Recently PS Mag posted an article called “The Youngest Casualties in the War on Obesity.” It opens with the story of Jaime, a 11 year old who developed an eating disorder after she her school publicly measured and announced her BMI, and she decided that lowering her BMI might make her more popular.
“I don’t think she even knew what a BMI was before that,” her mother says. But as soon as she did know, it was all Jane could think about…
By the time she graduated high school, Jane had been hospitalized three times for her eating disorder and attended three separate eating disorder programs, sometimes thousands of miles away from her family…
“I don’t believe that the public school weigh-in and BMI screening caused her eating disorder, but rather they were significant factors, among others, which triggered her illness,” she says.
In a decade we saw a 119% increase in eating disorder hospitalizations in kids UNDER TWELVE. That is straight up horrifying, but not surprising. We put fetuses on restriction diets, and then give babies low calorie formula, schools grade kids on their weight, people who claim to be experts on kids’ health don’t feel the need to have any evidence before implementing interventions on fat kids, the First Lady holds up those who emotionally and physically abuse fat people as role models, we perform medical experiments on fat kids without informed consent or permission. The outcomes are tragic and, more tragically, exactly what we should have expected.
The piece continues:
No one doubts that these policies are well-intentioned. It’s impossible not to want children to grow up healthy and happy. And the current data says that, for many children, this isn’t happening. Most children don’t eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables, nor do they play vigorously for an hour a day. Since children spend much of their day at school, it seemed logical to intervene there.
Stop the logic train, we had a bunch of people fall off. Research says that most kids don’t eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetable or get enough activity. So schools decided to weigh them publicly and focus on body size as a proxy for health with no evidence to back up their approach.
What with the who now? If kids aren’t getting enough fruits, vegetables and activity, then how about the school works to get them more deliciously prepared fruits and vegetables, and more options to engage in movement that are fun, non-humiliating, and help develop a life-long love of movement instead of leading to therapy sessions about the recurring nightmare you have of people hurling dodgeballs at you.
The truth about the BMI programs instituted in schools is that they were instituted without evidence as to their efficacy or of their chances of harming kids, and they continue despite the fact that there is no reason to believe that they work, and evidence that they are doing harm. According to research from the University of Minnesota “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.” Again from the PS Mag piece:
The CDC never encouraged states or school districts to mandate BMI testing in students. Even on its own website, the Center notes that BMI testing is not the answer: “There is insufficient evidence to conclude whether school-based BMI measurement programs are effective at preventing or reducing childhood obesity,” announced a 2007 study in the Journal of School Health…
“School districts are passing policies ahead of the evidence,” says Allison Nihiser, who works within the division of population health at the CDC.
So instead of embarrassing and shaming kids while ruining their relationships with food, exercise and their bodies under the guise of making them healthier, what could we do? Kathleen Kara Fitzpatrick, a psychologist who works at the Stanford University Eating Disorders Clinic seems to have a pretty good idea:
“We need to teach kids to value their bodies and themselves, regardless of how they look or how they feel about themselves. The right time is right now.”
What might that look like? First of all, kids don’t take care of things they hate, and that includes their bodies. If we teach kids to value their bodies and view them as amazing and worthy of care, we give them a shot at actually having a good relationship with their bodies. If we give them lots of options to be involved in movement (competitive and non-competitive sports, walking, yoga, dancing, weight lifting, video games that involved movement etc.) and if we teach kids to find ways to make movement fun, and not consider it a punishment for the size of their body (or because they should be terrified of having a larger body,) if we teach kids to eat a variety of foods and not to be scared of any foods, then we help them to have healthy relationships with food, movement, and their bodies, and they deserve that.
If you’re looking for resources, The Association for Size Diversity and Health has a great list here!
We need to do better for our kids than this, and the first step to helping is to stop hurting them with these ridiculous body shaming, hand-wringing over hard evidence interventions. And we need to stop right the hell now.
Like this blog? Here’s more cool stuff:
Like my work? Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. Click here for details
Book and Dance Class Sale! I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!