Saturday, August 09, 2008

It’s official…you’re fat!

From the news: Parents of overweight British school children will soon be receiving letters from their local schools informing them that their children are overweight.

I dunno about you, but if I got a letter from the school telling me my kid is fat, I’d be pissed and the school would hear about it on no uncertain terms!

Sending me such a letter would imply that I cannot see that my child is overweight…what next, a letter telling me my child is white? …or has blue eyes? …or belongs to one gender or another? Aren’t some things just patently obvious?

Maybe by the voodoo charts a kid is overweight, but do we all have to ascribe to those charts? In an era when everyone seems to be obsessed with skeletal thinness, what is to say the charts aren’t skewed in favour of current trends? Some years back the charts were simply changed and I went from “normal” weight to “overweight” without gaining an ounce. Who says one chart fits all and I have to agree that protruding rib bones is healthy?

Everyone, especially children, need a little fat. You don’t have to like it, but it’s a fact. Nature selects for some meat (and fat) on the bones by giving fertility problems to women who are too thin. Humankind has suffered aeons of war and famine and pestilence that has left only those with an excess of adipose tissue left alive to breed. If it was natural to be wafer thin, then few of us would find it necessary to diet or even be concerned about our weight…our metabolism would zip right through those calories and leave us panting for more.

This is not to say that there are not overweight people among us…there are. But the obsession about other people’s weight is unhealthy, judgmental, and harmful, both to the judge and the judged.

One of the worst things about this campaign to letter-bomb the parents of podgy school kids all over Britain is that apparently the letters will not contain any kind of helpful information about getting the kids to shed some pounds. Basically, these are a kind of “Neener neener neener, your kid is a fat pig!” kind of communiqué to parents who probably already know Junior is on the porky side but don’t know what to do about it. As the mother of two thin kids and one fat one, I can attest to how difficult it is to get your ten-year-old to shed weight, and I’m not convinced that it is emotionally healthy for kid #3 to be constantly reminded about what goes in his mouth while kids #1 and 2 can eat anything they want in any quantities they want. You give a kid a complex about his weight and eating and you create an eating disorder.

So why aren’t the Brits including help info in the letters? Do you know how to get a child to slim down without impacting his nutrition or his self-esteem? Do you wire his jaws shut so he can’t eat at a friend’s house? Do you keep his pockets empty so he can’t buy a packet or two of chips on the way home from school? Do you give his siblings cookies for an after-school snack but give him something “healthy” like carrot sticks. Do you really think that will work? Or do you think your child will feel singled-out, picked-on? Are you going to put padlocks on the fridge and cupboard doors? Exactly how, once a parent is informed by the school that their child is a porker, does the parent go about remedying it, especially if the child would rather eat things that taste good than be thin?

The chief advocate of this intrusive nanny-state intervention is a cruelly insensitive busy body by the name of Tam Fry. He has been quoted in the media with such gems as the following “We have gone past the stage of being nice, we have got to bring people up short and tell parents, your child is obese do something about it or it will die before you do.” IT? He is referring a human being as “it”? The gender-neutral pronoun “it” is specifically intended to be used in non-human references; for humans we have “he,” “she,” and “they.” Referring to a human as “it” is pointedly dehumanizing. Is this what Fry thinks of overweight kids…they aren’t human? Mr. Fry also advocates using the word “obese” in letters to parents, despite the Department of Health stating that research has shown using the term “obese” risks alienating parents, and turning them off from the key message. Fry’s comment: “I find this whole approach from the Department of Health a bit prissy and namby pamby.” ( Well, bravo Mr. Fry: who cares if the parents get the message as long as it is couched in the most brutal and cringe-inducing words available? Why worry about people’s feelings when you’ve got a cudgel close at hand?

Something not addressed by any party in this debate…or even by the media…is the school yard repercussions. What happens when the letters arrive home and the word gets back to the school yard? This affects more than the overweight kids and their parents, this affects the thinner kids as well. The letters are supposed to contain the child’s BMI (Body Mass Index)…will kids with the lowest BMIs become the playground Poshes and Nicoles? Will the efforts of the program be hijacked by the schoolyard social engineers to provide incontrovertible proof of worth, those with the lowest BMI having the greatest envy factor?

I can see it now…one preteen girl to another: “You want to join our clique? Where’s your BMI letter?” and then “Ewwwww! 21! Ewwwww! It’s official…you’re fat!”

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