I have become increasingly concerned about some efforts to address childhood obesity and ADA's participation in those efforts. This paragraph in the March 15th On the Pulse has prompted me to put my thoughts into a cohesive form.
The House and Senate are considering resolutions that would recognize September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. ADA is working with Congressional leaders on passing these resolutions and on how ADA members can participate in Childhood Obesity Awareness Month activities.
Based on a growing body of evidence, I am seriously concerned that "obesity awareness" may have unintended consequences. If we look at such an event from the perspective of an overweight young person -- the individual it is designed to help -- it may cause significant harm. This Monday's New York Times featured a very thoughtful essay on For Obese People, Prejudice in Plain Sight (www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/
Dr. Bacon tells the story of an overweight teenage girl whose high school was going through a “wellness campaign.” Hallways were plastered with posters saying “Prevent teenage obesity.” After the posters went up, the girl said, schoolmates began taunting her in the halls, pointing at the obese girl on the posters and saying, “Look at the fat chick.”
She said heavier students were now made to feel guilty about their lunch choices, but the thin ones could eat anything they wanted without comment — even if it was exactly what the fat kids were eating.
“Stigmatization gives the thinner kids permission to think there’s something wrong with the larger kids,” Dr. Bacon, the nutrition researcher, said. “And it doesn’t help them look at their own health habits. There’s got to be a way to do this more respectfully and more effectively.”
I am absolutely in favor of programs to encourage delicious Nutrition from the Ground Up and fun ways to make Let's Move be part of every family's weekend plans. However, I strongly believe that any efforts to address childhood obesity should not cause more problems, especially for young people who already vulnerable from being teased or bullied.
My voice is just one of many who are concerned about the current course of action. Before you make any childhood obesity awareness plans, please watch this profound video (featuring young actors) made by the Rudd Center at Yale: www.youtube.com/watch?v=92rWQ-
Pasted below is an essay that Dr. Rebecca Puhl from the Rudd Center (who spoke at FNCE in 2009) posted last month on Medscape directly addressing the connection between weight and school performance. Please read it: The study she discusses and her conclusions may surprise you.
For me, the goal will remain what can we do to help young people of all weights, shapes, and sizes to be healthier, happier, and perform better academically? With all our expertise as the American Dietetic Association and as a profession, I know that we can find many ways to do this respectfully and effectively. ADAF's RD Coach program and the Healthy Schools Partnership are an excellent example of an effective, health-centered model.
Let's celebrate positive actions for all young people and their families this September. Personally, I could really get behind Kid's Eat Smart Month (perfect for back to school) or Family Food, Fun, and Fitness Month (lining up with Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children on September 27th).
Thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully consider these issues. Please feel free to contact me about them at any point. You may share this letter with anyone. I plan to share it widely with other ADA members, colleagues in school nutrition, and my Congressional representatives in urging them to vote NO on childhood obesity awareness month. Childhood obesity is much more than a current political buzz phrase; it involves the the emotional well-being, the physical health, and even the educational futures of millions of American children.
Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
Rebecca Puhl, Feb 11, 2010
As more of these studies appeared in journals, I became increasingly concerned about the potential take-home message that obese youth are cognitively inferior to normal weight youth. The stigma stemming from such findings could be considerable, and would be yet another harmful outcome in addition to the emotional and social consequences that obese children already face as a result of stigma.
My hope is that more studies like this will continue to surface, and that we can increase awareness among educators, health providers, and policy-makers that weight-based teasing and victimization is a widespread problem facing today's overweight youth, and that is has real consequences for their emotional well-being, their physical health, and even their educational futures.
1. Krukowski RA, Smith West D, Philyaw Perez Z, Bursac Z, Phillips MM, RAczynski JM. Overweight children, weight-based teasing and academic performance. Int J Pediatr Obes. 2009; 4(4): 274-280.
2. Puhl R, Latner J. Obesity, Stigma, and the Health of the Nation's Children. Psychological Bulletin, 2007; 133(4) 557-580.