Childhood obesity initiatives, we must do better!
I have a very specific memory of a class project that my second grade class did for math in 1990. We were supposed to weight ourselves to get a number that then we would use in an equation. I was 8 years old and had spent quite a bit of time at the doctor being weighed, being taught by nutritionists how to portion painfully small servings of uninteresting food, shopping in the “pretty plus” section of Sears and the feeling of wanting to disappear when another child pointed at me at the local pool saying “look at that fat girl!” The scale, my size and my weight were already powerful topics for me at 8 years old. I remember asking the teacher covertly if he wouldn’t mind weighing me over recess so the other students didn’t see… I knew to be ashamed. I remember the gnawing in the pit of my stomach as I watched my peers step on the scale… the TALKING scale… and hearing their number (read “the value”) being announced. I remember hoping hoping hoping that no one would notice that I was not being weighed with the rest of the class. I remember the self loathing I felt as I stepped onto the scale while the rest of my class blissfully swung from the monkey bars. I remember the sound of the metallic robotic voice ringing out into the empty classroom- three digits long. I remember the prickling burning of my face when a classmate asked me later, “how much did your weigh?” … I had almost gotten away with it.
Obviously this memory burns brightly in my mind, and the only saving grace is that I was not somehow being evaluated by this number. There was no “report” attached to it. It was a simple, albeit insensitive, numeric variable for an equation- although to me it was obviously so much more. As I have watched the eating disorder community’s response to clumsy attempts to address childhood obesity I have experienced some sense of hope. However it seems as though in the face of good research (Rebecca Phul and others) our government both national and local continues to hastily move into our schools using a sufficiently debunked tool to “measure” health… the BMI. This recent story on GMA about “Fat Letters” going home with students brought back my memory of being weighed in school as a child. However, this powerful memory was now connected to professional knowledge of disordered eating patterns and perpetuation, awareness of the impact of size stigma on weight, health at every size principals and my adult common sense. Weight does not define a person and especially not a child. Weight is in flux during development and instead of shaming and providing external measure of health we must be teaching children to listen to their bodies and their natural desire for nutritious food and enjoyable activity. My hope is that our interventions for health can target HEALTH and involve actual interventions rather than just collecting a number that does not measure what we seek to improve. I hope that the medical, nutrition and psychiatric communities can come together with local and federal governing bodies to be productive rather than harmful and useless. I hope that no other child has to feel the prickling burn on their cheeks as their “goodness” or “badness” registers on a scale. We can do better. We must do better.
Parents: be advised- most of these programs you can opt out of! Take back the power to give productive and scientifically based information to your children on health and weight!