Tag Archives: Michelle Obama

Painting a Target on Fat Kids

Lynne Murray says:

Thanks to Georgia Children’s Health Alliance’s portrayal of fat children (and their parents) as criminals, it is more dangerous to be a fat kid in Georgia this month than it was last month.

photographs of four fat children with warnings of their early death or disease

In a March 12, 2011 press release, “Georgia Fat Kids Portrayed as Criminals,” the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)

“…demands that the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance immediately remove their billboards targeting fat children. Billboards depicting fat kids are extraordinarily harmful to the very kids they are supposedly trying to help.”

Childhood obesity has been getting a lot of media attention recently. Ironically “health” oriented initiatives that target fat children co-exist with the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), an anti-bullying measure, which does not include any mention of physical attributes (such as fat, thin, tall, or short) among the characteristics of children it would protect from bullying.

In a March 16th press release , “New “Anti-Bullying Act” Missing a Few Teeth,” NAAFA Press Release, March 16, 2011 NAAFA urges that weight and height be added to the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and describes some of the reasons that this is essential.

Multiple studies indicate that fat children are the group being most bullied. NAAFA believes leaving any group without protection will remove protection for all and ultimately lead to the failure of the SSIA as a whole. The bullying must end!

Some Bullying Facts:

• Children who are obese are more likely to be bullied, regardless of a number of potential socio-demographic, social, and academic confounders. No protective factors were identified. Effective interventions to reduce bullying of obese children need to be identified. [Lumeng, et al, 2010]

• Bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University (Yale University, Office of Public Affairs, “Bullying-Suicide Link Explored in New Study by Researchers at Yale”

• Teasing about body weight is consistently associated with low body satisfaction, low self-esteem, high depressive symptoms, and thinking about and attempting suicide. [Eisenberg, et al, 2003]

A recent YouTube video recorded by some of the schoolyard bullies who had been tormenting 16-year old Casey Heynes about his weight for years shows what happened when Heynes finally snapped and returned the violence. [Trigger Warning: Violence. I found the violence on the few seconds of the clip disturbing, I can only imagine what it would be like to live through it every day for years at school]This video can be viewed (along with the article) here.

In a Daily Beast article, Paul Campos nails the underlying flaws in the “war on childhood obesity” even when it is presented in a way that does not openly demonize fat children. Campos looks at Michelle Obama, who has picked “childhood obesity” as the cause she champions as First Lady, despite pressure from NAAFA and others to think about the effects of this choice.

The first lady would, no doubt, be horrified by the suggestion that her Let’s Move campaign, which is dedicated to trying to create an America without any fat kids, is itself a particularly invidious form of bullying. But practically speaking, that’s exactly what it is. The campaign is in effect arguing that the way to stop the bullying of fat kids is to get rid of fat kids….

Remarkably, debates about whether the government ought to have a role in making American children thinner almost never acknowledge that we have no idea how to do this. Consider the first lady’s major policy goals: She wants children to eat a healthy balance of nutritious food, both in their homes and at school, and she advocates various reforms that will make it easier for kids to be physically active. These are laudable goals in themselves, but there is no evidence that achieving them would result in a thinner population.

Campos’ article, which is well worth reading in its entirety, goes back to the roots of the nonexistent obesity epidemic, a definition of “obesity” created by statistical manipulation by a CDC expert committee chaired by William Dietz

…who has made a career out of fomenting fat panic. The committee decided that the cut-points for defining “overweight” and “obesity” in children would be determined by height-weight growth chart statistics drawn from the 1960s and 1970s, when children were smaller and childhood malnutrition was more common….

These definitions are completely arbitrary. The committee members chose them not on the basis of any demonstrated correlation between the statistical cut-points and increased health risk, but rather because there was no standard definition of overweight and obesity in children, and so they invented one. In other words, the “childhood obesity epidemic” was conjured up by bureaucratic fiat.

The committee did this despite Americans being healthier, by every objective measure, than they’ve ever been: Life expectancy is at an all-time high. … There’s no reason to think that today’s children won’t be healthier as adults than their parents, just as today their parents are healthier than their own parents were at the same age, continuing a pattern that has prevailed since public health records began to be kept in the 19th century. (Tellingly, 50 years ago government officials were issuing dire warnings that a post-World War II explosion of fatness among both American adults and children was going to cause a public health calamity).

In one of many eloquent blog posts, Ragen Chastain (Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, Speaker, Fat Person) addresses the inherent contradiction in fostering health by fighting obesity:

First, I continue to believe that Michelle Obama has the best of intentions with her Let’s Move program. But it’s time for some accountability: Mrs. Obama could have chosen to be FOR children’s health: FOR fun movement options that kids enjoy, FOR healthy lunches, FOR healthy behaviors.

But she didn’t. Instead, Mrs. Obama chose to be AGAINST childhood obesity.

The major problem with this is that you can’t be against childhood obesity without being against obese children….

I speak as someone who was put on my first diet by concerned parents beginning at age nine (including a prescription for amphetamines from the family doctor). I was only slowly was able to unwind the mental and physical damage decades later. Now I am angered as well as saddened to see America attack its own young based on wilful ignorance, bad science and hysterical prejudice against fat.

Change We Don’t Believe In

Debbie says:

In a New Year when Haiti was devastated (yet again), this time by a huge earthquake, the Democrats threw away a sure thing (yet again), and the Supreme Court asserted that corporations are more important than you and I (yet again), it’s not too surprising that Michelle Obama’s choice of a new cause didn’t get too much pixel attention. But here at Body Impolitic, we feel compelled to notice that First Lady Obama is formally taking up the torch of the nonexistent “epidemic of childhood obesity.” Yes, yet again.

Calling obesity an epidemic and one of the greatest threats to America’s health and economy, first lady Michelle Obama said Wednesday that she would launch a major initiative next month to combat the problem in childhood.

2010: It’s just like 2009, except less original.

First things first: there is no epidemic of childhood obesity. Yes, I know you’ve read about it in hundreds of articles, seen it on dozens of billboards, had thousands of office or street-corner conversations about it. Nonetheless, the emperor (or perhaps the First Lady) has no clothes.

Here are the 2008 numbers, an 8,000-person study published in the highly respected Journal of the American Medical Association:

Results Because no statistically significant differences in the prevalence of high BMI for age were found between estimates for 2003-2004 and 2005-2006, data for the 4 years were combined to provide more stable estimates for the most recent time period. Overall, in 2003-2006, 11.3% (95% confidence interval [CI], 9.7%-12.9%) of children and adolescents aged 2 through 19 years were at or above the 97th percentile of the 2000 BMI-for-age growth charts, 16.3% (95% CI, 14.5%-18.1%) were at or above the 95th percentile, and 31.9% (95% CI, 29.4%-34.4%) were at or above the 85th percentile. Prevalence estimates varied by age and by racial/ethnic group. Analyses of the trends in high BMI for age showed no statistically significant trend over the 4 time periods (1999-2000, 2001-2002, 2003-2004, and 2005-2006) for either boys or girls (P values between .07 and .41).

If that’s too many numbers for you (it’s right on the edge of what I can follow), here’s the paper’s conclusion:

Conclusion: The prevalence of high BMI for age among children and adolescents showed no significant changes between 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 and no significant trends between 1999 and 2006.

Oh, and if this wasn’t enough, 1999-2000 is when they changed the growth charts to reflect BMI, a completely useless measurement:

But the growth charts underwent a significant change in 2000 which has made them even more controversial. The new charts, issued by the CDC in May 2000, were based on BMIs, rather than weights and heights. … What didn’t make the news and few parents may know is that the new BMI-based growth charts meant children’s percentile on the growth curves changed. With the new charts, nearly two-thirds of children were suddenly at higher percentiles, with greater discrepancies among shorter children.

So even if kids are too fat (which they aren’t; keep reading), it’s not an epidemic, because it’s not growing.

Second, and perhaps more important, if there was a childhood obesity epidemic, none of the standard plans to counteract it have the least effect.

The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force, which reviewed nearly 40 years of evidence on screening and interventions for childhood and adolescent overweight — some 6,900 studies and abstracts … concluded that there is no quality evidence to support that overweight or obesity in youth is related to health outcomes or predicts fitness, blood pressure, body composition or health risks. The USPSTF found insufficient evidence to recommend routine screening for overweight in children and adolescents as a means to improve health outcomes. It did, however, note potential harms of screening programs. According to the USPSTF Childhood Obesity Working Group, no scientific review has been able to find quality evidence that any program to reduce or prevent childhood obesity — no matter how well-intentioned, comprehensive, restrictive, intensive, long in duration, and tackling diet and activity in every possible way — has been effective, especially in any beneficial, sustained way. Nor has any program been able to demonstrate improved health outcomes or physiological measures, such as blood lipids (“cholesterol”), glucose tolerance, blood pressure or physical fitness. Nor has any diet or exercise intervention in children been shown to lead to better health outcomes in adulthood. Not only did the USPSTF find no evidence to support the effectiveness of counseling for healthy eating in young people, it also found no evidence to support low-fat diets in children and, instead, found growing evidence for harm.

(If you click the link to the findings, be warned that the abstract is *ahem* not representative of the study’s findings. See “The Faith Sentence.”)

In a nutshell: the First Lady has picked a mythical cause which, even if it were real, supports no evidence of a problem, and no approach to the non-problem that has ever shown the slightest effectiveness.

Just think about the things she could be focusing on.

I think I’ll send a somewhat politer version of this post to her in a private letter.

A million thanks to Sandy Szwarc at Junk Food Science, where all the facts I need are always in one place. And Lynn Kendall was first with the pointer.