the scene. We don’t eat at fast food restaurants. We don’t eat red meat except rare occasion — less than once a month. We drink skim milk, we don’t eat potato chips at all and only eat candy, corn chips, cookies and other like “junk food” as a treat — less than once a week and very small proportions. We eat low or no-fat dairy. I don’t fix starch sides with meals (such as mac&cheese or rice or stuffing or potatoes), relying on whole grain breads and cereals (unsweetened) for our grains/starches. We don’t eat a lot of starchy vegetables either, primarily eating leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus and similar for our vegetables. I don’t cook in oil (except to keep pan from sticking) or butter. I don’t use salt in cooking. We rarely drink soda (less than once every 2 weeks) and then only diet.
      I have eight year old TWINS. Twin One is below the 50th percentile on weight and about 75th percentile on height. If given the option, he will choose to eat WHATEVER junk is available all the time. If given a choice, he will sit inside for hours on end. He eats non-stop. Twin Two, however, is off the charts on weight. He is also 75th percentile on height. His favorite foods are brussel sprouts and asparagus (his twin HATES both). He routinely chooses healthy foods, usually fruit or vegetables, over even the healthiest junk food. He swims for an hour a minimum of 3 days a week (winning his age-defined divisions on a regular basis), and chooses to be outside and active rather than in every chance he gets. He eats less than his twin. Neither have abnormal hormone/thyroid levels. Both have been checked for physiological abnormalities known to relate to weight.
      With the exception that they are not (that we know of) identical twins, there can be no better study of the fact that WE DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING about what determines weight. Your statements, “Obesity is not a natural state. If your child is overweight, this is child abuse and an example of failed parenting” prove the point the original author was making — as a societywe have created an in-elastic cause and effect judgment of people who are not the preferred weight. Can over-eating and/or inactivity cause weight gain? Yes. However these are not the only causes. Can additional weight cause medical issues? Yes. Should we try to keep our children from having additional weight? Yes. However we should not label someone as lazy, poor eaters, or their parents as failing simply based on their relative size.
      I can only assume, based on your comments that if you saw my two children you would make the assumption that my “skinny” child was the active one and my “heavy” child “ate McDonald’s and [sat] in front of the tv.” (to use your own words). For an 8 year old to have be doing everything “right” according to your parameters of how not to be overweight, and see how his twin doesn’t have to try at all and is “skinny” is hard. To have the stereotypes you so eloquently articulate applied to him is not only hurtful, but does more harm than good to his self-confidence and sense of worth.
      Shame on you.

  16. Frederic says:

    I applaud what Michelle Obama is doing. At least she is doing something about an epidemic that kills over 120,000 americans a year. If we sit here and do nothing, it will kill more americans in 5 years than americans died in the same time frame during WW 2! The threat of up to 30% of children not outliving their parents is very real. Most parents today have two jobs and little understanding of basic nutrition needs.

    The challenge with obesity is, like the frog being slowly boiled to death, it is becoming a part of day to day lives of americans and it is being accepted as normal. Average BMI levels are being revised up every year and most americans are in denial.

    It’s time to wake-up as America is the #1 obese country in the world.

    Children and parents together need to have sound nutrition understanding. It’s not so much about telling them what is good or bad, but arming them with information of the impact of types of food on the body and therefore their life. Then it’s up to them to decide what they want to do. We strongly believe in empowering children and parents with great nutrition basics in a way that is fun for kids and practical for parents so they can make their own good food choice. was founded on that principle.

    • Lasciel says:

      I think you might have missed the author’s point.

      It would be fine, wonderful, in fact, if M. Obama campaigned to increase nutritional awareness and get kids exercising in a way they enjoy.

      That’s not what she’s doing though. She’s targeting obesity. Being skinny? Not the same thing as being healthy, or even fit. That’s not a good image to send. You can be “obese” by BMI or otherwise and be perfectly healthy.

      • batwingman says:

        It is correct to say, “Being skinny does not imply healthy”. There is however a strong correlation, which of course does not necessitate causality. The correlation between low BMI and being “healthy” is strongly supported by scientific peer-reviewed literature. Having said that, I beg you to find me one piece of scientific peer-reviewed literature that asserts that obesity is linked to being healthy. Find one.

  17. sierra says:

    hi i am sierra farmer just turned 11 year old and i weigh 95.5 pounds and i a 56 inches tall and i want conker my over weight self and go to junior high school completely healthy but i need help and support.

    • Simone Lovelace says:

      Sierra, if you want to be completely healthy, the best thing you can do is to eat a balanced diet, get some healthy exercise, and let your weight take care of itself. You are young, and your body is still growing and developing. And even if you do grow into an overweight woman, that’s not the end of the world. 🙂 You CAN be overweight and still have a happy, healthy life.

  18. Jamal Williams says:

    Creative ways of combating childhood obesity can be achieved through technology. Children need to get this information through as many media as possible. You should check out this new app called KIDFIT ( It offers over 150 exercises that are designed specifically for kids and it’s being formally researched. Innovative, practical ideas like the KIDFIT app is what it’s going to take to eliminate the child obesity epidemic. Take a look!

  19. I really like the website Jamal Williams Howard University Graduate on point a good look and it’s calls it from A-Z just saying we all have showed up since 1st lady has given some of us the blue print in communicating I just applaud all of you . And I love your sit also my new home a it girl shows up to every party WE ARE THE REAL DEAL is right at home.

  20. we come in all shapes and sizes the one thing I can say is no matter what size you are eat hellthy stuff and have a fitionary in whatever you do and yes sweat the little things but have a big attitude about your accomplishments and share don’t allow anyone to close you in on the spectrum. I like to applaud the developers of this site but I advocate where 1st Lady is going with her site it’s about starting the conversation and creating a outcome to resolve an much needed Healthy Result so we all can contribute and one day get it right.

  21. Jackie says:

    There’s always been something that bothered me about a fat child being linked to having abusive parents. Nothing is going to mess that child up more, then instilling the belief that because they were fat, they didn’t deserve a loving family. I guess that’s okay if it results in the child becoming thin and appearing healthy. >:(

    • sannanina says:

      Indeed, saying that a fat child has abusive parents (and therefore became fat) is VERY problematic – for several reasons. I was a fat child, and while my family is in no way perfect (especially not around food and eating) my parents are and always have been wonderful, supportive, loving parents who have never let me down in my life. Hearing people say that “it is the parents fault if a child is fat” and that a “letting your child become fat is child abuse” hurts me like hell, because people saying that are indirectly accusing my wonderful, lovely parents of abusing me. I know of course that I was not abused in any way, and so I often end up feeling ashamed because I turned out fat despite my wonderful parents as a result. (Not to mention that this whole issue is extra ironic because the action that in my opinion contributed most to my screwed up eating behavior which in turn contributed to my current weight was that I was “trained” as a restricted eater from an early age on by my well-meaning parents who had been told by my pediatrician that I needed to lose weight.)

      Another reason why accusing parents of fat children of child abuser is not a good idea is that fat kids are often teased by their own family members because of their weight and are also less likely to be supported financially by their parents in college. I doubt that these things are the case because parents of fat kids are just generally awful and don’t love their children. Instead, I think that having a fat kid is already so stigmatized that parents internalize part of the shame dealt out to them for having a fat kid and sometimes end up resenting their kids on some level because of it. Telling the parents of fat kids that they are committing child abuse simply by having a fat kid, something they often cannot change, will just worsen that problem.

      If you want healthy families and healthy children encourage healthy behaviors instead of focusing on physical appearance which might or might not be a result of them. Also, give families the tools to practice those healthy behaviors. Knowledge alone does not help if parents simply lack the necessary resources to put that knowledge into practice.

  22. mindy says:

    I just wanted to say that you are an amazing writer and you should send that to her! I myself have suffered from an Eating Disorder before and i am still fighting each day to get better. I have been hospitlized several times. I go to a school where “wellness” is one of the main issues. (i am only in middle school) It came from a plan from the state i heard, and in our school we are required to walk 1/2 mile a day along with gym class every other day. There is also an increase about eating healthy. Our school no longer serves deserts to us for lunch. We have fruits for deserts only and our food has gotten smaller. Being surrounded by this kind of stuff and teachers telling us how important it is to be a healthy BMI has made it impossible to recover fully. I think this is something the first lady should hear about.

  23. Nico says:

    The campaign against childhood obesity is just preparation for them to feel justified when they tax you (or the child’s parents) for every pound above normal that you happen to be because of the “burden” on the healthcare system that you are presumed to be if you are overweigth and to encourage and incentivize weight loss by taxing obesity…just wait a few years… it is where this is headed

    (even if the problem is caused by hormone imbalance, and reactions to hormones in the food)

  24. Andrew says:

    No, no, no, no, and no.

    Obesity cannot and should not be automatically linked to the idea of FAT. Obesity is a medical condition– a BMI level that is a direct threat to an individual’s health. First Lady Obama has never targeted “fat” children, or even “overweight” children. If you were educated in any regard you’d understand that medically, children are diagnosed as Obese when their BMI reaches a level that endangers their health.

    There is a direct correlation between Obesity and Death. First Lady Obama’s initiative pushes for a focus on educating children at a young age about the dangers of unhealthy lifestyles. Her campaign never delineates from it’s goal. It has never targeted children who are “naturally stocky.” Obese is not natural, our bodies are not naturally able to sustain that much weight. Obesity is an epidemic, it should be treated as a health-concern just as anorexia and bulimia should be.

  25. DL says:

    Consider viewing “childhood obesity” as a disease/condition, like asthma or heart disease. People aren’t offended when we try to “fight” these conditions. There is a difference between fighting the people and fighting the affliction. And the article is right, skinny people can be unhealthy, and chubby people can be healthy. But obesity (“a condition in which excess body fat has an adverse effect on the body”) is not healthy, and ‘fighting’ obesity is like fighting addictive smoking. She IS targeting the afflicted, but she’s not ATTACKING the people, but the condition.

  26. Kathleen says:

    Hi Kim –have you read the letter that the Eating Disorders Coalition sent to her recently, thanks to Alcee Hastings(Member of Congress)? — It was signed by over 45 organizations and 25+ Members of Congress. You might be interested to read it…and then…I encourage you to come to Lobby Day and use your voice about this issue! ~ Peace …and great piece above! 😉 ~ Kathleen


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  1. […] Posted on August 5, 2010 by Living 400lbs If you haven’t read Kim Brittingham‘s piece on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti-obesity campaign, you really should. When we frame our battle for healthier children as a battle against fatness […]

  2. […] open letter to Michelle Obama about inadvertently stigmatizing fat kids, via We Are the Real Deal. It’s well worth the […]

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