Thursday, July 5, 2012

The "War on Childhood Obesity"

I was asked to post on this topic, and first I wanted to research a bit more on the government's stance. First, on a government website, I found the announcement that a research task force has been developed, which seems quite reasonable. Then, however, I found an article ( on Michelle Obama's push for the Childhood Obesity Task Force. And, a couple quotes caught my eye:

"I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight," the text of the president's memorandum reads.

Perhaps this is a bit blunt, but this seems like such an ignorant statement. I am pretty sure the president is saying that the "healthy weight" is an average or below average weight. Of course, in reality, what do those terms even mean? But, anyway, I am pretty sure the president is not recognizing that weights are normally distributed, which is represented below.

***See bottom of post for a brief explanation on normal distribution.***

If we assume weights are normally distributed, it means that some people are naturally very thin, and some people are naturally obese. This is where people's brains start scrambling. But, we all know someone who is naturally very thin. So, if you can accept that some people are naturally very thin, then you kind of have to accept some people are naturally obese.

So, back to the president's statement.... I'm pretty sure he is not accepting that some people's "healthy weight" actually falls within the obesity range. There is so much more that can be said about this, but to do so would make this particular post far too long, so let me know if you'd like to hear more. Next:

"To help parents, the first lady said she's working with the Food and Drug Administration and major food manufacturers and retailers to make it easier for parents to identify healthier foods by placing nutrition labeling on the front of the package."

Oh my! Who knew the problem was the location of the nutrition facts. Really? Enough said.

Now, this is just one article, so I realize it's not fair to base all my thoughts on this. So, more globally, I am concerned about any messages that identify good foods and bad foods, or healthy foods and unhealthy foods. This type of mindset violates the tenets of Intuitive Eating, which again is a whole 'nother post. But, to identify foods as "bad" or "unhealthy" just creates shame around eating those foods. And, even worse, sending the message that being "above average" in weight is "wrong" is horrifying, potentially creating long-lasting shame and self-hate.

I think there is much more benefit to teaching the benefits of carbs, proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables, than demonizing any specific types of food, and teaching how to read food labels, which, last I heard, are not even terribly accurate anyway. I don't have the citation, but last I heard, the FDA allows up to 20% error in a food label, which means if something says it has 100 calories, it could have anywhere from 80 to 120. How's this for a nutrition label, though?? (I suppose it should be placed on the front of the baby?)

In short, I think it is going to be very hard to skillfully teach about food in a school setting. The teacher will be biased by what he/she believes about food and pass on these biases. Now, if we could get a dietitian who teaches Intuitive Eating to go into every school and teach those concepts, that'd be awesome, but not practical. So, in the end, I cannot say what should happen. I just feel confident that demonizing food and being "above average weight" is NOT the way to go. And, as the last post addressed, making exercise about weight change ruins the fun of it, which, sadly, may decrease a kid's willingness to do it. So, I'm not sure the Obamas have hit the mark very well at all. I will hold out hope that the Task Force will receive information from researchers who truly understand the genetic, biological and psychological factors that impact obesity.

***Normal Distribution: Okay, statistics is a bit hard to blog on, but here's the basics. Imagine all the weights for all the women in the US who are 5'5" tall are on the graph above. All those dots would be within the blue line above....meaning between the blue line and the graph line along the bottom. So, the vast majority of dots would be near the middle, and that is why the curve is higher there; the height of the curve represents the number of dots. The middle would be the average weight for women 5'5" tall. But, out at the very ends, where the blue line is very close to the graph line, there would still be weights graphed there. 


  1. this is a tough one for me. i teach my kids that there are no bad foods. the only distinction i make between healthy food and junk food is that there is what we call "growing food," and that is really important to make us strong and grow big. so, when C wants to eat candy for dinner, i tell him he can have the candy, but that he has to eat his "growing food" first. so i'm making sure he gets in the healthy stuff, but not taking away any types of foods or labeling them as bad.

    i don't want him to hear something different from me than what he hears at school. i don't want him to get mixed messages. i grew up thinking there was good food and bad food, and i'm trying so hard to change that for my kids, so it makes me mad that he could hear things at school that i don't feel i have control over.

    we just need the entire world to read "intuitive eating." (and not throw it against the wall like i did. :)

  2. Brie, I totally stole your "healthy food" words and used it with my J a while ago. Thanks for this post. I know that as a teacher I will never teach my students to label foods even if I am the only one doing it. I wish more people would quit labeling too. Just the other day my 7 year old niece told my son that McDonalds was bad for him while he was happily eating his chicken nuggets.

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