Thursday, August 12, 2010

"My daughter's not fat"

This kind of nightmare is what happens, folks, when we have mandated "reporting" of BMIs and other ridiculous "measures" of thinness/fatness. Especially for children, who are still growing and who do not grow in a linear fashion.

This particular incident happened in the UK. But it could easily happen here, now that states like Arkansas and New York require it, and other states are considering it.

You say that this is an extreme case? That overall, BMI reporting is a good idea? Read these talking points from the Eating Disorders Coalition.

Our language around these issues is loaded and complex, because we have made it so. We've made fat a dirty word that connotes so many negative qualities: lazy, greedy, sloppy, messy, stupid, unattractive . . . . No wonder 11-year-old Katie Owen reacted the way she did. She's not the first, and she will not be the last.


Anonymous said...

What we need to create is a blog where people can submit these letters from schools, government, whatever that claims their kid is overweight/obese, then accompany it with a photo of the child in question and their story.

I've wanted to do this for a while... call it Put a face on the childhood "obesity epidemic" and let people see what BS it is.


Eating With Others said...

I can not belive they are doing this. As if fat kids are not tormented enough.

I say that as a "fat" kid that was tormented as a kid growing up. No weights were done just the teasing. It would have been so much worse if this kind of crap was out there. Fortunately for me BMI was not used like this then.

Anonymous said...

Stories like this just break my heart.

Because that little girl-who-wasn't-fat? Is probably fat now, and will be for the rest of her life, no matter what she weighs, unless she's lucky enough and introspective enough to get beyond the label assigned to her.

Her view of who she is has changed forever.

I don't know if you track people who linked to you, but here is my post on the subject.

Anonymous said...

This is disgusting. Someone should remind the NHS that Winston Churchill was "fat" and they'd probably all be speaking German over there if it wasn't for him. My convoluted and irate point being that even if the woman's WAS fat (which she is not), she is still a valuable member of society!!!

In fact, now that I'm thinking about WWII, the whole fixation on one body/appearance type is quite eerie...people in Europe should know better.

Harriet said...

Shannon, why don't you get it started?

Most doctors do not think the BMI is a good diagnostic tool. It wasn't created for that purpose and I think a lot of doctors are aware that it is essentially a blunt instrument. But they're under a lot of pressure these days, and inevitably some of it gets passed along to families.

Grace said...

Read this article:

"A bill introduced this month in Congress would put the federal and state governments in the business of tracking how fat, or skinny, American children are.  States receiving federal grants provided for in the bill would be required to annually track the Body Mass Index of all children ages 2 through 18. The grant-receiving states would be required to mandate that all health care providers in the state determine the Body Mass Index of all their patients in the 2-to-18 age bracket and then report that information to the state government. The state government, in turn, would be required to report the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for analysis."


Erin S. said...

I don't know if I would say most doctors think the BMI isn't a good diagnostic tool. At least, not in the US. And the few US doctors I've met who think BMI is worthless for diagnosis still use *weight* as substitute for health, so I'm not sure thats any better.

Could be I've just never met a doctor who wasn't just as weight phobic as most of society though.

On the original story... you know, if I was that kid, I might go that same route. Not because I was afraid of being fat... but because I'd be afraid of being taken away from my parents.

I know I've read at least one story about that happening with a child, and two where a dog was seized by authorities because it was being "abused" when the only thing wrong with it was it was medically obese. And I know I have seen that suggestion on hundreds of articles, that anyone who lets their child or pet get fat doesn't deserve to have children or pets and the children or pets involved need to be taken away and given to people who won't abuse them.

And before anyone wonders if a child would see those same comments (given that a 34 year old woman and an 11 year old probably don't have much in common), one of the sites I've seen that exact argument used on numerous occasions was Cute Overload. Which is nothing but pictures of cute animals all day, every day -- an 11 year old girl may very well go on that site, and the child's parents may not think they need to monitor the comments to make sure the child isn't going to see insults directed at the owners of fat pets and occasionally fat kids.

The only obesity epidemic in my opinion is the epidemic of people who think that it is ok to stigmatize fat IMO.

Tom Stone said...

I don't think we can deny that obesity is a problem in this country and in many western cultures. Unfortunately, problems become fads when charged words such as "epidemic" become automatically associated with issue words like "obesity."

The awareness of an issue often seems to follow the same path in our society. It tends to go like this:

A problem is identified but it is marginalized by the general population and by "experts."

Next, comes a movement in which people associated with the problem coalesce into an organized group united for raising awareness, sympathy, and funding.

Then, the main stream media pick up on that complex issue and they dumb it down for the masses. Plus, they raise the heat by adding charged words into the sound bites. The public (as in you and me) start to automatically associate the charged words with the issue. Hence we get "obesity epidemic", "cancer fight", "death panel", "War on Terror", "Muslim terrorist", etc. It becomes almost impossible to have reasoned and impartial discussions about the issue. People are either for it or against it and the lines become drawn between the two camps.

I think "obesity epidemic" has become one of those fad issues. I think obesity is a real problem that needs attention. Unfortunately, "obesity epidemic" has become a sound bite that too easily trips off the tongue without much thought.

Pundits and politicians jump on the bandwagon to champion a safe issue in order to gain attention and votes. (My cynical side is showing here.) Yes, there are sincere people such as Michelle Obama but I'll guess that even she only knows what she has been told and has not truly researched the problem.

Easily influenced people such as pre-teens and teenagers are prey to this. Self-image problems are bad enough at those ages and now they have a societal fad heaped upon them. Most adults don't have the maturity to deal with it let alone kids.

How can we deal with these problems? We educate ourselves on the issue. We help our teens do the same without making it preachy. We talk about both sides of that issue in order to have some perspective. Confidence will come with knowledge and having that confidence will allow them to reason out the problem if there really is one.

Harriet said...

Tom, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

I don't think obesity is a problem in this culture. I think many issues are problematic, from lack of access to fresh food to the pressure to diet (which leads to . . . obesity! for many people) to the amount of screen time we all log.

The two biggest risk factors for obesity are genetics and dieting. We'd be far better off emphasizing healthy behaviors without all the moral panic about size and shape. If someone is eating well, exercising, living a good life, why the hell should we care how much s/he weighs?

And if you're thinking, "Obesity causes death!" there's been a lot of research debunking such oversimplifications. There are times when obesity correlates to health problems. There are also times when thinness correlates to health problems. Yet we don't have a "war on thinness" in this country.

Tom Stone said...


Obesity is the label I used. You can call it poor eating habits, life style issues, or overweightness (ugh). I am talking about extreme weight problems that are unhealthy. It doesn't take much observation to realize that there are a lot of very heavy adults and children that are going to have problems because of their weight. On the other hand, of course, there are the other extremes. I do not deny that.

Obesity may not directly cause death. You are right about oversimplification which is a point I tried to make on my previous response. My point is that high weight often results in health problems that will cause impacted heath such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. A combination of those factors will likely lead to more significant health problems in a person's life. If someone is in the higher weight levels of their doctors' charts and everything else looks OK, then the doctor can make a recommendation and that person makes their own decision. We are not talking about intervention.

Anorexia is scarier. It has a more certain and shorter path to death if left alone. I think that anorexia is almost like an addiction such as alcoholism. Correct me if I am wrong but it seems that viewing it as always being there and always having a possibility of relapse is part of the reality. Just as an alcoholic has to become an alcoholic that doesn't drink an anorexic has to become an anorexic that eats properly.

I applaud your efforts to raise awareness and I believe in your passion about the problem. I am just saying that we shouldn't diminish one problem in order to promote another. They are both issues that need our attention and our compassion.

Maybe this does boil down to improving general health habits. I would like to see more of that discussion instead of having polarized arguments that get people all worked up. Unfortunately pragmatic talk doesn't go far with our tabloid news and screaming headline world. You may scoff about a "war on thinness" but remember that we didn't have an "obesity epidemic" at one point either.

Harriet said...


Interestingly, the research being done on weight and mortality does not support the assumption that obesity = health problems. The one strong correlation seems to be between obesity and diabetes, though we really don't know which comes first. Maybe people become fat because they have the genetics for diabetes--or for other reasons we don't understand. Endocrinology is complex and I don't think anyone has any answers.

You may be aware of the 2005 JAMA article that found the so-called obesity paradox: the lowest mortality rates are found among those who qualify as overweight or obese on the BMi scale. Highest rates of mortality were found among underweight and extremely obese. Mortality rates are lower in the obese category than in the normal weight category.

Second, Peter Muennig is doing some fascinating research on obesity and health. What he's found suggests that the negative health effects of obesity may be not from "excess" poundage but from the stigma and stress of being obese in this fatphobic culture. Food for thought there.

FInally, I respect your thoughts on this, but would caution all of us about making assumptions, like "heavy adults and children are going to have health problems because of their weight." This is true for some fat people, sure, but it's also true for plenty of thin people. And plenty of fat people do not have health problems. So I think it's crucial for all of us to be aware of our biases when talking about these issues.

Sorry to be so long-winded, and thanks for your thoughtful responses.

inge said...

Erin, I just want to add, this: And I know I have seen that suggestion on hundreds of articles, that anyone who lets their child or pet get fat doesn't deserve to have children or pets makes me incoherent with rage. Because every time I saw a pet go from chubby to skinny, it died. Ever time I saw a solidly-built person become skin and bones, they turned out to be suffering from illnesses that could have killed them, or did kill them. And it used to be that you took a kid from its parents when they were starving it -- and now starving babies is part of being a good parent? There isn't enough "what the heck" in the world for this.