On Childhood Obesity and Healthy Kids

Published April 14, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

There’s a lot of talk these days on “childhood obesity” and what we need to be doing about it as a culture.  It’s getting some very high profile names and faces attached to it, and appearing regularly in mainstream media.  In the US, first lady Michelle Obama has taken up the “cause”.  As has Jamie Oliver again, after his campaign in the UK, he’s headed over to the US to teach folks over there a lesson.  Even here in Australia, names like Mia Freedman are weighing in (ok, yes, I did intend that pun, shut up) on the subject.

In my opinion, there’s are two very vital points these famous folk are missing.

Firstly, by demonising obesity in children, they are creating a “class” of children to be bullied, ridiculed, harassed and discriminated against.

Secondly, by focusing on fat kids, they’re totally ignoring the rest of the kids out there who are eating just as shitty food and living sedentary lives but are normal or thin bodied.

There is an assumption oft made about the fat acceptance movement that we are against healthy eating and exercise.  This is not true.  Many of us are against dieting and weight loss, but this does not mean that we are suggesting that healthy living is a bad thing.  We believe that diet and weight loss ARE NOT conducive to healthy living.

As an adult who was not a fat child, but became a fat teenager, I can remember a lot of the messages I got both in my childhood before I really did become fat, and as a teenager when I was.

In primary school (let’s call it BF – before fat), I was never very good at speed or agility when it came to sports.  When we had things like races or anything that required me to move quickly and deftly, I was always at the back of the pack.  However, in life BF, and AF (after fat) as well, I have always had strength and endurance that far outstrips my peers, and in many cases, a lot of men.

In primary school, I can remember at the beginning of every physical education class, we were told to do a lap of the oval.  The kids that came first, were always picked for teams by the teacher, or asked to “demonstrate how things are done”.  Those of us who didn’t do so well, or in my case, came last, were ignored, or told “You will have to do better if you don’t want to be fat.”

I can remember trying and trying to be faster, be more agile and athletic, but for some reason I just couldn’t do it.  So consequently I missed out on being on sports teams and was usually told to run more laps, or do some other kind of boring, repetitive activity, while the other kids “played games” on teams of soccer, softball, volleyball, cricket, you name it.

The irony is, in later years when I had a go at things myself, I found that I have a soccer kick like a cannon, can spike a volleyball with force and deadly accuracy, and am able to hit a ball with such force that I can break it.  Yes, I can split a golf ball with a single hit, the same for a tennis ball.  My mother has the same force when it comes to playing golf, I’ve seen her hit off the men’s tee and send a ball considerably farther than any of the men can.

As a child I also loved riding my bike, and could do so for hours, yet couldn’t win a race on the damn thing, and from about 12, discovered that I had a slow but powerful and enduring swimming stroke that I could plough away at for hours.

Yet I was never given the opportunity to exhibit these in PE classes as a child.  Instead I was shamed and told that I was slow and lazy.

I also got the same messages at home.  I remember being told by my parents that I was lazy and that I had “lead in my arse” because I was slow.  I can remember being told that I was fat from a very early age (kindergarten is the first I can consciously remember) when I now know that I was a normal size and shape kid.  I have blogged on this before.

Then of course, puberty hit and so did the fat.  So I went from slow and poor agility to fat with slow and poor agility.  PE classes in late primary school and then high school included lessons on losing weight, nutrition lessons, in which I and other fat kids were made examples of when talking about “bad” food choices and aerobics classes (it was the 80’s remember) for any kids that were considered fat because they needed the extra “help.  Of course, that meant I was ridiculed, bullied and humiliated by the other kids because I was a Fatty McFattersons and they weren’t.

So you can see why it didn’t take me long to shun PE classes, can’t you?

However, I also remember kids who were not fat coming to school with copious amounts of tuckshop money, buying chips, ice-creams, pies, pizza, lollies and soft drinks and digging in happily.  We rarely got tuckshop because we were always broke, and almost all of my high school life I just didn’t eat lunch.  Nobody rode those kids who weren’t fat to diet and exercise did they?  Nope, they were just left to their own devices.

What happened is it created two unhealthy groups.  Those kids who were fat, learned to obsess about food and weight, many developed eating disorders and distorted views of their bodies, and had their self esteem and confidence trampled into the ground.  Those kids who were not fat, were taught that it’s ok to eat crap and sit around so long as you’re thin.  They were not taught healthy eating and movement, and were abusing their bodies through the neglect they had been taught was acceptable, so long as they were thin.  Many of those became fat at a later date, or are still living sedentary, poor nutrition lifestyles that are making them sick.

Instead of focusing on “childhood obesity” how about we focus on positive health for all kids.

Teach them that their bodies will tell them when they are truly hungry and about good natural foods and how to prepare and cook them deliciously (this is one part of Jamie Oliver’s campaign that I actually think is bang on).

Encourage them to be active in whatever activity they enjoy.  I recently read about a school that has a “play before you eat” policy for lunch times, where the kids go out and play for half an hour, in any way they like, in the school playground, before they have their lunch.  This helps them build up an appetite so that they actually eat their lunch and burns off some of the energy stored up from sitting around in a classroom all morning, while also getting them active.  Work towards their strengths – if they’re fast and high energy, get them out there burning that off.  If they’re strong and have endurance, encourage that instead.

But most of all, we need to get rid of the arbitrary judgement of kid’s health and abilities based on the size, shape and weight of their bodies.

19 comments on “On Childhood Obesity and Healthy Kids

  • I was one of those skinny kids who spent their lunch money on crisps and chocolate in the tuckshop (in high school, anyway) so I understand what you’re saying here, from the other side of the fence. Of course, I was still bullied, but that was for completely different reasons (although that didn’t stop the bullies bringing my weight into it). Ironically enough, I was also crap at sport.

    I’m just lucky I had parents who instilled in me the values of healthy eating, which finally won the day in my twenties. I’m still the same weight now, never changed, but I feel so much better. I definitely agree that healthy diet and weight can have little correllation.

    • My brother was that kid too. Nobody ever looked twice at what he was eating, because he was thin. It’s only that we couldn’t afford it that he didn’t live off a diet of chocolate, pies and chips. So it taught us a lot of bad lessons about health – that it was ok to eat junk and sit around, so long as you were thin.

  • This is another good and thought provoking post from you. Something you said on another blog, about being targetted as a child for being fat, before you were, really struck me as it’s to some extent, my experience and that of other fat people, as children.

    Leaving aside healthy eating and so forth, I wonder if you can perceive the weird disjointedness of all the underlying ideology of what fat is. If that makes sense. What I’m trying to get at is, don’t you think it’s weird that people don’t seem to care- in the same way- what slim children eat?

    Doesn’t this suggest that they don’t really believe in healthy eating per se, but are using that, to… well to do what exactly?

    It’s all rather odd to me. There’s something ritualistic about the way people are “fingered” for being fat and everyone seems to collude in cornering their quarry in a trap that means if they have any capacity to be fat, it will out.

    I’m sorry, I don’t know if I’m making any sense to anyone, but I’m going to step back from this and try and figure out what is really going on here.

    Because none of it adds up to what we are told it does.

    • I do get what you mean, and I think we need to talk about it more amongst the fatosphere.

      The “war on obesity” is not a war on bad health. If it were, then all body shapes and sizes would be getting the message that they need to eat healthy and exercise. It’s a war on fat people. Only fat people have attention paid to their diet and exercise.

  • Wriggles –

    I think you may have something there….especially about the people being “fingered.”

    I have possession of the baby book that my mother kept on me. I was a BABY and my mother wrote in it how much I liked to eat and how fat I was. So, I believe it started there for me and carried on throughout my entire life.

    When I was a child, the focus of everyone in my home and at all the family gatherings was always what I was eating – none of the other kids (my siblings or cousins) were fat. I was sneaking food at a very young age because I wasn’t “allowed” to have the things the other kids were having – cookies, chips, ice cream, etc. – and a big spectacle was always made of anything I put in my mouth. This was done in a loud and embarassing way quite consistently.

    I don’t believe I ever stood a chance to be a normal-sized person. Mainly because I was “fingered” as the fat one when I was a baby and there was just so much disfunction in how I was treated that it’s just carried on from there – all the way into my later 40’s now.

    I was just listening to a song about a group of people that would meet on a dock and go swimming in the lake and just have a relaxed day and it made me sad. I have never, ever in my whole life attended anything or went anywhere where I have truly been able to relax and enjoy the people and events around me. It’s always about the food. I hate that!!! I just want to be able to enjoy my life, not worry about what the hell I will or will not put into my mouth.

    As for kids, people PLEASE don’t single your kid out and embarass them because you think it will prevent them from gaining weight. You have no idea how much damage you are causing to their psyche. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir – please forward this information on to anyone who is trying to “help” their child not be a fattie!

    Keep on keepin’ on everyone. We will get there eventually!

    • That is so true La. It’s the one consistant message I keep getting from fat adults – being ridiculed, shamed, constantly monitored and harrassed as a child about food, weight and exercise completely and utterly failed in making them thin.

      Why aren’t we learning from this? Why are we still expected to do this to future generations of children?

  • I strongly identify with you childhood PE experience. I too was hopelessly unathletic and slow and subsequently grew up believing that I just “couldn’t do that stuff”. As an adult I discovered, like you, an unexpected capacity for strength and endurance. I run slow, but far, and while I can never keep up with the speed of the instructers in my exercise videos, this amazing power and strength comes out of me when I slow down and move how my body wants to. Great post… all people (adults and children) should be allowed to move their bodies in the way that is right for them without being questioned or sidelined… And my really skinny husband is actually a little bit scared to arm wrestle me. Haha.

    • Totally agree with you. Activity is good, but it doesn’t have to be fast, athletic activity. Sometimes a slow burn is far more effective than a fast one.

  • This is a good post, except that I don’t believe in demonizing food, classifying foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Believe me, I know & have known plenty of people who lived long lives & didn’t have a lot of serious health problems who ate plenty of the foods you are calling ‘shit foods’ & it is also possible to see vegetarian health nut runners who sometimes drop dead in their 30’s or 40’s, often WHILE exercising. I have also been very active, even though I have cerebral palsy, & I eat a variety of foods, yes, from all the food groups, & sometimes I also eat cookies, candy, chips, soda, etc. I just think of them as food &, ironically enough, because I tend to keep such things, chocolate in particular, around most of the time, I DON’T binge on them. I am, btw, fat & past 60, & have been healthier & spent less time with doctors & hospitals than the majority of people I know, fat OR thin.

    As for children, I believe in teaching them that they are all beautiful & worthy, always good enough, that their bodies belong to them, & that they own their bodies & have the right to determine how they live in them. And I believe that we all should be allowed & encouraged to eat what we want, when we want, as much or little as we wish, without any damn RULES or guilt or shaming about food consumption. I certainly do not believe that it is the job of any politicians, celebrities, & particularly NOT the job of half-assed tv chefs to tell us how we should be eating or feeding our kids.

    I wish that we lived in a world which celebrated the beauty & unique worth of each person & which also believed that people should mind their own damn business. This whole ‘nannying’ attitude which is so prevalent drives me up a damn wall! Contrary to what seems to be popular belief these days, we do not need others to tell us how to live, nor is anyone ordained with special qualifications giving him or her the right to dictate to others. And I do fear for the children; as a disabled kid with abusive alcoholic parents, I survived a hellish childhood, but being a kid is overall much harder now than when I was young.

    • This is one thing I don’t really agree on with most fat acceptance bloggers. While I agree that food doesn’t have any moral value, not good or bad per se, I do believe in “shitty” food and “healthy” food. It all boils down to it’s nutritional value and how it makes you feel in the long run.

      Shitty food is cheap, highly processed, has a lot of added chemicals and has little real nutritional value and yes, is damn tasty.

      Healthy food is as close to it’s natural state as possible. A raw potato out of the ground is far healthier than factory made, processed french fries. Of course, many people learn that healthy = diet and I don’t agree with this. Sugar and fat are both natural foods, it’s just when we start processing them and adding a bunch of chemicals that they become junk.

      Unfortunately, because of the idea that health = diet, many people believe that “healthy” food has to taste like crap and have no sugar or fat, or carbohydrates.

      It drives me nuts seeing diet pundits labelling potatoes or bananas or any other food in it’s close to natural state as bad or unhealthy.

      Again, I don’t believe that there is any moral value to eating shitty food – it’s tasty, usually cheap and usually makes you feel good when you eat it. I eat it myself and enjoy it.

      However if we’re talking about teaching kids healthy eating habits, being realistic about the low nutritional value and high additive and processing is a fantastic place to start.

  • This is a GREAT post and you have forever changed the way i approach things. Most of what you have written I can find a reason to disagree. On
    my site
    , while I preach moderation in most things and NOT dieting… As a fitness professional there are some things that I know will help both the thin and out of shape as well as those that are overweight.

    However, I do believe that you hit the nail on the head on this point. We need to be very careful how we approach the subject. The last thing we want to do is to cause a child to be labeled as Fat, Lazy, etc. Encouraging change without being discouraging is vital!

    Thanks. I’m glad I happened upon your site.

    • I’m glad I can strike a chord with you.

      Though I’m not sure why you had to state that “Most of what you have written I can find a reason to disagree.” as though it disqualifies what I have to say. Please remember to read my rules for commenting, they can be found on the left side of the blog page.

      • No offense meant at all! Actually looking back over what i wrote it shouldn’t have been “most” of what you said at all. I do believe that with (in the US anyway) 20% of the kids under the age of 18 being over weight and the fact that we are possibly facing the first generation over here that may die before their parents. childhood obesity is enough to cause alarm.

        We spend way too much time in front of TV and not nearly enough getting some sort of activity. And while we may not want to face it. there ARE some healthy ranges that things like body fat, blood pressure and insulin that if not kept in check are causing the American people to die.

        What you have said is great. to clarify my point I just meant that as a health and fitness professional in a troubled nation… We must look at things slightly differently, while keeping your points in mind.

        Thanks again.

        Coach Scott

  • I vehemently disagree with you that we’re facing the first generation that may die before their parents. This is scare tactics and is the assumption that fat = unhealthy.

    You cannot assume other people spend way too much time in front of the television and that this is how they’re becoming fat. You’re assuming that fat people are lazy and eat too much, which shows you’ve clearly not read any of what I’ve said about my own lifestyle (which is active and I eat well – yet I am still classed as “morbidly obese”) if you’re still pushing the “fat = unhealthy” agenda.

    This is not the forum to do so. This is a fat acceptance space and I will not allow anyone to bring that agenda to this blog.

    I also find it offensive that you imply that fat acceptance advocates are in denial with your “while we may not want to face it” statement.

    What you imply is that in choosing to not be concerned about weight loss and body size, that we are not making an intelligent, informed choice.

    This is the last time I will ask you to please read the commenting rules and adhere to them. Again, this is a fat acceptance space and anything that is not fat acceptance will be removed and blocked from this point.

  • “What happened is it created two unhealthy groups. Those kids who were fat, learned to obsess about food and weight, many developed eating disorders and distorted views of their bodies, and had their self esteem and confidence trampled into the ground. Those kids who were not fat, were taught that it’s ok to eat crap and sit around so long as you’re thin. ”

    This is so true. There are something wrong with our society today.

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