Saturday, August 30, 2008
Suffer the little children
The latest "SmartSummary" from our much-hated health insurer arrived in the mail yesterday. I'm sure one reason our premiums are so high is that they periodically generate an 8-page booklet for each member of the family, replete with all sorts of useless information.
The piece that really burned my boat was this page, which arrived only with my 8th-grader's package. Let's take a minute to deconstruct this noxious document, shall we?
First, take note of the underlying threatening tone of the introduction. In case you can't read the scan, here it is:
Before you go back to school, take a minute to think about how sitting in class means you'll need more time for physical activity outside of school to stay healthy. Use this Body Mass Index (BMI) to figure out if you're in a healthy weight range, then you can see how to burn more calories and eat healthier in a way that fits your lifestyle.
Ths little gem offends on a variety of criteria, starting with the grammatical and syntactical errors (comma splice, word repetition, and excess verbiage). It then moves on to emotinal blackmail. Sitting in class leads to not staying healthy, unless you add more physical activity. There's a not-so-implicit threat here: You've got to burn off every minute you spend sitting on your tush and studying, kids.
For a kid like my older daughter, who likes to play by the rules and do everything "right," this notion could be enough to trigger a lifelong eating disorder, not to mention a fear of school and studying. And who's to say that each kid isn't already plenty physically active? The summary assumes that kids aren't getting enough exercise. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. But this piece of paper sure as hell doesn't know.
Moving down the page, notice the list titled "Burn the Calories." One of the most egregious ideas behind the whole "wellness" movement is the idea that you can quantify and generalize in this way. Whereas anyone with a whiff of education on the subject knows that this depends not only on the size and age of the person in question but on his/her particular metabolism. Yet this paper confidently announces that a half hour of soccer burns 238 calories. Bullshit.
The eating disorder triggers continue on the bottom left of the page, where my daughter is told that 1 small cheeseburger would take 29 minutes of jogging to "burn off." There's a lot wrong here, starting with the idea that every bite you take must be "burned off." That's like saying every gallon gas you put into your car must be used immediately. Then there's the implicit idea that the foods listed here--plain "donut" (sic), cheeseburger, piece of pie, fried chicken sandwich--are bad for you and must be routed from your system asap.
Finally there's the ubiquitous BMI calculator and BMI chart. Once more with feeling: The idea of "ranges" is beside the point, especially for growing children. What's healthy for one child at one point in her life will not be the same as what's healthy for another child, or for the same child six months later.
I call this Bullshit 101. And I'm ever so glad my hard-earned money will no longer be going toward creating such appalling crap.