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Pennsylvania school sends notes home if kids are overweight
March 21, 2002 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Pennsylvania school sends notes home if kids are overweight My paper ran this story Sunday, and it's starting to make its way around the Internet. But still: should schools warn parents if their kids are too heavy? And who decides 'too heavy'?
posted by krewson (69 comments total)

 
What looks more potentially valuable, and what the article isn't focusing on, is the school's plan to warn parents when their kids are underweight too. That could be a sign of a responsible school taking care to nip possible eating disorders in the bud early.

On the other hand, from the little information we're given about the school, it strikes me as a bit of a hot-house which is precisely the environment where eating disorders thrive in the first place.

Question for any doctors among us: how quickly could one flag up anorexia nervosa by monitoring the BMI? IE, is there any value in my idea in the first paragraph at all?
posted by CatherineB at 10:48 AM on March 21, 2002


The article mentions that kids who are underweight will get a letter sent home, but it has no quotes from parents or kids who got the letter for that reason. Plus, it only has advice for overweight kids and not underweight kids. Also, the FPP ignored that whole side. So, should schools warn parents if they're kids are too light? Who decides too light? And what should underweight kids do to pack on the pounds?
posted by Werd7 at 10:49 AM on March 21, 2002


Yuck. First, as the article says, they're not telling the kids anything they don't know. And as if overweight kids don't suffer enough, here's some more ammunition for other kids to tease them with. As the president of the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination says in the article, every child should get a letter, or none should. I like the idea of the Walking Club, I hate the idea of the letters, not least because the article tries to equate sending home results of vision or hearing tests with this. Vision or hearing problems affect your learning, weight doesn't. And as has been discussed here ad nauseam, it's hard to come up with accurate criteria for determining what "overweight" really is, and just as hard to determine whether it's the weight or the lifestyle that causes health problems. Besides that, promoting active healthy lifestyles for everyone is a far better cause than just labeling some kids "overweight", which is really all this is likely to do.
posted by biscotti at 10:59 AM on March 21, 2002


I think the school might want to rethink it's policy, sending out all these notes about children's weight and bringing up healthy eating could loose the school a chance at a Pepsi sponsorship.

And isn't the BMI innacurate unless you have one of those fancy machines that look like something out of 2001. What if the kid is muscular?
posted by bobo123 at 11:01 AM on March 21, 2002


And what should underweight kids do to pack on the pounds?

Stop intentionally vomiting up your meals for starts.
posted by straight at 11:02 AM on March 21, 2002


This is just disgusting.
posted by annathea at 11:03 AM on March 21, 2002


Would you support the school sending a letter home if the kids were caught smoking?

Probably.

So why not send a letter home for something that is more hazardous than smoking?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 AM on March 21, 2002


Obeisity is major cause of health problems in this nation but most people people turn a blind eye to it. They don't want to sound insensitive or cruel, or delude themselves into thinking that they--or their children--are "big boned" or that they can't do anything about their condition.

An official note from the school is a good step step in combatting this ignorance. Hopefully, it will cause at least some people to change their mindset and lead them towards a healthier lifestyle.
posted by Witold at 11:11 AM on March 21, 2002


I agree with biscotti--either all the kids get letters, or none do. I'm a bit puzzled as to why the letters are sent to the parents without telling the kids about it first. Overall, I don't think kids like feeling that decisions are being made by adults behind their backs or over their heads.

As for letters about underweight kids, I don't know how much good that would do. Parents can be in extreme denial about a child's anorexia (I know from personal experience) and that obsession with being thin can eclipse all else. It's going to take a lot more than a form letter to resolve those body image issues.

Note to straight: if only it were that simple...
posted by gutenberg at 11:17 AM on March 21, 2002


Another note to Straight: telling underwieght people to stop vomiting their meals is the same as telling overweight people to not keep a bag of potato chips and beef jerky under their pillow for a midnight snack. Point is that it doesn't apply to most people in each extreme.
posted by Werd7 at 11:24 AM on March 21, 2002


This was my first question too. When I thought about it from the overweight angle, I felt I would be offended to get that kind of letter. Overweight is a lifestyle choice, and can (usually) be fixed by a change of habits, but it comes off a lot slower than it got put on, and just because a child is overweight doesn't mean that the parents are not addressing the issue.

But if the school thinks my kid is at risk for anorexia, I'd want to know about it. That's a much more serious and poorly understood problem, and I'd want all the help I could get.

She's 13, BTW, and thin, and a picky eater. But not as bad as some of her friends, and she's physically active. As of right now, she wouldn't let body image issues interfere with horseback riding. I truly hope she stays that way. A few years back I knew a teenage girl who eventually died from anorexia. I encouraged the horseback riding with this in mind.
posted by anewc2 at 11:27 AM on March 21, 2002


I'm 6'4 and weigh 170, I used to weigh 150. The reason I am this thin is I am lazy and can get used to pains such as hunger. It isn't always anorexia or bullimia which can slim people down to dangerous levels.

I do think, however, that the risk of obesity affecting health is greater in kids than the risk of one of them having another sort of eating disorder, although as long as you're weighing the little bastards you might as well cover all bases.

Also, the promotion of an active lifestyle hasn't helped. There is no good reason not to be a bit vicious with the little cherub nasties. Their parents will get PISSED and make them go outside in the sun and the parks and playgrounds will be filled with children's games, moaning, wheezing and the scent of crisco.
posted by Settle at 11:31 AM on March 21, 2002


eek ... another weight post. Everyone is well advised to tread lightly -- this subject stirs up some strong feelings.

*promptly ignoring own advice* Being overweight is not healthy. It's that simple. While it well may be the case that some individuals are virtually powerless to control their weight, that is not the case for the vast majority of overweight people (or kids). To the extent schools have always played a role in public health, they shouldn't be ignoring this public health issue just because it is emotionally sensitive (for those of you who are worried that this will further stigmatize the kids, I can't possibly believe the district would hand out these letters with public fanfare in front of all the other students). I also agree that anorexia is probably a greater health risk than obesity. But how do you suppose the percentage of overweight children compares to the percentage of anorexic children? 20 to 1? More?

People live healthier, happier lives when they are not obese (note I did not say: "...when they are skinny.") There are less associated health problems, and people generally feel better about themselves. Any time an entity takes it upon itself to promote health (whether a school or a pediatrician), I think it has a duty to convey that message.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:40 AM on March 21, 2002


An official note from the school is a good step step in combatting this ignorance. Hopefully, it will cause at least some people to change their mindset and lead them towards a healthier lifestyle.

Nothing personal, Witold, but many of us don't want the nanny state, especially one that arrogantly assumes its citizens to be complete morons. You think most parents aren't quite aware of their children's weight?

The only mindset this is going to change is that a lot of people are going to given that one extra push towards total abandonment of government-run schools, if they can at all afford it.
posted by aaron at 11:45 AM on March 21, 2002


Let's all, for the sake of this discussion, just agree that it is probably healthier to not be obese.

That actually has little bearing on this case.

Bigger concern: the screening that goes on behind the obesity analysis. What business does the school have in subjecting kids to the inspection required for determining height/weight ratios? Can students opt out? I know that public schools have often blurred the line between social work and education, but this seems too far. Any clinical exam sufficient to yield a height/weight analysis should be within the realm of parental discretion. If I were still a high school student, I would not comply with the body inspection on principle.

One parent from the article has good arguments: the school lunch program, and the contracts with junk food vendors, both run counter to the stated intent of this campaign. It's a picture-perfect example of hypocrisy (good lesson for the students in that somewhere).

Makes me wish I had a kid in that district just so I could sue them.
posted by yesster at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2002


You think most parents aren't quite aware of their children's weight?

There is a cetain level of denial which informs all parents. No one wants to believe their kid isn't perfect. I don't want a nanny state either, but the overall mindset seems to be that of reminding parents of health issues, not of treating them like morons. Kids' diets are apalling.
posted by cell divide at 11:48 AM on March 21, 2002


this subject stirs up some strong feelings.

Suggestion: Then stop stirring the shit.

The purpose of public schools is to teach academics, not "solve social problems" (translation: indoctrinate), particularly when they're not doing the former all that well in the first place.
posted by aaron at 11:53 AM on March 21, 2002


I don't want a nanny state either, but the overall mindset seems to be that of reminding parents of health issues,

Then send a letter explaining nutrition, the growing problem of obesity, etc., home to all students' parents, and don't perform a clinical exam and analysis.
posted by yesster at 12:00 PM on March 21, 2002


"The school serves crap. It's corn dogs and french fries. The other day it was pepperoni stromboli. That's a lump of grease and fat... I'm very aware of what my kids eat. I was offended. Like hello, I don't know what's going on with my kid?''

How great is she? And I'm sure she'd agree with aaron 100%.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:04 PM on March 21, 2002


aaron: "The purpose of public schools is to teach academics, not 'solve social problems'"

I don't think that's an accurate statement at all. That may be what you think the purpose of public schools should be (and I probably wouldn't argue with you too much). But that's definitely not what the purpose currently is. What do you think the purpose of physical education is? What is the purpose of sex ed in 6th, 8th, and 10th grade? Like it or not, a large part of public education relates to extra-academic issues.

I don't love the way this school district is going about its mission. But I can't blame them for trying to do something an issue that is generally perceived to be a major health crisis.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:07 PM on March 21, 2002


Did the school get specific parental permission for performing the clinical examination and analysis of the children? If not, I smell lawyers.
posted by yesster at 12:19 PM on March 21, 2002


Oh no, now we have the fat police in schools. Next it will be ministers, exhorting their congregations to get fit and measuring their BMI's at the door. Geez!
posted by Lynsey at 12:25 PM on March 21, 2002


Why not make nutrition and exercise a larger part of the curriculum. If kids learned how to eat right and exercise correctly they'd be less likely to have eating disorders and probably less drug/social problems. This stuff is science, whole departments exist at universities studying nutrition and exercise. If you have the right balance you can have the body you want without starving.

So if we take the money from the war on drugs and spend it on academics/exercise/nutrition for kids we can halp give kids self esteem early which would mean less drugs/dropouts/crime later in life. Give a kid hopes and dreams that he/she can achieve and you'll see less crime.
Less crime means less money spent on crime prevention/incarceration/war on drugs etc.. Gets off soapbox
posted by jeblis at 12:26 PM on March 21, 2002


My son's school has had 3 fundraisers so far this year - selling chocolates, selling cheesecake, and selling pizza. The boy scouts sell candy, the girl scouts sell cookies. Little League sells pie.

School cafeteria staples: pizza, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, baloney and cheese sandwiches, fritos, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate pudding, chocolate milk.
Little League Concession Stand staples: candy, gum, cotton candy, sodas, water ice, ice cream, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, mozzerella sticks, pepperoni pizza, cream cheese poppers.

I have to cancel out all of the crap he eats when I'm not around by heralding carrot sticks and apples as the most fantastic foods on the face of the earth. I have even used the "Raisins are nature's candy, Honey!" line. Guess what - he ain't buyin' it. Luckily for him, he's still slim, but how healthy is he? Crap to eat is everywhere, even if you're a somewhat vigilant parent. I am not going to follow him around 24 hours a day to watch what he eats. He usually brown bags it but even then, kids trade crap for different crap. Schools have no business serving grease-laden pizza and then telling you that your child needs to lose weight. The hypocrisy and arrogance....
posted by iconomy at 12:27 PM on March 21, 2002


iconomy, use the trick my mom used on me. She told me I was allergic to all that stuff, and that I would get very sick if I ate it. I was allergic to chocolate, sugar (included candy, pies, soda, etc), fastfood, and red meat. It took me until I was 13 to figure out she was lying, but all that time I ate very healthy. So when all the other 13 year olds were trying cigarettes, i was trying gum.
posted by Werd7 at 12:33 PM on March 21, 2002


Iconomy follows the line of thinking of the parent whose quote in the article was singled out by rj reynolds -- the schools have a lot to answer for when it comes to the health of children. In addition to the garbage that they serve them in school lunches and the junk that's sold for fundraisers (my nieces and nephews are constantly pimping M&Ms or hoagies or candy bars for something), the idea of moving is routinely eschewed. Kids get limited time during the day when they are allowed to have any physical activity -- perhaps 35 minutes a day when they're on the elementary level, none by high school.

Then there's the 40 minutes twice a week of "physical education" which can be built around playing a game which could allow any number of kids to stand still more than they're actually moving (volleyball, softball, kickball) and does little or nothing to promote ideals of regular exercise, or to teach anything about activity which can be translated into a regular routine of personal fitness.

And we won't even get into the amount of homework regularly piled onto children of even the youngest grades, which could serve to eliminate any time that kids may have to enjoy some basic running-around time after school.

So until the school recognise that they're complicit in the health of the students, and do something other than health class lectures on healthy eating and sending obnoxious letters home to parents based solely on the canard that is the BMI, I call hypocrisy and bullcrap. They need to get their houses in order before they start throwing flags that they don't have foundation to throw.
posted by Dreama at 12:45 PM on March 21, 2002


Werd7 - At that age, did you feel pissed, cared for, lied to, like you needed to eat the crap to rebel...? I'm really curious.
posted by NortonDC at 1:03 PM on March 21, 2002


Werd7 - I had a similar situation when I was growing up. My brother and I were never allowed to have anything artificial. And what were we denied most of all? Cereal. Growing up in the early 80's wasn't easy since we were constantly being innundated with cereal ads. Not even goign to a friend's house would allow me the sweets I so desired. My mother told my friend's mothers what I wasn't allowed to eat! I once had a bowl of Count Chocula ripped out of my hands. So, when I entered college, while everyone else was out having sex, drinking, and doing drugs, I was in my dorm room with a bowl of Cap'n Crunch.
posted by emptybowl at 1:18 PM on March 21, 2002


Yeah, I was pissed and went through my candy and junk food rebellion. But like I said before, other kids were getting into drinking, drugs, and smoking then. So sneaking out on my bike to K-mart and downing a bag of GummiSavers was my equivalent of being a bad ass then.

I'm 23 now and when I look back on it as a whole, it was probably better for me physically, but I also find it terribly wrong how I was lied to. I still give my mom a lot of crap for it and she does not regret her devious ways. In the end, she's a health nut, I'm an only child, and that's what overprotective parents do.

The biggest problem I found with it was that I didn't break 100 pounds until I discovered red meat at the age of 17 (I was 5'8" then). I'm still underweight, but that's mainly my genes, which is why I didn't like Straights comment that all underweight people need to stop barfing.
posted by Werd7 at 1:23 PM on March 21, 2002


right on emptybowl, I was only allowed to eat Cheerios and Kix throughout my child hood because they had less than 2g of sugar. Mind you, I was "allergic to sugar" at this point.
My mom also went through phase of telling me I was lactose intolerant and forced soy milk on me. I hated the stuff, so i would eat my cereal with apple juice.
When the kids brought Munchkins into school for their birthday, were you not allowed to eat them? I think we should form a support group.
posted by Werd7 at 1:27 PM on March 21, 2002


Uter: Don't make me run...I'm full of chocolate
posted by patrickje at 1:28 PM on March 21, 2002


see what happens when you tell the School Bullies to take it easy? in my school the Bullies sent home notes with all the fat kids, and the too-skinny kids, and the kids with glasses, and the non-white kids, and the scrawny kids.

they gave us all black eyes.

i have a feeling those bullies are still doing their jobs, and its ashame to see the administration doing the exact same thing.
posted by tsarfan at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2002


Why not make nutrition and exercise a larger part of the curriculum.

A teacher-friend of my wife used to work in an urban Philadelphia school district where >50% of kids were greatly overweight. She implemented a voluntary after school 'nutrition club' with the school's permission and a lot of kids joined and (I suppose) were learning about healthy eating habits. Then after a few months, increasing numbers of parents of black children complained to the principal that the club taught a "White diet" and should be shut down. One beligerant parent accused this teacher of imposing her racist "white-food" on her kid! Anyway, because of the demographic of the school (mostly black) it was forced to shut down.

The moral: The problem is not just food. How one eats is intimately tied to one's culture and for some people, changing that is tantamount to rejecting your heritage. I guess, I'm a cultureless white guy so the "white-food" attitude sounds completely bonkers to me.
posted by plaino at 1:34 PM on March 21, 2002


So sneaking out on my bike to K-mart and downing a bag of GummiSavers was my equivalent of being a bad ass then.

I'm sorry. I don't mean to laugh. But I find this hysterical, just because I used to work with werd, and I can so see him doing that. Thanks for sharing!
posted by adampsyche at 1:42 PM on March 21, 2002


plaino: so the "white-food" attitude sounds completely bonkers to me

It sounds that way, not because you're a "cultureless white guy," but because your bullshit detector is fully functional.

Good nutrition is not culturally relative. Cuisine is, but nutrition is not. The angry parent should have helped the teacher develop a broader cuisine, rather than shut down a good program.
posted by yesster at 1:53 PM on March 21, 2002


Werd7 - Cheerios, Kix, and Rice Krispies were how we broke the system. We were also allowed to have them, due to their low sugar content and lack of anything artificial. When my mother wasn't looking, though, we'd dump more sugar on them than we'd probably get if we had a bowl of Smurfberry Crunch. The best part was when you got to the bottom, and the sugar and milk made a sickly-sweet sludge. Mmmmmmmm!

There were certain times we were able to sneak some banned items (school birthday parties being one of them), but for the most part, we were screwed. The real kick in the testicleswas when our younger brother was born, and he got literally anything he wanted. I'm still bitter about it. And as an interesting contrast, he was and is completely indifferent about junk food, unlike my older brother and me, who are completely obsessed with it. Probably explains why he and I are 10-15 pounds overweight, and my younger brother weighs 109 pounds.

I'll see what I can do about that support group. I'm sure there's many more out there just like us.
posted by emptybowl at 1:53 PM on March 21, 2002


*dragging thread (sort of) back on topic*

Here's one of the rare times that I not only agree with Aaron, but had the same thought as he did before I saw it. Why IS this a proper function for our public schools? In our town, 70% of our entire town budget is spent on schools. That's 70 cents out of every dollar we spend, leaving 30 cents for everything else - roads, water, sewer, police, fire, and yes, social services, which constitutes about .18% of the budget. Part of the vast increase in the percentage of school spending is due to the constant calls from parents and educators to continually lower average class sizes - that's a topic for another day - but much of it is due to our educational system trying to do everything for us. The system should try to get education right first, and not tackle all the other problems of the world.
posted by yhbc at 2:22 PM on March 21, 2002


When I was in elementary school in Pennsylvania in the early eighties, I was overweight (as I have always been). All the 'overweight' kids were forced to take this 'special' gym class, which met while the other kids were having their regular gym class, and was slightly longer than the regular class; it cut into reading class by about 15 minutes. We were taken to a seperate area and led in repetitive calisthetics by this evil chain-smoking butch-dyke gym teacher while the 'normal' kids played kickball and four square and bowled with these hollow rubber bowling balls. Then the 'normal' kids would go back inside and begin reading class. Our classroom window faced the yard where the 'fat' kids would still be exercising, and they would watch us. Then, when our 'special' gym class was dismissed, we would have to go back into our classroom during the reading class, making a disturbance and getting giggled at as we, red-faced and out of breath, made our way to our desks. This was maybe 3rd grade, so it was still co-ed and we didn't change into uniforms or take showers yet. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, and I will always hate and resent the Chambersburg School District for putting me through that pointless torture. I think the point of it was not to make us get more exercise, but to shame us into self-hatred so that, later in life, we would starve ourselves or at least develop a self-loathing 100 times more unhealthy than the obesity itself.

Being a heavy kid is a torture I would wish on no one. Compound that with being a gay kid and having childhood asthma, and you have the exsquisite torture that was my life. The only thing worse than this was when I was in 6th and 7th grade and had to admit that I didn't know how to play football, baseball or soccer in front of the gym class and the Billy Dee Williams clone gym teacher. They laughed (including the teacher) and threw a football at my head. Ick.

Sorry to be so personal, but this action by a Pennsylvania school reminded me of their stupid, cynical 'interventions' when I was a kid at their mercy.

The school has no business being an arbiter of something like this. Their interference will do nothing to help the kids or the parents.
posted by evanizer at 2:39 PM on March 21, 2002


What do you think the purpose of physical education is?

Actually, phys ed was a joke in my public school system. They offered it only because they were forced to by law, and it consisted mainly of a period of playing dodgeball. They then used all the money they saved for academic purposes.

One of the few smart things they ever did.
posted by aaron at 2:45 PM on March 21, 2002


I don't know. When I was in 6th grade, I spent most of my time watching TV and playing Atari and noodling with my Timex Sinclair computer. I was pudgy and out of shape. My mom forced me to join a local swim team. I hated her for it, and could hardly make a lap. Within 6 months, I was in great shape, and I continued swimming through high school. I have no doubt that had my mom not "intervened" and made me do that, I would have continued stagnating and gaining weight, and it would not have been good either for my health or my self-confidence.

15 years out of high school, I'm not in great shape, and I could probably stand to lose 20 pounds (too much beer!). But I'm still grateful that someone forced me to do something that got me off my feet and out of my house -- it was as good for my mind as my body. So I'm really sorry if this offends anyone, but I really wish there was more "intervention" -- most kids are not going to "volunteer" to get in shape and eat healthy.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:57 PM on March 21, 2002


My solution would be the classic English public school practice, of mandatory athletics for every child.

Not 3 40-minute PE classes with maybe 5 minutes of aerobic exercise each day (if that) ... but 1-2 hours of serious practice and drills, running up and down soccer and rugby fields, for every kid, regardless of interest or ability. Sports can no more be opted out of than geometry.

The suburb where I'm soon to move has what is in essence a two-class system: the 10-20% of girls and 40-50% of boys whose parents put them into sports, who probably devote 10-20 hours per week, every week, to supervised exercise, and the rest of the kids, who are probably developing a life-long aversion to physical activity.
posted by MattD at 2:57 PM on March 21, 2002


The school has no business being an arbiter of something like this.

Like it or not, if the school is serving food it is sending a message about food. Since school food is usually crap it would be nice if there was a balancing message in the form of nutritional education.

And, before the dissenting begins, schools are not like private restaurants. A school is a public institution intended to serve all children and therefore must be conscious of the messages it sends both in and out of class.
posted by plaino at 3:02 PM on March 21, 2002


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest, with no 'evidence' or statistics from popular science to back me up, that there CAN be more to being overweight than just eating too much and/or not moving enough. If there's psychological issues behind disorders such as anorexia and bulemia, then there are psychological issues behind obesity as well. Sometimes kids just need a push in the right direction, sure, but sometimes there's a lot more going on that repeating "diet and exercise!" over and over again doesn't even touch. Yes, all this from personal experience.

It would certainly be easier if it was just a matter of changing PHYSICAL habits, but without changing the beliefs underneath, even if the body DOES trim down, some other expression of the same issues will pop up. And not just 'education' about 'healthy food' but about beliefs and perceptions a person holds about themselves and the world.

Since most of the time this issue IS oversimplified into the 'diet and exercise' mantra, it can add more to the frustration of the parents and the child in the first place - who both understand that something's not quite as it might be, but also know that none of the pat advice seems to be working, and then they get ANOTHER letter which repeats all the same old stuff. "If you just tried HARDER....??" This kind of frustration and misunderstanding is also probably why it's still 'okay' to make fun of the fat kids on some level.

And Dreama makes some really good points, which I hadn't even considered. Kids are naturally spontaneous and energetic and the schooling system trains that out of them early.

Basically, what I'm saying is that addressing the surface issues is what's happening here, and it doesn't work. And I don't think that any government agency is really framed up to be able to truly do anything about this except push paper. On the flip side, it's amazing how easy it can be to change a 'bad habit' once the 'real' reason behind it is uncovered - everything else is just effortful overcompensation or self-criticism/loathing for (usually erroneously) having no 'will power'.
posted by thunder at 3:43 PM on March 21, 2002


Sub-college schools act in loco parentis and they are responsible for their students for half of their waking hours five days a week. It is entirely appropriate for schools to be active in promoting the health of their charges.
posted by NortonDC at 4:15 PM on March 21, 2002


So then, NortonDC, let them do so in a concrete way which will immediately make a difference -- drop the fat, heighten the fiber and complex carbs and consider fresh fruit and vegetables as crucial parts of the school lunch. No more greasy pizza and burgers, no more deep fried crap, no more non-dairy chemical-laden puddings and mushy pears from gallon-sized institutional pack cans. It may be easier, it may even be cheaper, but it runs full in the face of what everyone knows is the healthy and proper approach to their responsibility of feeding growing kids -- a task that many schools fulfill not once but twice a day.

The schools are not offering healthy choices. The schools are not capitalising on the natural energy of kids to encourage healthy exercise choices. The schools are placing unnecessary stumbling blocks between kids and fitness and then deriding them -- and by extension, their parents -- when they aren't a healthy weight when judged by an arbitrary, flawed standard. For all that this letter writing scheme is worth, they may as well whack the kids repeatedly in the head with a board, then call in a janitor to assess the wound, then send home a note saying "Your kid may have a concussion." It's that pointless.

So I'm really sorry if this offends anyone, but I really wish there was more "intervention" -- most kids are not going to "volunteer" to get in shape and eat healthy.

Intervention in the health and wellbeing of kids ought to start with their parents. The school may see them, en masse, for x number of hours a week, but their parents are the ones who take them to the doctor, who know their natural energy levels when they're not bound by school rules which force them to sit still for several hours on end. Parents know their medical histories, they know their habits, they know when something is truly a problem and when something is a phase -- or they ought to. They are best equipped to make an intervention if their child's weight is inappropriate (on the high or low end) and it is, in fact, their responsibility above anyone else.
posted by Dreama at 4:41 PM on March 21, 2002


I'll probably burn in hell for this, but here goes:

Most Americans are disgusting fat slobs. It's a shock every time I wander south of the border just how many unhealthy lard-asses populate your nation. Little wonder so many of you are dropping like flies: you're grotesquely unhealthy.

Sixty percent! of your population is overweight. But far, far worse: more than twenty percent of your population is obese. That's not merely overweight: that's fat to the point of being very unhealthy.

You who live in that population are, I'm quite sure, completely unaware of what a plague you've got going on down there. It all seems "normal" to you.

What's worse is that parents are killing their children. Being obese is a death sentence. Sixty percent of overweight children have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and their risk for diabetes is doubled. Letting your kids grow up fat means giving them a short, unhealthy life.

Back in the 1960s, about 1 in 20 kids was obese. That's increased three-fold, and is rapidly heading up to a full one-quarter of kids becoming obese.

Should the schools be involved in dealing with this? Hell, yes! It's pretty damn obvious that your average American doesn't understand (or worse, doesn't care about) the problems associated with being overweight, not to mention obese.

Obesity is set to become the #1 health issue in America. The problem is going to impact everyone: overweight and obese people are less productive, which means your economy is going to go in the shithole; they are less healthy, which means your health care costs are going to skyrocket; and they have fatter kids, which means the problem is going to spiral out of control.

If you're overweight or obese and I've offended you, I'd like to reply directly to you right now: I understand that I've come across strongly, I understand that you are offended, and I am unapologetic. Your weight problem is part of an overall national emergency, and we need to address it bluntly. You may not have had control over the course your life took that brought you to this unhealthy state, but you do have control over your future -- and in particular, you have control over your kids' weight.

Do yourself a favour and seek help.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:44 PM on March 21, 2002


Actually, the school system I was brought up in emphasized physical education quite a bit, and I blame that in part for my eventual obesity. I was a very uncoordinated kid, with slow reflexes. Gym was hell for me, I stopped taking it as soon as possible, and outside of school I avoided sports activities as much as possible for a long time. Only in my 20s did I come to the understanding that there were a few athletic activities that I could actually be good at, and enjoy, and that would take place in a context that wouldn't make me hate myself for my complete incompetance. And my brother was even worse than I was; he got himself placed in a sort of remedial gym where they did yoga and other low-impact non-competitive things; he made it through school with his physical self-image more or less intact, engaged in the activities that were aligned with his interests, and eventually, on his own, came to horseback riding and dancing at raves as a form of exercise that would get him into much better shape.

The school's "in loco parentis" function is not that cut and dried, anyway. You can no longer be beaten, for example. You cannot be physically restrained unless you make yourself dangerous. And I promise, if I have kids and they end up showing the slightest indication that they share my lack of athletic prowess, they will never take a single gym class that they don't want to take, period. Of course, I'll also encourage them to find a kind of exercise that works for them.
posted by bingo at 5:59 PM on March 21, 2002


five fresh fish, that was nothing but a stupid, self-righteous troll, and you know it. Go seek help yourself, being a sanctimonious arse is very, very unhealthy.
posted by evanizer at 6:35 PM on March 21, 2002


Most Americans are disgusting fat slobs. It's a shock every time I wander south of the border just how many unhealthy lard-asses populate your nation. Little wonder so many of you are dropping like flies: you're grotesquely unhealthy.

Mr. Fish, this language here speaks not to a problem with Americans and their health, but with your perspective. Your "disgust" and "shock" at what you consider "grotesque" "lard-asses" speak not to a concern about health, but something else (I know not -- and care not -- what).

Obesity is indeed a health concern, but your invective in no way contributes to any solution, or even understanding. And it doesn't belong here.
posted by mattpfeff at 6:35 PM on March 21, 2002


five fresh fish: I don't know what part of Canada you're from, but a large percentage of the Canadian snowbirds I've observed on Hollywood Beach (FL) are so fat they have to apply for zoning variances to sit on the beach.

Hard to understand, considering Canada's reputation as a center of yummy, low-fat cuisine.

Anyway, as long as we don't sneak across the border and clog your health care system with balloon angioplasties, why are you so concerned about OUR blubbery American asses? We may be fat, but we're better looking and can get 0% financing on liposuction.

Nanner, nanner, nah-nah!
posted by groundhog at 6:49 PM on March 21, 2002


Hell, it's not exactly difficult to get exercise. Go for a half-hour walk every day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Ride a bike to work, if it's within a half-hour range. Go cross-country skiing, take up golf, go swimming.

Matt/Evan: Let me save you the grief of actually reading the non-inflammatory part of the message, then:

America is killing itself with obesity. More people are overweight than are a healthy weight, and they are condemning their kids to a life of unhealthy obesity. The consequences are dire, not only for the individuals themselves, but for the nation as a whole.

The problem is an epidemic, and it can not be ignored, nor can it be nicey-niced away.

Groundhog: I haven't clicked the link yet, but I'll bet anythign that it's a picture of poutine. Shudder. I'll have to go look up obesity stats for Quebec now. Perhaps the seperationist problem will resolve itself... "die out," as it were.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:53 PM on March 21, 2002


Strange, but the average life expectancy in the US is only slightly lower than that of Canada. And, more interestingly, according to cause of death stats here and here (warning: Big PDF file), 36.84% of the deaths in Canada are heart related, while only 30.32% of the deaths in the US are heart-related. Seems strange that the nation of obese and dying slobs that you describe is less likely to die of heart-related problems (the health problem most associated with obesity) than your fit, healthy, beautiful, muscular Canadians....

Neener.
posted by evanizer at 7:41 PM on March 21, 2002


Dreama - Your push for healthier lunch fare will get no major argument from me, though I do wonder why putting fruit in a large can turns it into junk food.

For everyone jumping on five fresh fish, take a moment to really read what he originally wrote and realize that it contains not a single word of blame or moral judgement upon the overweight. He is blunt about his own reaction to seeing the phenomenon of widespread obesity, and urges those experiencing the condition to get help and confront it. You may not like the emotional component of his reaction, but it is solely his own and you cannot invalidate it.
posted by NortonDC at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2002


Poutine looks like Denny's' Smothered and Covered dish. mmmmmmm...

I'd be a bit concerned sending out these letters. If my Mom had gotten one it would fuel her fodder about me being fat. Yeah, kids can be cruel, but so can parents.
posted by sadie01221975 at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2002


You may not like the emotional component of his reaction, but it is solely his own and you cannot invalidate it.

"I hate Asian people. They look like freaks, and they scare me!!" An emotional reaction, and completely invalidated. As fff's allegations have been completely invalidated by others, and will now be further invalidated by me now: This is not an "American" problem. People in general are gaining weight throughout the developed and industrialized world. If there's an "emergency" (snicker), we're all in this together, from American to Canada to Japan to India and far beyond. Guess we can stop worrying about all that global warming shit now, eh? After all, we're all just gonna eat ourselves to death!
posted by aaron at 8:55 PM on March 21, 2002


fff,

I agree with you, but this is pointless here. The blind eye looks inward as well. This is not a topic that can be discussed rationally as it impacts severely on esteem issues and will only be construed as a personal attack. It will be ignored --very likely in many cases-- into the grave. Better to flame you than to make an uncomfortable alteration, and hey! everybody's doing it, right? All of the developed and industrialized world. Sort of like peer pressure..maybe adipocere pressure would be better.

People who agree will not speak up here, the volitility and --frankly-- irrationality of the response is not worth it. I would vote (if such a thing were possible) to steer clear of this topic since it is unhelpfully polarizing.
posted by umberto at 9:46 PM on March 21, 2002


When I was in school, I remember a teacher saying that school meals had to be high in calories because of the kids that received free meals. Something about the meals had to have enough calories to sustain them for a day (the idea was it may be their only meal). But at least our food was somewhat healthy. My kids are usually only offered pizza or some other heavy fat/greasy food. If they aren't hungry (sometimes lunch is at 10 am), they hit the snack machines instead, (long lunch lines, short amount of time to eat). Recesses are a thing of the past, and Physical Education is non-existent or optional. My kids could brown bag it, but they don't want want additional weight in their backpacks .

Bring back recesses and P.E.. It would do a world of good.
posted by RunsWithBandageScissors at 10:00 PM on March 21, 2002


Whatever, Umberto. I don't like when people think they need to convert others to the true path, whether we're talking about smoking, religion, food, sexuality or whatever. You stay out of my fridge-bedroom-spiritual life, and I will stay out of yours. You and FFF sound just like some lunatic fundamentalist preachers talking about sinners.

I've been fat most of my life, finally losing it now on Atkins. But that's my prerogative and my business. I don't condemn anyone for their particular decisions to lose weight/gain weight. Sometimes it's a choice of lifestyle, and sometimes not. It's not as easy to lose weight, or gain weight, for some people as you make it out to be. Some bodies naturally settle at a weight that you and FF Fish might not consider healthy or optimal. But what's it to you?

As for PE class, if it weren't a public humiliation class like it usually is, then I think it's ok. But for some kid who just isn't interested in athletics or has a poor aptitude at sports, it's torturous to make them go through that hell. Just as some kids don't have the aptitude for higher mathematics, some don't have it for sports/physical activities, and they shouldn't be made to feel like shit because they aren't good at either. In my high school you could opt out of one higher math and take a more basic class in geometry. You could opt out of lunch too (which I did in favor of spending time in the art room) But there was only one PE, and there was no opting out of that. And, at least where I'm from, it's still that way. Why?
posted by evanizer at 10:31 PM on March 21, 2002


Wow, krewson, looks like you hit the topic of the day with this one...

After reading through the comments I can't help but wonder if America's love affair with the car has something to do with the increase in obese children (and teens and adults). I mean, think about it--what if kids could actually walk to school instead of taking the bus? What if they could walk anywhere? Suburbia is not a pedestrian-friendly place, as anyone who's lived there will know. I'd be curious to see statistics on the percentage of obese people in suburbia vs. obese people in cities where walking is a viable option (I realize this doesn't apply to all cities). Does anyone have a clue where to find such numbers?

I sit in front of a computer all day and don't go in for sports, but living in a neighborhood of small shops and tree-lined streets with sidewalks makes walking a wonderful way to get exercise. I actually feel lucky that I don't need a car. Hope I didn't get too far off the topic here....
posted by gutenberg at 10:32 PM on March 21, 2002


Wow, krewson, looks like you hit the topic of the day with this one...

After reading through the comments I can't help but wonder if America's love affair with the car has something to do with the increase in obese children (and teens and adults). I mean, think about it--what if kids could actually walk to school instead of taking the bus? What if they could walk anywhere? Suburbia is not a pedestrian-friendly place, as anyone who's lived there will know. I'd be curious to see statistics on the percentage of obese people in suburbia vs. obese people in cities where walking is a viable option (I realize this doesn't apply to all cities). Does anyone have a clue where to find such numbers?

I sit in front of a computer all day and don't go in for sports, but living in a neighborhood of small shops and tree-lined streets with sidewalks makes walking a wonderful way to get exercise. I actually feel lucky that I don't need a car. Hope I didn't get too far off the topic here....
posted by gutenberg at 10:36 PM on March 21, 2002


fff, I agree with you, but this is pointless here. The blind eye looks inward as well. This is not a topic that can be discussed rationally as it impacts severely on esteem issues and will only be construed as a personal attack.

How is calling people "disgusting fat slobs" in any way part of discussing this topic "rationally"?!? There's nothing wrong with "construing that as a personal attack" -- it IS one. No need to worry about my self-esteem here, either -- I'm 6'4 and weigh less than 180 lbs., and, I assure you, I'm not taking Mr. Fish's words personally -- except as a member of this community. Any rational discussion fish might have had to offer was completely lost in his pointless invective.

If fish honestly wanted to contribute to this discussion, he would have stuck to points with merit.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:37 PM on March 21, 2002


Wow, krewson, looks like you hit the topic of the day with this one...

After reading through the comments I can't help but wonder if America's love affair with the car has something to do with the increase in obese children (and teens and adults). I mean, think about it--what if kids could actually walk to school instead of taking the bus? What if they could walk anywhere? Suburbia is not a pedestrian-friendly place, as anyone who's lived there will know. I'd be curious to see statistics on the percentage of obese people in suburbia vs. obese people in cities where walking is a viable option (I realize this doesn't apply to all cities). Does anyone have a clue where to find such numbers?

I sit in front of a computer all day and don't go in for sports, but living in a neighborhood of small shops and tree-lined streets with sidewalks makes walking a wonderful way to get exercise. I actually feel lucky that I don't need a car. Hope I didn't get too far off the topic here....
posted by gutenberg at 10:41 PM on March 21, 2002


sorry about the multiple postings...I'm not sure how that happened.
posted by gutenberg at 10:43 PM on March 21, 2002


though I do wonder why putting fruit in a large can turns it into junk food.

Fresher is always better -- but moreover, in those cans, it's almost always covered in either a heavy corn-based syrup (think Light Karo) or blended "fruit nectar" which people think is healthy but packs a major sugar (and caloric) wallop, much higher than a piece of fresh fruit on its own. So it's not the fruit, it's what's added to it.

I remember a teacher saying that school meals had to be high in calories because of the kids that received free meals.

While that may be true, it is possible to serve nutrient-rich, high fiber, low-fat meals with sufficient caloric content for growing kids, and that doesn't mean that they won't be enjoyable and good-tasting. All it takes is a little creativity, and a little effort. Schools may be surprised to find that it may also actually turn out to be cheaper than hockey puck burgers and cardboard pizza. Considering that there are staffers in every school district whose sole responsibility is planning meals, it shouldn't be hard to find people who are actually educated in doing so in a better way.

After reading through the comments I can't help but wonder if America's love affair with the car has something to do with the increase in obese children

Beyond the car, we must also consider the effect that bussing has had on students in that regard. Of all of the problems inherent in what was to be the panacea of integration through bussing, I don't know that anyone's ever discussed the impact on kids' fitness now that most of them are not getting in the twice-a-day strolls that were commonplace thirty years ago.
posted by Dreama at 11:36 PM on March 21, 2002


There were still quite a few school busses in operation thirty years ago, and there is still bussing even within the communiities that kids are integrated from.
posted by bingo at 12:00 AM on March 22, 2002


kids will exercise if given the time and a decent playground. Have you seen the playgrounds these days? All rinky-dink plastic and safety-coated - suitable for toddlers, maybe, but not bigger kids.

When I was in elementary school, we had some of the greatest playgrounds ever. Big huge wooden structures that we'd climb on, swings out the wazoo, bars, balance beams, a soccer field, and on and on. We even had a farm (!) at our school. I would gleefully shovel manure and do other menial muscle-building tasks, as would all my friends.

Luckily for me, I grew up in an apartment complex which also had, amazingly enough, a really cool playground and tons of other kids to play tag and kickball with.

It kinda bugs me that so many people suggest rigidly enforced exercise as a solution. Bleagh! Make good playgrounds, teach the kids some spiffy games (and let them evolve into cooler versions as the kids see fit), and maintain a low bully-factor, and the kids will love it.

I think we need some cool adult playgrounds, too. Someday, when I'm a gozillionaire... I'll open one. :)
posted by beth at 1:07 AM on March 22, 2002


aaron - "I hate Asian people. They look like freaks, and they scare me!!" An emotional reaction, and completely invalidated.

No, you haven't invalidated anything, just made clear how negative your emotional reaction is to his. You can't disprove somebody's feelings.

Dreama - My parents hated the untraditional no-classrooms layout of the public elementary school near me, and the only other one was so far away that I was outside of their bus routes, which means to get to it I had to walk from beyond the bus routes all the way in as they wouldn't even allow me to walk to and use one of the prescribed bus stops. And it had one of the fantastic wood and steel ArmBreaker 4000 playgrounds rightly lauded above. And I was a fat kid. I didn't get slim (6' 1", 170 pounds, down from ~310) until years after leaving college.


One thing about weight loss I've only heard one other person say (ever) that makes a lot of sense to me is that saying it's about willpower is pointless (not wrong, just pointless). It makes much more sense to think of it in terms of motivation.
posted by NortonDC at 4:07 AM on March 22, 2002


evan: We eat blubber during the winter to have the calories to stay warm. If we weren't dying of heart disease because of that, we'd be dying 'cause we'd be freezing to death.

I understand that there are people who are genetically predisposed toward being fat. They can not be blamed for their genetics.

Nonetheless, all overweight and obese people must accept personal responsibility for not making healthier lifestyle choices. There are exceptionally few people who are incapable of (a) eating a lower-fat/lower-calorie diet and (b) getting some exercise by walking every day.

People who are fat are choosing to create health problems that all of us pay for. But, you know, that doesn't upset me nearly as much as those parents who inflict a lifetime of obesity on their children by feeding them shit throughout their childhood, and letting them spend hours in front of the boob tube.

Our society no longer approves of smoking. The health dangers are well-recognized, and we now hold those who smoke in low(er) regard.

Yet obesity is more dangerous than smoking, and we've got this nicety-feely thang going on: "It's okay to be fat, you can't help it, it's not your fault, don't feel bad about yourself, you don't have to change, you're okay as you are."

That attitude is harming our society. We all need to wake up to the dangers of obesity and poor physical fitness, and begin to raise a generation of kids who are healthy.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:57 AM on March 22, 2002


obesity, why does it happen? do we know? what can we do about it? can you catch 'fatness'? some unusual side effects of a 'normal' diet can be observed.

'the news that a relative of the common cold virus might cause obesity may come as a relief. If the finding stands up-and the evidence is looking strong- it could make the thinnies of this world more understanding. After all, nobody stigmatises people who catch colds.'

i was brought up by a mother intensely aware of my diet. chocolates and other fatty things were not banned, but were also not everyday things. i hated it at the time, but must concur that this has left me without a 'sweet tooth', thus my diet as an adult is more easily balanced.

school meals are appalling, i agree. at the time we used to joke about the standard of the fare, but looking back, i must say that things need to be improved in that area. still, until 1999, the US Government Health guidelines did not accomodate for a non-meat-based diet. since then they have been changed to include 'meat-equivalent' portions of other foods, in an attempt to pacify the nutritionalists, as well as the (political donation making) meat industry. so, it is not at all suprising that the food in schools in shite, if this is the advice they are getting from the government.

i can see no argument against including diet, exercise, stretching and meditation education in the school curiculum, as all these things are proven to help most people get through life. being forced to partake in PE, and hating it myself, was not entirely detrimental to my later enjoyment of physical expression, and some of the facts about exercise i learned were remembered(!).
posted by asok at 10:37 AM on March 22, 2002


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