Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kids labeled as overweight are LESS likely to be physically active: implications for Let's Move

Here's a post from Kataphatic that is a great example of a point I make in my workshops all the time: Children who are labeled as overweight (regardless of BMI) are less likely to be physically active.

"I didn’t hate gym class until I was in fourth grade, when the gym teacher singled me and several other fat kids out for extra gym classes and an “exercise worksheet” that I had to do at home (sit ups, push ups, stuff like that). Oh the shame of having to hang that thing on the fridge, not only as a visible reminder to the whole family that I was a fatty fat fatty, but also to remind me every time that I wanted to eat anything out of the fridge that I was a fatty fat fatty (hello eating disorder!)."

This is but one example of how we are harming more than helping with our efforts to combat the "childhood obesity epidemic." It is one of many that I have heard. It's not a stretch to think that schools will be doing more of this.

One of the Obama's Let's Move summary recommendations states: Developers of local school wellness policies should be encouraged to include strong physical activity components on par with nutrition components. (Oh, and pediatricians and dentists should measure BMI and be sure to do obesity prevention at every opportunity... More labels anyone?)

Take this next quote into account as well from Jon Robison PhD in an article, "The Childhood obesity epidemic," what is the real problem and what can we do about it? about the very people who will likely be developing those "wellness" policies...

“In a recent study, teachers who were most likely to be involved in a childhood obesity prevention program demonstrated a low level of knowledge related to nutrition and weight control and a very high level of body dissatisfaction and self-reported eating disorders.“ He goes on that eighty-five percent of the teachers recommended very low calorie diets (one of the most discredited diet strategies of all with a greatest potential to harm) to adolescents- many of whom were also in their adolescent growth spurt.

Just saying. Kataphatic brings it home. Generalizing and funding a wide-scale repetition of her experience makes me want to scream (and home school.)

On another note, I still remember as part of the Presidential Fitness program (which Let's Move is trying to expand, expand, expand) I had my skin-fold measured which we were told measured body fat. Though I was crazy fit and swam and ran competitively, I had the highest measure. I still remember Mr. B announcing it and feeling embarrassed and confused. I can only imagine if I was bigger or was teased how that would have compounded things. The point is, it was a big deal. It is etched on my memory. (My friend and track rival had the lowest level, which was also a boasting point for her...) How pointless it all was, with such potential for harm.

What were your experiences in school around weight and physical activity? Did well-meaning interventions hurt you?


  1. Dentists, dentists! Now my dentist gets to label me or at least my children fat? For heaven's sake.

    Most of my gym teachers experiences were bad, except for one gym teacher who often praised me for how strong I was and how good I was at endurance sports. I know it made me feel good and made me try harder.

    This comment "teachers who were most likely to be involved in a childhood obesity prevention program demonstrated a low level of knowledge related to nutrition and weight control and a very high level of body dissatisfaction and self-reported eating disorders" reminds of the leader of a fat camp I went to when I was fourteen. When she was introducing herself, she said she was a marathon runner and wanted to be thin enough (she was already pretty thin) that her hip bones noticably stuck out and that her period stopped. Even then with my crazy disordered thinking, I knew that was wrong.

  2. When I was in 8th grade, my physical education teacher told me about how HE used to be fat like me as a kid and how he accomplished the wonderful feat of becoming thin by running. So I was pushed to run more, run faster, run harder. I didn't. When he pushed me to run, I ended up huffing and puffing and going slower. I could walk faster than I could run because I could stay at a speed constantly. I participated in the games, though. I was quite good at some of them.

    Later, he had us play a basketball game. He had me on the last court and he stood and watched me play. Behind him was the field, so there was no reason for him to be turned around because none of his class was on the field. I jumped to shoot a basket and rolled my ankle. I sat there crying with my classmates huddled around me, comforting me and calling for the teacher. He must have thought I was faking it, because he didn't call for a nurse and a wheel chair for at least 2 minutes. Fed up, I stood and started limping to the nurse's office (on what I'd later find out was a very sprained, nearly broken ankle) across campus without asking. I met the nurse about half way.

    He pushed me hard because I was a fatty. I KNOW he thought I was faking my injury. He told the principal that he was looking the other way, at another part of his class when it happened, even though, as I mentioned, there was nothing but field and none of his students behind him.

    So frustrating.

  3. I loved gym class at school because it was about moving, sweating, being outside, playing games with your friends, being part of a team, plus some harmless competition. It felt like recess! Then, in high school, it inexplicably turned into regular weigh-ins, food logs, and extremely questionable nutrition advice from a teacher with extremely questionable qualifications. Instead of playing team sports, we began to learn exercise routines aimed at "burning calories", "chiselling off fat", "toning" or "bulking up". In retrospect, this feels wrong on so many levels that I'm not surprised it put me off exercise for the following ten years!

  4. LexiDi and Ila, sounds like you were both subjected to the "experts" that I worry about that were described in the study. Now let's through a bunch of federal money at folks like your teachers and let them codify the abuse and misinformation. Sucks.

  5. They're expanding the Presidential Fitness Challenge? Oh God no.

    For foreign readers, the Presidential Fitness Challenge began as a [i]voluntary[/i] program in which athletic kids [i]who chose to do so[/i] could measure themselves against a given standard. Then public schools all over the USA made it mandatory. So kids who could not do a pull-up, climb a rope, or jump over anything on their best day were forced to fail at all of them in front of an audience of their entire class with the timer running and the knowledge that the whole country thought that they were failures. And because the program had been designed for kids who were already athletic, there was no way to improve your performance. You suck, kid. See you next year, when you'll suck again.

    I understand that this was very bad for the previous poster, but for me, I would have appreciated homework in gym class--if it was presented as, "If you do this graduated program at home and have your mom check off that you did it, next year's Presidential Fitness Challenge won't be so horrible." All I was ever told--as I puffed around the track with a pounding headache and the taste of blood in my mouth, which I reported, and I just got a blank look--was, "You need to be more active." Yes. Fine. HOW?

    Man, I've been out of public school for more than half of my life, and this issue can still trigger a rant. A pox on the Presidential Fitness Challenge and all who sail in her.

  6. P.E. class at school taught me that I was bad at sports, but really I wasn't. It's true I couldn't run faster or jump higher than the other kids (or even get my chin up to the pull-up bar!) but I wasn't patently bad at sports.

    I realized later in life that I don't like *competitive* sports. I found non-competitive sports like jogging and yoga and I realized I enjoy exercising if I don't have to compare myself to the person next to me, who was inevitably faster, stronger, higher.