Thursday, January 12, 2012

Georgia, Georgia...No Peace I Find

There's been a lot of blogging and petitioning about the Children's Health Alliance of Atlanta, and what many consider to be their utterly misguided campaign against childhood obesity. I hate to send them traffic, but these videos are just so heartbreaking because they are so wrong. In one "Bobby" asks, "Mom, why am I fat?" Mom herself is fat, and she doesn't get a chance to answer. The video ends with her just sort of staring. In another, "Tina" says that she doesn't like going to school because the other kids pick on her. The end screen states, in stark black and white caps: "BEING FAT TAKES THE FUN OUT OF BEING A KID." Um, hello? BEING BULLIED takes the fun out of being a kid.

Like so many other attempts to "battle" the "epidemic" of childhood obesity, this video campaign focuses on the wrong stuff. Oddly, there's a lot of the right stuff elsewhere on the website. Stuff about movement, about having fun running and jumping, eating fruits and vegetables. They don't say "diet," and they provide some tips for parents. Of course most of the tips seem to assume that the reader has been living under a rock for the past 15 years: "Items that are baked or broiled are healthier than items that are fried." Argh. That's your "tip"? Another egregious application of the widespread stereotype that fat people are not only lazy but dumber than a stack of mud. "If only they knew," think the concerned public health crusaders, "then they wouldn't be fat!"

I was a fat kid. Not super fat, but fattish. I'm sure my BMI (which was never intended for use on individuals) would have been outside the "healthy" range as defined today. I look back at pictures of myself though and think, "Now, why exactly was it I got put on diets?" If my height/weight ratio had stayed the same as I grew into my body, I'd probably weigh 100 pounds less than I do today. Instead, decades of weight cycling have left me with a pretty disoriented metabolism. But that's another story. The real issue is, did being fat take the fun out of being a kid?

Hells no. I had a ton of fun as a kid. Not just as a head-in-the-book, check-out-all-the-library-books-at-once kid, which I was. But as an Action Fat Kid: climbing trees and swinging in swings, playing baseball and basketball, climbing the backyard fence and tightrope walking along the top, setting up my own high jump practice pit, riding bikes, roller skating, swimming, playing tag and kick-the-can with my friends. Yeah, I had friends. I wasn't ostracized even though I was fat and wore glasses, starting in the first grade. My parents, who are neither fat nor stupid, taught me pretty good social skills and gave me lots of love, fed me mostly real food in moderate quantities, at regular intervals, and encouraged outdoor play, running around, having fun, eating fruits and vegetables, and reading. As a result, I was mostly healthy and happy,
well nourished, smart, and reasonably confident.

Wasn't I bullied for being fat? I don't recall much. Some teasing and name calling, maybe? I honestly remember being teased more for my glasses, and once, in a ghastly episode that still gives me chills to remember, when some boys from the second grade caught sight of my brightly colored underpants of British extraction - a far cry from the white cotton skivvies that all other first grade girls at Ralph O. Berry Elementary School apparently wore. Yeah, kids can be mean if you're different.

So here's my idea for raising healthier kids, Atlanta "Children's Health Alliance": Teach kids to be confident and fun-loving, proud of their bodies and minds and of their physical and mental gifts. Teach them to curb their meaner impulses when they encounter kids who are different from them - shorter or taller or redheaded, black or nearsighted or foreign, fatter or skinnier or brown or pale. Teach them to enjoy a wide range of foods. Teach them how to build good relationships. Give them love and hope and support. That's an alliance I could get behind.


  1. I love you. Can I just say that here? I think you are a pocket full of awesome!

  2. I actually don't get offended by the seeming simplistic advice offered, such as eating baked foods instead of fried, because I truly was ignorant about health and weight for a long time. It's true. I have two degrees from a really good university but I did not know doodly squat about my weight and how to deal with it. (I was so ignorant in college that I actually started to develop scurvy one semester, but that's a different story...)

    I have two daughters in middle school and while we don't talk about weight, we do talk about health. They read my blog and know that I'm working on my health and getting to a healthy weight. But I've also made a point to never use (or even think) the word "diet." It's just not in my lexicon. Instead, my family talks about healthy foods and reasonable portion sizes and getting exercise for overall health (physical, mental) and so forth.

    And on that note, I need to end this, as I'm heading out for a long run. :-)

  3. Fair enough, Jen. I guess there are still folks out there who need the information that fruit has more nutrients than Kool-Whip. As a veteran of a zillion diets, "eating plans" and "lifestyle changes," I'm pretty jaded on that front.

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