Should weight be the focus when we’re trying to improve health in our children? Take a closer look at its implications.
There is so much concern over children’s weight in this country. Our government and the CDC are constantly sharing how obesity numbers for children has risen over the years, and that children with obesity suffer from a variety of problems such as low self esteem, bullying and increased risk for chronic health conditions. Schools these days are inundated with various health and wellness programs and policies, all aimed at fixing the obesity epidemic.
There have even been reports on school-based interventions where it is required to send kids home with body mass index (BMI) report cards that emphasize the dangers of carrying excess weight. Often times, parents are doubting the validity of these report cards — more than half of parents who got a report card did not believe it accurately categorized their child as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.
These parents are on to something — not only are these anti-obesity campaigns ineffective, they may be dangerous.
Body mass index is an extremely unreliable measuring tool, and is an archaic system. Developed in the 1800’s by a Belgian scientist, it was used for assessing the collective weight of a population — not for assessing the health of an individual. BMI only takes into account weight and height, and does not include all the different body parts that influence weight, such as muscle or water retention. When BMI is applied to children, it’s equally as unreliable. BMI ranges for overweight and obese kids were randomly assigned based on what kids weighed years ago, without considering any current health data such as blood pressure, lipid levels, blood sugar, or physical activity level.
The last thing kids need in today’s thin-obsessed world is more body shame.
Yet, schools are sending children home with report cards on how “good” or “bad” the child is doing in regards to their weight and body size. Can you imagine the damage this could do to a young child? The heavy kids will likely be put on a restrictive diet and exercise regimens, possibly setting them up for a lifetime of diet cycling and possibly an eating disorder. Thin kids, who may have similar eating or inactivity habits, are ignored because their weight is considered in the “healthy” range.
Many children already deal with self esteem issues. Pile on elements of body dissatisfaction, and they are vulnerable to walking a dangerous road to disordered eating or an eating disorder. In fact, a study once found that over 80% of 10 year olds are afraid of being ‘fat’, and over 50% of teenage girls engage in dangerous dieting behaviors. By categorizing children as “obese” or “normal” exposes them to fear-mongering early on, it increases their chance of an unhealthy relationship with their body and food. It preoccupies their mind that ‘fat’ is a problem, when in reality, it’s our habits and intentions that have a far greater impact on health than weight does.
What kind of message are we sending our children, when they are still learning to understand the world around them?
Our goal shouldn’t be about creating thinner children — it should be to create healthier children. We can encourage healthy behaviors for what they are by putting the focus back on creating healthy bodies and minds, not fighting obesity. Rather, let’s focus on showing children how good it feels to nourish their bodies with a wide range of foods and find movement that they enjoy, no matter what size they are. Let’s teach our children the importance of body diversity: that humans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and are all deserving of love and respect.
Let’s promote sustainable health habits that give them confidence as they grow into their own.
Adapted from the original article.
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Emily Weeks, RDN, LD is a nationally-recognized nutrition and culinary expert based in Fort Worth, TX. Emily believes the path to a nourished, happy life is to develop a healthy relationship with food, our minds and our bodies. She focuses on helping others achieve a life of balance and harmony through mindfulness and nourished bodies. Read more from Emily at Zen and Spice.