Seriously Offensive Vegetables

kidsI cannot count how many times a good, even a fantastic, idea has been completely ruined by throwing weight loss/fat stigma into the mix.  I’ve rarely seen such a good (good here having the meaning of HORRIBLE) example as the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program.

Good idea:  Help people afford fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers markets.  I believe that public health should be about giving people options for the foods that they would like to eat, I can get behind this idea.

Good idea all fucked up:  Make this a program for fat kids who have to be weighed in and “educated” monthly.

What’s the problem?

First is the stereotypical assumption that fat kids don’t eat vegetables and thin kids do.  I’m sure that there are plenty of thin kids whose parents could use help affording fruits and vegetables from local farmers markets and plenty of fat kids who eat their fruits and veggies. If vegetables are healthy, then they are healthy for all kids – not just the fat ones.

Subjecting fat kids to weekly weigh-ins is super problematic, as any fat kid who was subjected to weekly weigh-ins can attest.  Also, it doesn’t work.  Research from the University of Minnesota found that “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents (in 1999) for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss[in 2006]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.”

There are studies that show that eating fruits and vegetables can have some health benefits for some people (there are people who live with illnesses that make eating fruits and vegetables problematic.)  There are no studies that show that eating fruits and vegetables will make these kids thinner.  The idea that it will creates sets up these fat kids up to be seen as failures, and possibly as a “waste of money/resources.”

One of the testimonials from an MD states “Families who took advantage of the program bought more fruits and veggies. Beyond this, the greatest success was in improving enrollment and attendance at monthly visits.”  It takes a special kind of arrogance and a complete lack of understanding about the deep weight bias held by many doctors and healthcare professionals, to think that getting fat kids to the doctor to be weighted and lectured once a month is a great success.

The biggest problem is that they are guessing about this – they are experimenting on children.  They have learned nothing from the so-called “healthy living” programs that were supposed to “combat childhood obesity” (because anytime you can put combat and childhood in the same sentence you know you’re on a great path), an ended up increasing disordered eating. 

In short, the fact that the program is well-meaning does not overcome the fact that it is based in stereotypes, steeped in condescending paternalism, and could absolutely do more harm than good. Plenty of studies show that, while health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, behaviors are a much better indicator of future health than body size.  There are no studies where a majority of fat people become thin and stay that way long term, and there are no studies that show that those who maintain long-term weight loss are healthier.

The answer is simple – it’s time to take weight out of the health discussion.  Make public health about making options available to the public, rather than making fat people’s bodies the public’s business.  People don’t take care of things that they hate and that includes their bodies and shame is not good for our health, so public health interventions that create body hatred and stigmatize a body size are flawed from the outset, so let’s stop doing that and start doing something that makes sense.

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Published in: on August 5, 2013 at 8:03 am  Comments (32)  

32 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As usual, another tour de force. Among many wonderful sentences, I was struck by “People don’t take care of things that they hate.” Bingo. I’ve never heard this articulated before in connection with the human body. Brilliant.

    • It reminds me of the song Love? By Strapping Young Lad, it’s about an abusive relationship, but could also be about eating disorders. Particularly the line, “This love is about control”. I want to mention suicide is also mentioned in the song, so I’d avoid listening to it if that might trigger you. The band is an industrial rock band, but this song in particular sounds more like rock or metal to me.

  2. This appalls me. The evidence for fruit and vegetables being good for you seems pretty robust, but that’s not the only reason I eat them. I eat them because they taste great and I enjoy them. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

    I don’t want my food to turn into medicine, because that way lies neurosis (I have a friend who hates beetroot but who forces herself to juice some up every morning and drink it because she’s heard it’s a ‘superfood’.)

    Turning something inherently good into something painful and shameful isn’t just going to impact on eating and self image – it’s going to turn eating fruit and vegetables into an absolute punishment. Something to be avoided at all costs. If I were a farmer whose livelihood depends on my produce, I’d be protesting this.

    • Yes! My inner paranoid tells me it’s all a conspiracy. These programs and policies are creating people who hate their bodies and see healthy things as punishment, thus creating markets where there otherwise would be none.

    • I appreciate your comment, bodycrimes. I grew up in a household where we ate really good food until my mother became weight-obsessed. I was taught to think that every physical problem I might experience was due to something I ate! I am very conscious of what I eat, I supplement heavily, and I am trying to get away from what is termed nutritionism: looking at one’s food as medicine rather than delicious nourishment.

  3. This “battle” against childhood obesity horrifies me to no end. I remember very well when I was 11 years old, and my mother drove me to meetings of a nationally-recognized weight loss organization (which will not be named here). We met in the leader’s home, and weighed in on a household scale in her kitchen. The person who lost the most weight in a particular week got a little plastic trophy, whereas the person who gained the most had to don a huge pair of bib overalls while the rest of the group sang a song, something to the effect of “I’m a Little Piggy.” Can anyone imagine why I went from being a slightly chubby child to being an obese woman who has gone through 40 years of struggles with self-esteem issues?

    • On behalf of the human race, I would like to apologize to you! … And to my long gone brother whom we teased for being fat (he wasn’t).

    • That is horrible.

    • The most depressing part of this is that this is not the first I’ve heard of that disgusting and horrific practice. I am so, so sorry you EVER had to face such sickening dehumanization. You are a person, not an animal, and you deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. The shame is theirs, not yours. *HUGS*

  4. Thank you

  5. This “war” on childhood obesity makes me insane. Like Jhede I too had a mother who had her own body issues that she projected onto me. Every diet she went on I had to go on, From exercising at Elaine Powers on those torture machines what were suppose to shake and beat the fat off of you, to every diet she came across in the magazines (because we all know how much research has gone into those articles”, to having my pediatrician prescribe amphetamines for me when I was 8 years old. (Can you imagine a physician placing an 8 year old child on amphetamines, that is a whole story in and of itself)
    I went form a healthy big (tall) for her age child to a morbidly obese adult with huge issues of never being “enough”. Good enough, smart enough, thin enough, whatever enough, what ever “it” was, I was never “enough” because of my mothers own body and self worth issues.

    We have to take weight out of the discussion about health. It is imperative. The biggest issue we have to deal with in this “fight” is the 50 years or so of brain washing that has gone on in this country, that health, beauty, intelligence, and talent are all synonyms for thin.

  6. Like everything else to come out of the society-wide War on Fat People, this is just another method of othering. Thin children don’t get access the program, even if they also lack fresh food and could benefit from it, because it’s not about getting fresh food to children. It’s about teaching thin children they are whole, normal, and human by virtue of their body type, and therefore need no “help,” while fat children are broken, abnormal, and subhuman by virtue of theirs, and must have their lives forcibly controlled by thin people who “know better.” And since thin people always “know better,” thin children included, anything they want to do to a fat child is okay. Teasing, beating, stoning to bleeding… it’s carte blanche for thin students to bully fat ones as openly and cruelly as they want. Not that they didn’t already have that.

    • Really well said.

    • I agree with Helena about how well you put it. I did not even think of the ‘othering’ aspect of this, but that is exactly what happens.

  7. This fruit/veggie/obesity thing made me angry too. I love the idea of making sure everyone can get a variety of foods, but it setting up as a ‘way to fight obesity’ is just so totally wrong. There are going to be people who try this, fail to lose weight, and stop eating fruits and veggies altogether. Grrr.

  8. Doe the people behind projects like this one ever actually stop for a second and do some actual research on children’s eating habits, fat or not?
    …I suppose not. Because that would (hopefully) change their approach to this. I, having been a chubby child and now being a chubby not-quite-adult, have loved vegetables and fruit for all my life. I was the rare child who’d frequently ask for vegetables or fruit as snacks. Why the asumption that’s not possible just because of my weight? I thought children being chubby was a natural thing, especially before growth spurts.

  9. I agree with all the above and would like to add that in a country where “In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children” it is shameful to link access to weight. (source: Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., & Carlson, S. (2012). Household Food Security in the United States in 2011. USDA ERS.)

  10. If they’re so all-fired concerned about children’s health, why not check something that actually affects children’s health, like iron levels? That’s what they do at my local WIC.

    • Real science? Perish the thought!

  11. Actually, this is a perfect plan for making children abhor vegetables. Tell them they HAVE to eat them while monitoring their every move and you’ve got a disaster on your hands. Way to create a generation of fruit and veggie avoiders

    • Amen Susie! This is how you get kids to hate fruit and vegetables as much as they hate exercise…

  12. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Weigh-ins: Way to make exercise and eating healthy something that people equate with shame. Another stupid idea from the fat-hating Nanny State.

  13. When I was a child, my mother used to go on the Scarsdale diet every so often. Each time she did, I was overjoyed – we were poor, and “going on a diet” meant that we’d eat lots of the fresh veggies, fruit, chicken and seafood that I loved. I didn’t realize that for my mother, this diet was torture, because she was eating a starvation-level amount of food meant to change her body from a socially unacceptable shape into a slim and privileged one. I wish that the government would realize once and for all that linking healthy behaviors to weight loss turns taking care of your body from a joy into a misery.

    • So true! It’s so simple, and yet they make it complex to the point of asinine.

  14. Why do they have to go to a doctor at all to get a “prescription” for fruits and veggies? Surely such visits aren’t really needed to get a voucher for the Farmer’s Market. Such medicalization nutrition of these children’s size paves the way for the next step: pills and surgery. They will already be used to going to the doctor because they have been mislead into believing their bodies need “fixing”. Is it such a large step to talk them into WLS next?

  15. So much for the anti -bullying campaigns in schools…when adults are doing the same; making assumptions about a group of people solely based on their appearance & set apart from their peers to be weighed and lectured…I remember being taken to the doctor as a kid because i was gaining weight, and told by the doctor to “be active and do something..” when i responded that i practically lived on my bike and played basketball during recess..i was flat out ignored and told again i had to go out and exercise etc etc cause i was obviously lying…i remember crying the whole way home…

    • It’s true, it’s the same with adults placing fat jokes in kids movies. Adults should know better, they have no excuse for visiting their weight related neurosis on children.

      I’m still mad at how they completely corrupted a story about the love of food, and turned it into a film about fearing food. I am referring to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Adults are emotionally abusing children by telling them they must fear becoming fat. I want them to visit a pediatric eating disorder ward, and then explain how their fear of food message is about health.

      As I see it society has a mindset much like a person with a starvation eating disorder now. They claim they care about children dying from poor health, but completely ignore children choosing to starve themselves from fear of being fat. Is that what being healthy is now, self starvation?

    • I was thinking this the other night after seeing 2 types of anti-bullying commercials on tv. The reason these campaigns don’t work is because bullying is state sanctioned, and has permeated every level of society, including job hiring/firing, school advancement, university acceptance, and social acceptance (eg. dating, parents). To fix it they have to have a massive re-education campaign similar to de-Nazification (which hasn’t really worked either) and like education about Jews not having horns or eating babies.

      Not to mention that some of us have allergies but the physical disturbances that are outcomes of the allergy are brushed off as “skin rubbing”, “cut the calories”, “you’re too damn fat”.

  16. This is scary, sad and truly HORRIBLE! I just read that a fairly new Farmers Market in Sitka AK was able to let people with food stamps by fresh fruits and vegetables there and that if they were issued a special voucher, which I understand is easy to obtain, they could get double the amount of the actual cost of t! Those items! No mention was made of weight or any other terribly unhealthy comments. It is a small community fairly isolated from the rest of AK, as well as the lower 48. We lived there for 14 years and it was sort of a given that one couldn’t grow fresh veggies and fruits due to the amount of wet days during the short summer. However some groups have discovered ways to succeed with it and the locals are delighted to get really fresh, home grown items! Something like that should NEVER be connected to health or weight! NEVER! Of course, we all know eating more fruits and veggies can be healthy, but that is NOT the reason for Farmers Markets IMO! BAH!

    • Yeah, growing food in Southeastern Alaska involves keeping the water out of the garden instead of trying to get more in. 😀

      Do folks on WIC also get to spend their allowance there?

  17. I was a skinny kid very skinny and very short for my age…my preferred diet was sugar and cookies and candy and sugar and more sugar….I ate veggies and real food only because I was forced too but I had a huge craving for sugar and if no cookies were on hand I ate right out of the sugar bowl or brown sugar with a spoon right in the package….this is so bogus as I would have been considered not at risk and healthy when I was anything but….

  18. The thought of making kids endure a monthly weigh in makes my skin CRAWL. Worse, kids whose parents are financially disadvantaged and trying to do right by their kids, having to go thru this to get access to fresh veggies and fruit …Oh Dear Mother of God…..


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