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Childhood-Obesity is NOT the problem!

Childhood Obesity isn’t THE problem.

There, I said it and I’ll say it again: CHILDHOOD OBESITY is NOT THE PROBLEM.

While it’s become nearly impossible to turn on a TV, listen to a radio or read through a newspaper without hearing about our society’s obesity epidemic and it seems like there are anti-obesity programs and campaigns popping up everywhere, I believe we are focusing our energy and efforts on the WRONG problem. Is obesity a serious issue? Yes, it is. But obesity is just one SYMPTOM of the real issue which is unhealthy living. By focusing solely on obesity, we are turning a “lifestyle” issue into a “fat” one. By doing this, we’re completely missing out giving people the information and the tools they need to be truly HEALTHY. The dangerous part about this is that instead of encouraging people to get healthy we are demanding that they get skinny and the truth is, skinny is not always synonymous with healthy. As a result of our “war on obesity” we’re creating a generation of kids who are TERRIFIED of being overweight and because of our society’s obsession with thinness, they don’t even know what being overweight truly looks like! Watching TV or flipping through fashion magazines and being inundated with unrealistic images of unattainable physiques can have most tweens and teens feeling inadequate and insecure about their looks within minutes. When the media is telling them that they need to be skinny to be beautiful and anti-obesity campaigns are telling them they need to be skinny to be healthy, the only message they’re hearing is: YOU NEED TO BE SKINNY!
Here’s a shocker: You can’t always tell how fit or unfit a person is simply by what they look like.
Being a little overweight and active is healthier than skinny and sedentary. Weight is not the ONLY factor in a person’s overall health, and we shouldn’t be made to feel like it is.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?

1.Thin kids become apathetic:
There are some kids who can eat as much junk food as they want and do very little physical activity without gaining any weight. Lucky for them, right? WRONG. However, IF they’re constantly being told that OBESITY is the issue than they won’t see the risks related to their present lifestyles. Things like: Diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and Cancer.

2.Skinny at all cost mentality:
How about the kids who are so afraid of gaining weight that they become overly concerned with every piece of food they consume? I get emails and phone calls from parents of kids as young as 5 years old who are already struggling with eating disorders! While it wouldn’t be surprising to hear our toddlers worry about imaginary monsters or witches, hearing them cry because they feel they look fat in their snowsuits is something most parents are not prepared for. More and more kids are putting their health at risk through dangerous behaviour related to weight loss and a huge part of it is because of our society’s Fat-Phobia!

Recently, many schools have tried to get on board the fight against obesity by implementing programs aimed at making our kids healthier. Unfortunately, in an effort to solve one problem, they are inadvertently creating an even bigger one by encouraging disordered eating and negative body image. While numbers and charts may offer a little insight into a person’s health status, they can be drastically misleading if other important factors are ignored.

Take for example, the recent story about the 10 year old Massachusetts boy who was sent home from school with a letter saying he was obese. This boy’s athletic (healthy) build was considered obese by the BMI rating his school was using to measure their students body weight. To be honest, I am completely against ANY KIND of program that has school faculty measuring (judging and shaming) a child’s weight and the fact that they’d use such an inaccurate system to do it, makes it all the more frustrating.

http://todaynews.today.com/_news/2013/02/27/17119287-fat-letters-sent-home-to-students-cause-a-stir

Schools need to EDUCATE, not HUMILIATE.

3.It’s become okay to point fingers at the chubby kid.

You’d think that with all the talk about bullying going on these days, we’d be able to recognize when we’re doing it ourselves, but here’s another example of good intentions lost on bad execution. By singling out the “overweight” kids we’re making them easier targets to be picked on. Some might argue that if they’re overweight, they’re probably already being picked on, but the difference is that they’ve now got school staff agreeing with the bullies. This kind of negativity will only make them feel less worthy of respect from others and themselves. HOW does that help??

We all want the same thing. We want our kids to grow up as healthy and as happy as they can be, but we really have to be so incredibly careful about how we go about doing that.

Eating with balance and moderation and being physically active shouldn’t be something we feel forced to do because we hate our bodies, but something we WANT to do because we love and respect them. We can’t lose weight in order to like ourselves, we have to first like ourselves in order to lose weight.

Enough with the “ANTIs” and bring on the “PROs”. Instead of an Anti-Obesity approach, why not try one that’s Pro-Health? We shouldn’t be fighting AGAINST our bodies but working WITH them.

FAT isn’t a bad word. It’s an essentially nutrient necessary for good health. Why have we turned it into an insult? Teaching kids that fat is “Bad”, can be a dangerous lesson. However, educating them about the benefits and risks related to different kinds of fats can be extremely helpful without being judgemental.

A truly healthy child is one that is healthy physically, emotionally and psychologically. By focusing simply on the physical, we risk damaging everything else.

The question I’m asking is: Do we want HEALTHY kids or just skinny ones?

Olympic medallist Leisel Jones criticized for being "Fat".

Olympic medallist Leisel Jones criticized for being “Fat”.

Olympic medallist Cathy Rigby.Admits that she and many teammates battled eating disorders while competing

Olympic medallist Cathy Rigby.
Admits that she and many teammates battled eating disorders while competing

Healthy bodies have less to do with how they LOOK and everything to do with how they WORK.

“Self-worth shouldn’t be measured in pounds”

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24 Responses to 'Childhood-Obesity is NOT the problem!'

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  1. Matt said,

    Honest question: I consider childhood-obesity lethal. Isnt’ it? And if so, aren’t these measures necessary? I have seen educators trip over themselves and misinterpret/announce these results in a way that is damaging–I would like to think that professional expertise in education would prevent us from doing stupid things with this information, and actually using that information to help.

    • fitvsfiction said,

      Childhood obesity can be lethal, which is why we need to prevent it, but these measures will NOT help. Shaming kids into doing the “right” thing will just make them feel “wrong” and lowering their self-esteem will not give them the incentive they need to treat themselves better and make healthier choices. Focusing on food and weight is going about this problem in a backwards kind of way..IF we are eating well and being physically active, our bodies will go where they need to be..if we focus on just getting skinny, too many people will let feelings of desperation lead them to dangerous diet practices which will end up damaging their bodies in the long run. The other thing that most people don’t understand is that eating disorders are lethal as well and by encouraging FEAR around food and FAT we are putting our kids in a different but equally serious kind of danger.

  2. Nicole said,

    I agree. I watch the Morning Show on Global often, and recently, Kris Reyes has been going on and on about how childhood obesity is a big problem, without a lot of context about health. This is not a personal attack against Mr. Reyes. I enjoy her on the show for the most part. However, she was recently arguing FOR the fat letter being sent home from the school, despite more reasoned arguments made by the other hosts. Today there was another story about battling childhood obesity and she is set on “it’s a big problem”. I just wish these people would focus on healthy habits, not numbers and shaming. They are not experts on the subject in any way and I don’t think they realize how damaging this type of press can be. I think you were on the Morning Show last year. You should offer to go back and educate them!

    • fitvsfiction said,

      Thanks Nicole!
      I agree 100%!
      It’s funny that you mention The Morning Show..I noticed that when I was watching last week and I found it incredibly frustrating! Shame doesn’t help, education does. I have actually tried to contact the show again, but had no luck. I’m going to send them this post via twitter. It might help if you send them something as well..the more people I have in my corner, the more likely they’ll be to listen!
      Thanks for “getting it”!
      :o)

      • Nicole said,

        I had a twitter conversation with Kris Reyes about it last week. Hard to discuss properly via twitter, but she was very nice and polite about it, and I bet she has good intentions, but I think the focus is too much on the negative and ineffective measurement tools such as BMI. And also she was insisted that we should try to change the dialogue so that it’s not shameful to talk about it, but I don’t see a way to send a kid home with a fat letter or similar without it feeling shameful. I think focussing on regular activity and eating healthy and dealing with emotions relating to food are all much more effective tools. Even as an adult, I am an example of someone who can workout (hard) regularly, eat in a balanced way and hover over “overweight” and “normal” on the BMI scale. Just not a good measurement, in my opinion.
        I could go on and on about this!

        Nicole

      • fitvsfiction said,

        You’re right, Nicole.
        There is absolutely no way to put a positive spin on “Fat report” cards; it’s like sending home a letter saying, “Your kid’s an idiot”, and expecting him/her to want to learn. Aint’ happening.
        BMI is ridiculous and completely inaccurate. According to the BMI scale, athletes like LeBron James and Peyton Manning are overweight..so are a number of olympic medallists. It measures weight without taking into consideration muscle or bone. Silly.

        Good for you for standing up and speaking out!

        (I’m going to keep trying with The Morning Show…might be helpful if you tweet them this post. Can’t hurt,right?)


  3. Truthfully it is not just an issue of child obesity. I highly agree that the issue is movement. I dare one individual out there to tell me that there is not some “skinny” children out there that have faults within their movement patterns do to tightness or just lack of activity.

    • fitvsfiction said,

      Exactly! To talk about unhealthy kids without discussing the lack of Phys Ed being offered in most schools is ridiculous. We need to encourage physical activity in elementary school and KEEP encouraging it through high school. Being active FEELS good and gives us the desire to treat our bodies with the respect they deserve, which includes making healthy food choices.


  4. Thanks for sharing this, Marci. The environment in which children grow up in have a much more impact on obesity, violence, abuse, and even the economics of communities than blaming on genetics or educational system. Have you listened to any of Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s or Dr. Mate’s interviews and lectures on human behavior and psychology?

    • fitvsfiction said,

      I haven’t. But I will definitely check them out. Thanks! :o)


      • Hi Marci. Here’s one of the videos regarding how the environment in which people are at have a greater influence on their behavior — eating, violence, hardiness, etc. — than genetics. Your article hits home on a few key points they made in their lectures and interviews.

      • fitvsfiction said,

        I’m about halfway through…very interesting! Thanks for sharing! :o)


  5. I would definitely agree with the points you make and the dangers that this focus on just one of the symptoms – obesity – is creating more harm than good. As if the “loser” show wasn’t a bad enough example of helping people become healthy for a lifetime in a healthy way we now bring kids into the program and tug on the same heartstrings that lead people to think that this show’s approach is really the appropriate one.

    As with many of our social ills in my mind it always starts at home. When my daughter spent her first 5/6 years pretty much growing up in my gym I didn’t have to “make” her exercise. I just let her crawl over, under and on top of every piece of equipment she wanted to and she was a lean, mean happy machine. After the last few years in middle school and much less activity and more emphasis on just sports – which she is not as interested in at the moment – she has struggled more to remain fit and healthy. Her mother and I have come to realize that we need to become more engaged both in our own lives and with her in non-sports related fitness activities. It’s funny how athletes can be those who struggle most with their fitness once they’re no longer participating in sports.

    In other words, even though sports is what has always motivated me to stay fit, I need to realize that this is not my daughter’s current interest so I need to come up with something new. I mean I’m still hoping the sports thing kicks in as she is slated to be at least 6′ tall and her mom was a kick butt D1 athlete but I’m more concerned that she finds something that gets her moving and helps her feel confident and healthy!

    • fitvsfiction said,

      I love your comments, Patrick!

      Firdt of all, The Biggest Loser show is horrific! In my book, I actually talk about a phone interview I did with one of the finalists of that show in its early season. She told me about things that happened behind the scenes that were disgusting. That show is all about shame and abuse. Believe it or not, I had the mother of a 9 y/o girl once tell me that at her school, the gym teacher liked to play episodes of that show in the background while they did class as a way of “motivating” the kids. Yuck.

      You are right on the money about spending time with your daughter doing whatever activities she enjoys. It’s so important for all kids to find something to do that makes them happy and gives them a sense of pride. By supporting your daughter and spending time with her doing what SHE likes to do, you’re sending her the message that she’s WORTH spending time with (and that is very powerful). You can also take turns: you spend time doing something she loves, then she spends time doing something that’s fun for you (make it active, but fun) try something simple like creating an obstacle course at the park or a game of Follow the Leader with lots of jumping around.

      Keep doing what you’re doing, by seeing your loves of fitness she may just be drawn back in as she gets older.
      :o)

  6. Bob Totans said,

    Childhood obesity is the symptom and any war waged should be against the food industry who’s filling our kid’s bodies with “low-fat”, high fructose, high sodium and processed “foods” ( and I’m not talking about fast- food). Even active kids don’t stand a chance along with parents who either don’t know, don’t care or are totally misinformed and confused about what is healthy.

    • fitvsfiction said,

      Good points!
      The crazy thing is that while we’re being told to read labels..too many people think that means to just look at fat and calories! What we NEED to be looking at are the ingredients that make up those calories. It’s funny, the beauty industry needs us to feel ugly in order to sell their products, while the food industry is tricking us into thinking we’re doing the right thing but actually making us sicker. Deception for everyone! ugh.

  7. Matt said,

    Hi there! Sorry, I thought my comment posted for some reason. Here it is again:
    ———————————

    If I sent home a letter to your child saying “hello, through rigorous, valid testing by a qualified professional we have taken note that your child has nicotine rings around his fingers, cracked lips, coughs frequently and smells of cigarette smoke,” I think I may be doing my due diligence to protect the child and the class. There is probably a better way to do it that involves nurses and social workers.

    I have morbidly obese students (2nd graders!) who point to the old MyPyramid and wonder why the foods they eat at home aren’t on the chart… I have thought on more than one occasion to call children’s services. While there truly are multiple causes of obesity that are a result of many aspects of a lifestyle, I would say we are failing our kids if we don’t address an acute problem like this in the name of tip-toeing around someone’s home life or culture.

    I wonder if we replaced the word “obesity” with the word “child endangerment” would the conversation be the same?

    Perhaps we are just seeing a product of measurement, period? For example in my state (Ohio) physical education has adopted what amounts to “standardized testing” for P.E. (skills as well as fitness and social elements). I’m a P.E. teacher, and I fight tooth and nail to encourage kids to start wherever they are and to improve their health and be proud of what they accomplish. So I agree 100% with pro-health and encouraging a positive body-image will go a very long way to helping this symptom.

    But sometimes I think we are rallying against data and measurement. If we don’t have that, then we are just doing what “they” accuse us of doing: being softies and imposing political correctness on our students.
    Do numbers always mean shaming? If we don’t have the numbers, then to school boards we’re glorified recess.

    • fitvsfiction said,

      Hi Matt,
      I have to tell you that with all due respect, your comparisons don’t make sense. If a child were to show up at school with nicotine rings around their fingers, cracked lips,etc..it would be a definite sign that something was wrong. However, a high BMI score is not a definite sign of anything.

      I would also challenge the statement “rigorous, valid testing by a qualified professional”. These tests are hardly accurate, especially where children are concerned. BMI measured a person’s weight. It does not differenciate between fat, muscle and bone. THIS poses a problem. The other problem is that kids grow and develope at different stages and to tell a child who may be going through puberty, for example, that they are “obese” at a time when they are SUPPOSED to be gaining weight can have dangerous repercussions.

      You mentioned P.E. I happen to think that the lack of physical activity in schools is a big part of the problem. Gym has become an afterthought, something we get to IF there’s time and the first thing to be taken away in place of something deemed more important. That’s a mistake. Kids need to learn how to appreciate what their bodies can DO, not just how they look, because not all bodies look the same.

      Schools can TEACH, but it’s not their job to judge. It’s not being “soft, or politically correct” to understand that telling kids they are obese (often when they are not) is harmful and not helpful. IF as a teacher, you are concerned, talk to the parents..but NOT in front of the children. be discreet and for Gods sake, KNOW what you’re talking about.

      Some parents are making huge mistakes, while others are trying their best with what they have and the information they know. Before you call children’s services, get to know the child, their family and their situation. Being kind is not a weakness and will go a lot further in actually helping the families out.

      • Matt said,

        For the child in question, BMI is very obviously not the best tool for the job. I read that a 10 year old got a letter about an exceedingly high BMI and thought “yep, sounds dangerous.” Then i read that he is a little ball of muscle and said “oh okay he is probably fine”. Naturally if his body composition wrre different, we may have a different issue.

        That’s how you use BMI. That DOES speak precisely to your points about our attitudes towards our bodies, though. The student didn’t receive a “fat letter,” he received a red flag. Well his parents did. And somehow they told the kid all about obesity, and instead of “oh good thing my body composition is healthy! He replies with “screw that, good thing i’m not this terrible thing my parents just told me was bad enough that i need to crumple a lettter from the school.!”

        If i alert someone because i see bruises, i’ll find out if he’s being hit or if he fell out of a tree. Everyone involved in that child’s life is responsible for teaching him how to either get help, whether its stay away from the bully or learning how to fall off of a skateboard. Bruises are a red flag. Teachers are legally required to inquire about them. How is potential diabetes different?

        BMI is not forbidden knowledge. Its one tool in a very large toolbox. It absolutely should not be used as a tool for ostracizing. People switch doctors because the doctor tells them they are overweight. We clearly have very bad hangups about body image that start very young (i had a 1st grader recently flex his muscles and say “look how skinny i am!”)

        I agree with your mission AND your method, but how will you know that its working? We only started using the term obese for children the past few years. People don’t get “overweight,” they think their child is big-boned. People “get” obese. Its an urgent problem that goes hand in hand with culture and body image. What would it take to make it okay to suggest that a child may be deathly ill?

      • fitvsfiction said,

        I understand your frustration. You’re obviously informed on this issue and have genuine concern for your students..but you have to keep in mind, that not all teachers are as educated on this issue as some others may be and this is where part of the danger comes in. While most teachers absolutely have their students’ best interest at heart, they don’t know enough about weight/health to be able to properly manage any kind of weight related program. What happens after the report cards go home? Is there any follow-up from the school? Do they bring in nutrition classes, or physical education specialists who can properly guide them in the right direction? Oftentimes, parents are presented with the problem without any solutions to go with them. That helps no one. To be honest, I wrote my book to give parents the solutions they need to the tough situations they’re facing ( including what to do if your child IS overweight. How to help without hurting)
        I really do understand that you want to DO something, but the easiest answer ( charts and letters) isn’t always the right one.

  8. jexalt said,

    Marci,

    Interesting article. I agree with you on some points and on others I disagree.

    I absolutely agree with you on the issue of unhealthy living. You mentioned something about kids who eat whatever they want and do no physical activity but remain thin – those kids are likely not that healthy on the inside.

    My kids go to school in York Region, and so far, I have been pleased with the curriculum for health and physical education and the way it has been taught by individual teachers. Both of my kids have come home on numerous occasions discussing what they have learned, how to make healthy choices, how important it is for disease prevention, etc. They also talk about activity, watching less TV and playing less video games, doing extra curricular activities.

    However, I do find it to be a huge parental problem with obese and/or very overweight children in the same way that I find it to be a huge parental problem with extremely underweight children. Extremely underweight children are taken very seriously by doctors, police and child protective agencies unless the issue is proven to be medical and not neglectful. As a mother with two children who very underweight at birth due to prematureity and remained that way for years, I can attest that it is taken seriously and SHOULD be taken seriously. I attended weigh in appointments, used a breast milk fortifier with my daughter, took my son to clinics, etc. One thing I was told by every single doctor/person I saw is to look at the pattern of growth. Both of my kids followed their own growth curve and through they were below the “norm”, the fact that they continued on their own curve in the correct direction was good. If there was a drastic dip in one direction or another, then it was possible that there was a problem. In the case of overweight kids, if a child is on a steady growth curve on the higher end, I would assume that that is normal, whereas a sharp incline (or decline) would be cause for evaluation.

    It’s funny though how when the situation is reversed, no one wants to hear about it because the kid is “healthy”. Do I think that children are “chubby” for a variety of reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with parental neglect, diet or lack of exercise and everything to do with hormones and growing, etc? I do. I also think that a LOT of parents have their heads in the sand about their chubby kid, and there is significant scientific evidence to back this up – most parents of overweight/obese children do not think their kids are overweight or obese. And THAT is a huge problem! Parents delude themselves into thinking that because their kids have an apple and some broccoli and run around a lot then they’re healthy, despite the copious amounts of crap they eat otherwise, the hours of TV they watch daily, and the lack of any real sport/activity or exercise.

    Like a previous poster mentioned about schools reporting other dangerous things, it comes into all sorts of situations. There is a dental evaluation – and kids who may have been overlooked for dental care will get notes (I think) or referrals to a free service (I think). There are lice checks (and lice isn’t going to kill anyone I don’t think) and kids are sent home, parents are notified and shown how to check and eliminate lice, etc. Children are evaluated for behaviour problems and for learning disabilities and other disorders and concerns are brought to a parent’s attention.

    As a parent, I would like it brought to my attention if my kid is overweight/obese and I failed to recognize it. In fact, I would appreciate the school doing such a thing. And I agree – using the BMI chart on kids is a bit much and also not accurate, but teachers can use their “powers” of neutral observation in ways that parents obviously can’t – they can tell us “hey your kid always sits at recess and never runs around, and they throw away the fruits you give them, and I notice that it seems like they get a lot of treats in their lunch” – and these things can be told to “skinny” kids parents as well. In fact, I EXPECT the school to tell me these things, because they may not be weight related but instead related to something else.

    • fitvsfiction said,

      Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate hearing all views on this issue.
      I understand what you’re saying about the concern from doctors for kids who are measuring below the growth charts, but think more and more doctors are also commenting on the ones who are creeping up the high end as well. I also hear what you’re saying about the need for teachers to be able to get more involved as far as communicating with parents when they see behavior that seems concerning. I TOTALLY AGREE! I would also want to know if my child was either skipping lunch completely or eating his and everyone else’s. ANY kind of behavior that seems troubling, should be communicated between parents and teachers. However, weight is an issue that is very, very different from most others because it is way more subjective than people realize. As human beings we can’t help but let our own experiences influence how we may view things. You either have lice or you don’t. You either have a cavity or you don’t. Weight is different.
      There just too many factors involved in how healthy a child is to make a judgement by how they look or even what they eat for lunch (It’s one meal out of 3).

      I think teachers should speak to parents if they’re concerned. I think teachers should be given information and resources that they can pass along to parents. But unless we can be sure that the programs that are being brought in to our schools can be properly executed AND monitored, we cannot have schools overstepping their boundaries.

      I think it’s great that you’ve had good experiences with your school. I know that too many schools (in York region included) that have very little gym and offer mixed messages when it comes to nutrition.

      Please feel free to comment anytime..I appreciate your input!
      :o)


  9. Obesity is the symptom. I think we as parents, teachers, mentors and coaches have to empower kids so they can choose to make healthy choices about movement and nutrition

    • fitvsfiction said,

      YES!
      The first step is being honest with OURSELVES and making sure WE know the difference between BEING healthy and just LOOKING healthy. The next step is to pass our healthy, empowering messages on to our kids!
      :o)


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