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.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Off-topic: Need a laugh?

These came to me from my dear husband, who got them another blog, and I just couldn't resist.

Here are the top nine comments made by NBC sports commentators so far during the Summer Olympics that they would like to take back:

1. Weightlifting commentator: 'This is Gregorieva from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning during her warm up and it was amazing.'
2. Dressage commentator: 'This is really a lovely horse and I speak from personal experience since I once mounted her mother.'
3. Paul Hamm, gymnast: 'I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father.'
4. Boxing analyst: 'Sure there have been injuries, and even some deaths in boxing, but none of them really that serious.'
5. Softball announcer: 'If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same thing again.'
6. Basketball analyst: 'He dribbles a lot and the opposition doesn't like it. In fact you can see it all over their faces.'
7. At the rowing medal ceremony: 'Ah, isn't that nice, the wife of the IOC president is hugging the cox of the British crew.'
8. Soccer commentator: 'Julian Dicks is everywhere. It's like they've got eleven Dicks on the field.'
9. Tennis commentator: 'One of the reasons Andy is playing so well is that, before the final round, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them... Oh my God, what have I just said?'

It stands to reason

that if your knees have deteriorated enough to limit your mobility, you are less able to exercise. But that little piece of common sense hasn't stopped the British health care system, which refuses knee replacements to Britons who are considered "clinically obese"--with BMIs of over 30.

Now a study from the University of Southampton demonstrates that yes, Virginia, fat people benefit from knee replacements, too.

Just for a little context: My BMI is 30.9. I am a physically active person who bikes or walks to work (3 miles), runs up stairs, bikes 8 or 10 miles for fun, and loves to go dancing. If I needed a new knee, I would be one pissed-off person if I was told I was too fat to get one.

For once, common sense may prevail. Though let's see if the NHS changes its policies before we celebrate.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Join the fray . . .

over at BusinessWeek, where there's a somewhat spurious debate going on over whether the media causes eating disorders. Normally I try to stay away from arguments like this, but because it's BusinessWeek, a fairly respectable publication, I think it's worth it to put the point across. Be warned: There are some real trolls commenting over there, so don't visit if you're feeling fragile.