I saw an article online today titled “Children as Young as Ten Vomit to Lose Weight”
According to the article:
Thirteen per cent of the 8,673 girls and 7,043 boys who took part in the research admitted they made themselves sick to lose weight. But the figures were much higher in younger children, with 16% of 10-12 year-olds and 15% of 13-15 year-olds vomiting. The figures fell to 8% in 16-18 year-olds.
This blog post isn’t about the study. I haven’t analyzed it and I’ve no idea how well done it is. It’s about this quote from the researchers:
“Our study found that children as young as ten were aware of the importance of weight control, but used vomiting to control their weight” concludes Dr Liou. “This reinforces the need for public health campaigns that stress the negative impact that vomiting can have on their health and encourage them to tackle any weight issues in a healthy and responsible way.”
Let me get this straight: You find out that an absolutely shocking percentage of very young children are so obsessed with weight control that they are forcing themselves to vomit to lose weight, and your suggestion is to “encourage them to tackle any weight issues in a healthy and responsible way”? What does that say about the message you’re giving them now? And if they were NOT made so very “aware of the importance of weight control” I wonder if they would be making themselves vomit?
Here is what I think:
It’s not about how much vomiting is encouraged or discouraged for weight control. It’s how much weight control is encouraged or discouraged. The study was done in Thailand but I’ve seen statistics about eating disorders on the rise for America’s youth as well. And I don’t think it’s because there are signs in elementary schools that say “Got a couple pounds to lose? Try vomiting!”
I think that when we barrage kids with the message that weight is the only measure of health and that if they aren’t able to get thin then they deserve to have war waged on them by the First Lady of the United States, we set them up for disordered eating. We already know that 95% of diets fail. As children start trying to control their weight from earlier and earlier ages (in the womb for example), we set them up to fail at dieting multiple times before age 10. Labeled lazy, unhealthy, lying, failures – and finding themselves on the losing side of the First Lady’s war – I’m saddened but not surprised that they turn to any means necessary to lose weight.
I’m pretty sure that kids don’t think that vomiting is a good idea. I think that we’ve created a world where kids actually think that making themselves vomit is somehow healthier than being fat because they’ve been convinced that unhealthy behaviors will lead to health if they make you thin. (If that’s true then we should be passing out cocaine with school lunches.) Or they no longer care about being healthy, they just want to look like Mrs. Obama says they should so she’ll stop trying to convince everyone to bully them. And that’s a problem. A huge problem. But luckily, an easily correctable one.
The solution that I propose is to be for healthy children, not against obese ones. It’s easy to do: Be for access to affordable healthy food, for access to movement that they enjoy (maybe different PE classes for kids who are athletic, kids who just want to who would rather play Dance Dance Revolution), be for the mental health that is only possible when kids are not constantly stigmatized by society because of their size, or terrified of being stigmatized by society if their size changes.
There is absolutely nothing that can be accomplished by having a war on childhood obesity that cannot be accomplished by being for healthy children. And being for healthy children means that we aren’t ignoring kids who practice unhealthy habits but remain thin. We all knew those kids in school who ate nothing but junk food and never gained any weight. Just as there are healthy and unhealthy adults of every shape and size, there are healthy and healthy kids of all sizes and a war on childhood obesity tells thin kids that it doesn’t matter how unhealthy their habits are, as long as they are thin.
The bottom line is that we probably shouldn’t be surprised that adults in power waging war against kids causes them to do some pretty messed up stuff. And there is no reason to wage war against kids when we could support them instead.
I’ve heard and read from the people who say that we can’t worry about kid’s feelings when we have so much childhood obesity. The argument apparently being that the only way to deal with childhood obesity is to keep talking about it and keep waging war on obese kids until they hate themselves healthy. Well I think that anyone who says that is nothing more than a bully, and is contributing to a dangerous culture of hate for no other reason than to feel superior and bask in the won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children drama. Don’t kid yourself: These are ten year old children. They are not making themselves vomit, you are making them vomit with your message of bullying, body hate, and thinness at any cost. Sleep well.