My 11-year-old daughter's report card came in the mail today. Along with the usual list of academic subjects and grades came another piece of paper with a big orange bar at the top. In blue blue letters it read FITNESSGRAM. Below was a graph of how my daughter had performed on a series of fitness tests, including a one-mile run, abdominal curl-ups, trunk lifts, push-ups, and flexibility. Then there was another little box labeled "Body Mass Index," showing her past and current BMIs plotted against a bar graph. Her scores were in the green "healthy fitness zone." To the right was a large red area--danger! fatsos coming!--labeled "Needs improvement." That's where your bar graph ends up if your BMI is "too high." To the left was a tiny red box labeled "very low," which is, I suppose, where your bar graph ends up if you're anorexic.
I guess this is supposed to be a cute, non-threatening way of communicating with parents, a kind of casual, unofficial, "Say, did you know your kid's in great shape?" or "Hey, by the way, your kid's kinda fat!"
This is insulting on any number of levels, of course, but let's just pick one: the suggestion that it's better to be too skinny than too fat, which as we know is not supported by any actual science.** Why isn't the "too skinny" area labeled something like "needs medical attention now!"? Why isn't the "too fat" area labeled "plenty of nutritional reserves!"?
My daughter was more upset about the fake activity pyramid on the back of the fitnessgram, modeled after that most famous of irrelevancies, the USDA food pyramid. At the bottom, the widest section was labeled "lifestyle activity," and it listed walking, biking, skateboarding, housework, yardwork, dancing, and playing active games. The next level held two smaller squares labeled aerobic activity and aerobic sports. One level up, another two squares were labeled muscular activity and flexibility activity. The smallest section, the point of the pyramid, was labeled "rest," and it included schoolwork, homework, reading, computer games, TV, videos, eating, resting, and sleeping.
Clearly these are the things you're supposed to do as little of as possible. My daughter was outraged. "I wonder what the teachers would think about this!" she cried. "You're not supposed to read?"
Imagine boot camp. Then imagine a sergeant from boot camp running the schools. "You there, cadet, stop wasting time with your nose in a book and give me 50 on the floor!" Never mind the fact that kids are supposed to be developing their intellectual capabilities at this (and every) age; in the new Fitness World, only activities that burn calories are sanctioned. Even by schools.
I feel like we're living in a Kurt Vonnegut story. And it's only gonna get worse.
** Calorie reduction (CR) nutcases notwithstanding.