Monday, February 1, 2010

The Kids are All Right?

Last week, President Obama announced during the State of the Union Address that his wife would be taking up an initiative to address childhood obesity in the U.S. We now have, what we might assume, is a rough outline of where the First Lady will be taking this initiative. Like most things there is good and there is bad. First the good- 

"Many parents tell me that they want 
to prepare healthy food for their kids, 
but there aren't any supermarkets 
where they live that sell fresh produce. 
Or they're tight on money, and healthy 
foods seem too expensive. Or they're 
tight on time - working longer hours, working 
two jobs - so they can't pull off those 
homecooked meals around the dinner table."     

-As good as it is to see that the First Lady is aware of the fact that most people don't have the time, money, or energy to pursue the acceptable body size / shape that the fashion industry, Hollywierd, media,  and puritanical fatophobes insist everyone should have, I'm going to have to hold my applause. Why? This-

"Obesity is also one of the biggest threats 
to the American economy. If we continue 
on our current path, in ten years, nearly 
50 percent of all Americans will be 
obese - not just overweight, but obese. 
So think about how much we'll be spending 
on health care to treat obesity-related 
conditions like heart disease, cancer, and 
diabetes. Think about all the missed days 
of work and decreased productivity 
we may see as a result." 

Never mind that the very same, media driven, circus of terror that has fanned and stoked the flames of this obesity panic are now telling us that it might not be so bad. In fact, there are those who would suggest that all this fear-mongering and hysteria are being generated over an 'epidemic' that never even existed in the first place. We have been saturation bombed for so long by doom-saying messages from the media and a medical community so befuddled they can't even agree on what the problem might be, that we may well have begun to believe in what really isn't there. It's happened before in far less time and with far less effort. The problem is in trying to keep people from grabbing their torches, pick-axes, and rope, then running out to join the mob and do the same old things, the same old way. Ways that have never worked before, won't work now, and will ultimately end up doing more harm than good. Mrs. Obama does seem to get this- 

" And there are some people who might 
ask you: How can you go and spend money 
on something like healthy school lunches when 
we've got overcrowded classrooms and 
outdated textbooks to worry about? Or, 
how can you build parks, or sidewalks, or 
bike paths when we can barely afford 
to keep the community health center open?
These are fair questions. But when you
 step back and think about it, you realize 
that in the end, they're really false choices. 
We've all heard from teachers and principals 
that if kids don't have the nutrition they need 
to stay alert and focused in class, even the 
best textbooks in the world aren't going to 
help them learn. And we've heard from doctors 
and public health officials that if they don't 
have safe places to play right now, then a 
few years from now, that community health 
center will be even more crowded and even 
more of a strain on your budget."  

-America likes progress it can see. Complex status markers like, Blood pressure, cholesterol counts, heart and respiration rates, don't hold much interest for us. But weight loss you can see. It's something you can hold up to show yourself and others while saying 'I did this'. And the BMI is a simple number made even simpler by the medical industry. If your under X it's 'good'. If your over it's 'bad'. Yet we are actively discouraged from asking how healthy either one of these simple markers, body weight and BMI, really are. Which is why the diet industry is so fond of both. Until recently 'Before and After' pictures and testimonials have long been a staple of the industry for this reason. From the 2002 Federal Trade Commissions Analysis of Trends in the Weight Loss Industry

" Consumer Testimonials; Before/After 
Photos. The headline proclaimed: 
“I lost 46 lbs in 30 days.” Another blared, 
“How I lost 54 pounds without dieting or 
medication in less than 6 weeks!” The use 
of consumer testimonials is pervasive in 
weight-loss advertising. One hundred and 
ninety-five (65%) of the advertisements in the 
sample used consumer testimonials and 
42% contained before-and-after pictures. 
These testimonials and photos rarely 
portrayed realistic weight loss. The average 
for the largest amount of weight loss reported 
in each of the 195 advertisements was 
71 pounds. Fifty-seven ads reported weight 
loss exceeding 70 pounds, and 38 ads reported 
weight loss exceeding 100 pounds. The 
advertised weight loss ranges are, in all 
likelihood, simply not achievable for the 
products being promoted. Thirty-six ads used 71 
different testimonials claiming weight loss of 
nearly a pound a day for time periods of 13 
days or more."

-It even became necessary for the Federal Trade Commission to revise the use of the safe harbor disclaimer 'Results not typical'. Specifically to reign in the Diet industries rampant and deceptive use of the phrase to make false claims and generate business. So powerful is America's need to 'see the results' that we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that getting healthy is, not only directly proportional to losing weight, but that losing weight is equal to being healthy. Just as we allowed Diet companies to make money from us even while telling us that the results we are seeing, aren't real. This goes deep. Deep enough so that even the First Lady of the United States is susceptible to the conventional wisdom- 

"Mayor Mick Cornett challenged the 
people of Oklahoma City to lose a 
million pounds, and he created a 
website - - 
where people can learn how to lose 
weight and track their weight loss, and 
can share personal stories and tips with 
others. So far, 40,000 people have 
signed up - and together, they've 
lost more than half a million pounds. "  

- But can they maintain that loss? What does it mean if they end up weighing even more down the line? And are they any healthier? Rarely do these questions ever get asked. 

Mrs. Obama, if by some random chance the stars align and you happen to be reading this, the one thing I would hope that you take from it is this; improved health is a valid, worthwhile, and feasible goal for everyone. Especially Children. However a continued, obsessive, focus on weight loss will, most likely only end up making our kids less healthy and / or fatter.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing 
over and over again and expecting different results”
-Albert Einstein  

Muzak Therapy:
Depeche Mode / Stripped


  1. i cant help but keep thinking....what about our children and eating 6 year old SIX YEAR OLD came home and said she needed to eat less...when asked why she couldnt tell me, but thought it would be a good idea to eat less.

  2. This is one of the things that people Just. Don't. Think. About. Kids that age absorb everything. Even stuff like this. But these attitudes and the reasons behind them are usually to complex for them to BEGIN to understand so they usually end up formulating their own reasons and very often those reasons end up not being all that good.

    This could be anybodies daughter and she doesn't, necessarily, HAVE to be fat. She gets the message that 'eating less' is a good thing from practically everywhere, her friends, her teachers, relatives, strangers on the street, even the cartoons or TV shows she watches, and the message is 'eating less / being thin is THE BEST'. NO one (with the exception of you, her parent) is telling her otherwise, in fact ALL she might get when she begins trying to institute these practices is praise.

    How is this going to effect her and her peers as they grow? No one asks. Can the message get twisted around into something unhealthy and harmful? Too easily, but again, no one's thinking about this. The goal is all and the goal is Thin. Why? Thin is Health. Health is a symbol of how good of a person you are. If your not Good / Healthy / Thin then the world doesn't need or want you.

    Unfortunately it seems that the First Lady has been nipping at the Thin=Healthy cool-aid herself. Seeing as how she's decided to enforce dieting on both Malia (11), and Sasha (8), her kids. This, despite the fact that neither of them appear to even NEED it.

    If unnecessary dieting for appearance is at all, vaguely unsettling, why is unnecessary dieting to set an example any better?