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November 12, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseEating DisordersFat NewsDickweedDiet Talk

The now-infamous story about a woman, known only as “Cheryl” in Fargo, North Dakota, who said she would be handing out letters to parents of fat children trick-or-treating refusing them candy may actually be a hoax, perpetrated by a Fargo-based radio station called Y94. But even if this does turn out to be a hoax, the fact remains that there are “Cheryls” who are more than willing to shame fat children in the name of “health,” and quite a bit of that shame comes from our own public school system.

Schools in Florida, California and Massachusetts have sent home letters to parents telling them their child’s BMI is too high and that they are overweight. These are 3 out of 21 states that require BMI screenings at the beginning of the school year for students in certain grades. The National Eating Disorder Association has criticized the practice, saying it can potentially trigger an eating disorder. Due to parental concern over bullying, Massachusetts decided to no longer send these “fat letters” home to parents, instead giving parents the option to choose Fat Letterwhether or not to see the information.

Should it be a school’s place to monitor the weight of its students? The obvious answer is of course not. Education should be the top priority. But in the fervor over childhood obesity, the pressure is on for communities and industries involved the welfare of children to “do something” about trying to make those who are fat slim at any cost, even if it means resorting to scare tactics and body shame. Add in Michelle Obama’s crusade with her Let’s Move campaign, and the panic is even higher.

There are ways to advocate for children’s health that don’t involve targeting weight. For instance, focus on physical activity (allowing for disabilities) and good nutrition (without mentioning calories and dieting) for ALL kids, not just those that are fat. As we’ve seen in the reaction to these “fat letters,” both real and possibly fake, there are people out there who are tired of the pearl-clutching rhetoric and don’t want health to be a code word for thin.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2013 10:15 am

    A big, fat AMEN!

  2. vesta44 permalink
    November 12, 2013 10:51 am

    Schools have been weighing kids for more years than I care to remember. I graduated from high school 41 years ago, and I can remember being weighed twice a year, every year, from first grade on – that’s 53 years of kids being weighed, so this isn’t something new. And it was just as traumatic back then as it is now – we were weighed in front of all of our classmates, and our weights were said out loud as they were recorded. So any kid who was heavier had a ready-made target painted on them for the bullies. I don’t recall letters being sent home, telling our parents that we were fat, thin, “normal”, whatever name they were giving us as far as size was concerned (and when I graduated in 1972, I don’t think they were using BMI yet). At least back then, your weight, while the school took it and recorded it, was still between you, your parents, and your doctor. No one who was in charge of anything at school recommended dieting or more exercise (unless you had an asshole for a phys ed teacher, and the assholes most always ragged on the fat kids, in my experience, anyway). It’s my opinion that a kid’s weight isn’t any concern of schools at all – they have enough trouble teaching kids everything they need to know in order to graduate with a decent education, they don’t have the time or money to waste on worrying about how fat a kid is.

    • November 12, 2013 6:04 pm

      When I was in ninth grade, eighteen years ago, our weight was recorded in PE class, and our BMI was actually used as one determining factor in our grade for the unit. I almost wish they had sent letters home then because my dad would have found out, and he would have been livid. As it was, I didn’t yet have the words to articulate why that was so wrong, so I felt powerless to do anything about it at the time.

  3. Trates permalink
    November 12, 2013 3:14 pm

    “good nutrition (without mentioning calories”

    And while they’re at it they can teach people to set up a budget but not mention math.

    What is nutritious is called such because of its contents and the health of the person in question. Calories are a factor as are fats and the various vitamins and minerals.

    • Ashley permalink
      November 12, 2013 8:00 pm

      I disagree. For instance, avocados are a healthy source of fat. They do contain a lot of fat, and are calorie dense. But an avocado would be worth it, because it has a high nutritional content. Kids don’t need to know all that. They need to know “This fruit/vegetable is always a safe option.”

      • November 12, 2013 9:37 pm

        Yeah, nutrition can be simplified without focusing on calories. We know that foods with higher nutritional quality are fruits and veg, lean meats, healthy fats. Try to get more of the healthier foods, but don’t be so strict as to trigger restriction/disinhibition cycles. Get some exercise (ACSM recommendations as a general guideline) doing something you love, not punitive. Calories don’t need to enter the equation at all, as it usually ends up becoming a math problem, and that’s not really how calories work when processed by the human body. Nutrition can be taught to teens without the traditional focus on calorie counting. I don’t mean what calories are and do, but teaching the idea that that’s how you measure health.


      • Trates permalink
        November 12, 2013 11:50 pm

        You just made my point. You labeled something healthy based on what was in it.

        That is what makes something healthy.

        And yes this all does need to be done with knowledge of who you are speaking to but eventually these kids will grow up and move out of the scope of school and other limiters.

        This is why learning what makes something healthy as well as how to tell if something is healthy is important knowledge.

        • Amber permalink
          November 15, 2013 8:43 am

          The caloric content is not what makes something healthy or unhealthy. The nutrient content (fats, fiber, protein, minerals, etc) is what makes it healthy.

          As an example, a chocolate dipped strawberry is actually healthier for you (presuming a lack of allergies) than a plain strawberry because of the increased nutrients. But the current hyper-focus on ZOMG CALORIES!! tells us chocolate anything is bad.

          It’s like setting up a budget without mentioning the weight of the groceries. Yes, it may be a factor in what you buy, but it’s not integral information to your goal.

  4. Dizzyd permalink
    December 1, 2013 5:07 pm

    Even though she turned out not to be real, why does “Cheryl” sound like one of those houses the other kids warn you about – you know, the ones where they give out apples with razor blades and stuff like that? “Cheryl” sounds like she has an imaginary screw loose and should be carted off to the imaginary funny farm.

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