Play or DIE! Wait, What?

Greetings from lovely Atlanta Georgia.  I’m posting tonight from the lovely home of Jay and Esther owners of More of Me to Love (by the way, if anyone is looking for an early Christmas present for me, I want one of these loungers pretty badly 🙂

Seriously, Jay and Esther are awesome and tomorrow we’re being joined by Julie Wyman who is shooting a  documentary called “Behind the Billboards” about the Georgia Billboard Project, which means that I’m just a few hours a way from seeing the actual billbaords in real life.  I’ll probably blog all about it tomorrow.

In the meantime, I want to discuss a sign I saw at the airport. [TW – It’s awful, feel free to scroll past the picture to get to my quality ranting]

I see what they did there – because the thin kids play basketball while the naughty lazy fat kids eat chips and sit around.

And who are the braintrusts who pulled this piece of horse hockey together?

Teacher Jane Elliot conducted a two day experiment.  On day one she told her students “This is a fact.  Blue eyed people are better than brown eyed people.”  Moments later a girl took longer than the others to get her book prepared. One student immediately said “She’s a brown eye” and the other blue-eyed students all chorused in agreement. The next day she changed the groups, telling the class that brown-eyed students were superior.   According to Elliot, “I watched what had been marvelous, wonderful, cooperative, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third graders in the space of fifteen minutes”

Everybody knows about this study.  I learned about it in high school and several college classes.  So, knowing this information, what do you suppose happens when we tell kids “This is a fact, thin kids are better than fat kids.”

The problem isn’t just that the other students start to treat tbig kids badly, it’s that the big kids start to believe the stereotypes while remaining the victims of crushing social stigma, and that’s how you create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, they must be referring to something before my time because I never remember any kids playing like their lives depended on it.  In fact, I don’t feel like the phrase “like their lives depended on it” could ever logically follow the word “play” as it relates to children (unless it was “kickball is not that serious, no need to play like your life depends on it.”)  Studies show 60 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week is what kids need for physical health – nothing good will come from misinforming them that if they don’t feel like they are playing like their life depends on it they aren’t getting healthier.

This type of fear m0ngering should be prosecutable.  Nobody knows for sure why kids are bigger now than they were (and there is a great deal of argument about if they are bigger, how much bigger they are.)  There is no proof that fat kids are fat because they play less  than thin kids – people are making that up in their heads (or gathering information via rectal pull), then slapping it on a giant sign at the airport so that they get congratulated for being strong in the war against childhood obesity obese children.  A war which has no victories, only casualties and collateral damage.

There is zero proof that giving kids the message that playing is a punishment for being fat, or that they have to play hard or they will die, will lead to healthier kids, thinner kids, or help develop a lifelong love of movement in kids – not a shred of evidence.

What we do know is that hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under 12 are up 119%, and research from the University of Minnesota found that weight control behaviors used by adolescents predicted significant weight gain in some kids and eating disorders in some kids but failed to produce thinner kids or healthier kids.

It’s not surprising.  95% of people who lose weight gain it all back and many of them gain back more than they lost so even if you believed that all kids can be thin and that thin is preferable, the last thing you would want to do is attempt weight control measures since the most likely outcome of that is weight gain and the second most likely outcome is developing an eating disorder.  The earlier kids start intentional weight loss efforts, the more damage they do to their bodies.

Kids do not take care of things they hate, and that includes their bodies.  Healthy habits lead to healthy kids and kids are more likely to participate in healthy habits if they are fun.  You can’t hate kids healthy, you can’t shame kids healthy, and you should be  ashamed  of yourself if you try.

I do not understand how people who (ostensibly) passed medical school cannot wrap their heads around this simple concept, but we have got to make this stop.

Activism Opportunity

Write e-mails to the:

Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America

America Academy of Pediatrics

America Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

If you’re stuck on what to say, consider asking them why they are participating in an intervention that all the evidence says is most likely to harm kids.  Tell them your story and speak from the heart.  Fat kids are under attack in this country, they are literally the unwitting combatants in a war against them and they need advocates.  We can be those advocates, we can help them.

Join the Club – Support the Work!

I do HAES and SA activism, speaking and writing full time, and I don’t believe in putting corporate ads on my blog and making my readers a commodity. So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, please consider a paid subscription (it works like a fan club where you get extras, discounts on stuff, free subscriber meet-ups etc.) or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free. If you’re curious about this policy, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on May 4, 2012 at 4:09 am  Comments (24)  

24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I also love how the kids all appear to be around the same age, but the fat kid is evidently more than three times the weight and twice the height of the others. The ad is physics-challenged as well!

  2. YOU ARE SO ARTICULATE! And so right. I kindof want to cry. Please keep it up – yours may be but one voice in the wilderness, but it is a clarion call, pure and true.

  3. This is tangentially related, but I just read this Op-Ed by Nicholas Kristof yesterday: He talks about the effects of endocrine disruptors in household chemicals. For example: “One study found that pregnant women who have higher levels of a common endocrine disruptor, PFOA, are three times as likely to have daughters who grow up to be overweight.” He doesn’t harp on fatness — he uses it as one example of the effects of endocrine disruptors in women and their offspring.

    My point in linking this article is that it’s another example of environmental factors that affect body composition — adding to the boatload of evidence that demonstrates how these ads (and the “battle” against obesity, childhood and otherwise) completely miss the point about health (physical, mental, and emotional) and body size, and the fact that fatness does not cause illness, but is a result of a multitude of biological factors that are unique to the individual. (Pardon my rambling.)

    Thank you for the work you’re doing, Ragen.

  4. I sure wish doctors cared about their patients as if their lives depended on it. Because, oh yeah, THEY DO.

  5. The fat kid in the poster looks just like my husband when he was a child. Guess what? His peers made his life HELL, and he “wasn’t even the fattest kid in school.” Fat hate affects non-fat people as well- I’ve talked to many a naturally thin or “normal” sized person who explains deep seated anxiety and outright FEAR that they will become fat- as though it is the WORST THING IN THE WORLD.

    As a kid, I was always kind of chubby. I was put in dance class, sports teams, spent at least a couple hours outside running around with the neighborhood kids. But none of that mattered. I was still “fat” (in my mom’s eyes- she’s like maybe a hundred pounds) so I was still “bad.”

    I went though a point in my teen years where I became an exercise-bulimic- I would work out for 5-6 hours a day and most of my workouts would include mental (or verbal) tirades at how worthless and ugly I was.

    Point is, back then, I was still considered “overweight” but my weight distribution was good, my health was fairly good (I probably should not have exercised nearly that much though- it led to my immune system crashing with pneumonia), and even though I always had that “little pouch” in the front of my tummy, most people (other than my doctor with his evil BMI chart) would not consider me “obese” by any standard.

    And I *still* encountered severe, unending fear and “fat talk” and bullying about my shape and size (I grew boobs at a young age, which people made fun of as “fat”).

    I can hardly even imagine how much pain and suffering the truly morbidly obese children must suffer in school, and it pains me to know that most of this pain, suffering and attacking is largely based on scaring the shit out of children and pitting them against one another- the fat kids as “the example of what not to be” and the other kids as “well, you COULD be this, so make sure you distance yourself as far as possible from them.”

    Adults need to stop cultivating this sort of bigotry from day one. What if the sign were changed to reflect the “evils” of Muslims/atheists and then harken back to a day when we were all “peaceful Christians”? Would anyone be surprised if Muslim/atheist hate EXPLODED in the schools?

  6. Dammit. I was really hoping that the headline was hyperbole. Big sigh.

  7. Re: that ad:

    Yikes, way to take something that’s totally fun and turn it into a grueling chore by saying that if you don’t do it, you will die. This always got my anger up in a dander. Take something totally fun and awesome, add obligation and presto! You have a grueling, miserable chore of an activity.

    Now they want to turn the simple act of playing into such a chore? Rage i cannot articulate.

    Re: this blog entry:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, for writing this.

  8. That is totally rediculous. We should be asking kids to play so they can have fun…not to “scare” them into trying to lose weight (which we know won’t happen anyway). I was super active as a kid up through college as a competetive swimmer. I’m talking two to four hours a day six days a week all year in the pool or running and calisthenics (what we called “dry land” practice). Guess what?! I was fat then, and I’m fat now! But healthy. This whole idea is crap. thank you for speaking out.

  9. My twin sister and I “played” outside around our neighborhood and in the forest next to our home since we were little. We were never skinny though. We also played soccer and softball until we were 13 or 14 (that’s when it stopped being fun, so I stopped playing).

    My older two siblings were always, and always will be, skinny. They didn’t play in the woods. I’m not even sure they did ANYTHING other than the usual sports like we did. Who knows why we’re different from out older siblings; it’s just the way it is.

    “Playing” proves nothing!

  10. Did anyone else have this image of the fat kid sitting down on the seesaw hard enough to blast the other kids off to Mars?

    • Yaaaaaay!!!

  11. Interesting that the ad makes no reference to bullying and exclusion’s role in keeping kids from playing, at least the sort of team sports that are pictured. (Some of that exclusion is institutional. Overthinking the illustration a little: If that’s an organized team pictured, and it’s been around long enough, somebody in the past probably fought to make it racially integrated, and somebody in the past fought to make it co-ed.) Without the ad copy, I would have assumed the message is that it’s wrong to treat games, organized or not, as if they are reserved for thin people.

    As for the actual stated message in the ad– One’s family is not a statistical sample, but my brother and I spent about equal amounts of time playing outside as kids. I ran competitively in high school and college; he biked all over the place, both for transportation and to blow off steam. We’re roughly equally inactive as adults– not that we don’t like movement, we just have difficulty finding the time. I’m thin-privileged, and he’s fat. Guess which one of us does not get the lecture on exercising more.

    Also, about that “play or die” thing– we will die some day. And if we played more, that would still be the case. Sometimes I think medical school encourages people to forget that death is something all humans will experience.

    • Funny – the other day my doctor told me I’m prediabetic and my pancreas is worn out. Then he listed all the horrors associated with diabetes. I asked, “Am I doomed?” He said evenly, “We’re all doomed.”

  12. Thank you for supplying the email addresses for this activism opportunity, as you have done many times in the past. It is very satisfying to be a part of organized efforts like this instead of being a lone voice.

  13. Something Interesting I remembered from my Childhood (like elementary school where we still had recess) Sometimes NOT being allowed to play was a PUNISHMENT…like if you talked too much in class, or were bad in some other way…you had to sit out either 10, 15, 30 or the whole hour of recess depending on the level of misbehaving that was done. Like I Think not turning in homework more then 3x in a row got you the hour one, and during that time you had to do the aforementioned homework.

    So According to the signs logic..if they still did this..then the kids who misbehaved would not only miss out on playing but ALSO would have the risk of becoming Obese….Hmm..interesting..

    Wonder if they thought of that in their little proposal of “what Billboards will shock people the most into changing something that isn’t broken”

    Or the ever popular “Think of the Children!”

    Seriously..the person who created this Billboard must have NEVER set foot on a school playground or during Recess or P.E to get the necessary factual research to create this “Poster”

    Cause if they are still doing it the way they did when I was in elementary school (About 20 years ago..damn I feel old) Then they should be taking their “cause” against the teachers who are using lack of play as punishment, thus facilitating this obesity epidemic in children
    * sarcasm*

    It’s weird..I don’t remember ANYTHING being like this when I was younger..and I know I am still young in the grand scheme of most of the readers…but seriously..I got made fun of more for playing make believe then being overweight. I don’t even think in High School I was really made fun of for least not THAT bad. I don’t know. My Fiance even said he was made fun of for having Freckles and curly hair, but never really hearing the kids who were fat get made fun of. Long and short, (as he is telling me this as I type) it Didn’t matter what was different about you, it was THAT you were different. Kids are cruel at times. And as the “Brown eyed, Blue Eyed study” points out we are ALL able to be regressed to that state quite easily.

    I remember posters and such around the schools about the food Pyramid and stuff, and fun facts about Dinosaurs and such…not weather or not we were Obese.

  14. Just got done sending an e-mail to alll three organizations, and I plan to get in touch with my orthopedic surgeon to (a) make sure he doesn’t have this atrocity on his walls, and (b) to ask him to formally disavow the campaign in some way. May not work, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

    It took me about an hour of writing and re-writing to get the anger (not to mention, the snark) out of it and produce something professional.

    Couldn’t get Mulberry’s mental image out of my mind. . . 😉

  15. Hey Ragen,

    First, OMG. Stigma much?

    Second, is the recommendation 60 mn a day for kids, 2x what it is for adults? Didn’t know. Seems like a lot…

    Third, why does PLAY have to be made into torture? Argh!

    Love kcd

  16. Even more bizarre is that “playing as though your life depended on it” would probably lead to a lot of business for orthopedic surgeons. Actually, aren’t overuse injuries among the sundry trends that people are decrying in kids these days?

    • Agnes, there’s been a bunch of TV programmes over here about the 1970s over recent weeks. Last night’s mentioned the skateboard craze, and noted how there was a scare at the time over the cost to the NHS of treating kids admitted to hospital with skateboard-related injuries. Don’t suppose that would concern anyone these days – people tend to think sport injuries somehow don’t count as ‘self-inflicted’ in the same way that health issues attributed to being fat do. Odd.

  17. I went out on the net so I could see the ad a bit closer. What I found was a variant with a bit more text:

    “Chunky. Hefty. Big-boned. For parents of overweight
    children, it’s easy to minimize reality. But the consequences
    of a heavy childhood can be devastating later in life. In
    fact, the lack of physical activity in our society, combined
    with poor food choices, may actually result in a generation
    of children with shorter life spans than their parents.
    Encourage physical activity and better nutrition. Get out
    there with your kids and throw the ball, strap on the bike
    helmet, lace up the hiking shoes. Do whatever it takes to
    get your kids as active as kids once were. Activity, diet and
    weight-bearing exercise will help your child live stronger,
    and live longer. For more advice and information, visit, and”

    If they only left out the fat shaming and sterotyping, it could almost be HAES.

  18. A facebook friend of mine just went off because someone told her 12 year old daughter that she was “getting some thighs” on her. It’s infuriating the comments and stupid remarks people make without thinking. The girl is not any form of over weight, but god forbid she start getting hips and a woman’s shape. All this fat phobia is making it worse for everyone. We’re all in this together.

    • My own mother told me that when I was about the same age. That also happened to be when I was going through my smartass-without-a-filter phase, so I kind of stared at her and said, “What else would be helping me walk?”

  19. 3 emails sent! I’m happy to be part of this effort!

  20. Love all your blogs like usual…
    I just don’t know if you knew this.. I had my gastric bypass at the U of MN hospitals. I’ve seen the study you posted. It’s just sickeningly ironic, that a facility that has study like that originate from that facility, performs weight loss surgery on well, kids…teenagers, but if CHOA and I’m beginning to think Michelle Obama and people with TBL mindset have their way, you are going to see a new market developed (I hope I’m being sarcastic and not paranoidly prophetic) into scaring people into having their tweens operated on. If this keeps up, our society could turn into one of if they don’t kids from parents who are obese, they are going to do wls on babies or fetuses in utero….. Hoping I’m only dripping sarcasm. Anyways all these fun complications, make me digress a lot.. Amazing blog like usual, Ragen…

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