Before winter set in here in Melbourne, I picked up my daughter from creche.
The carer said, “She didn’t eat any lunch, but she ate all the afternoon tea, which was nachos.”
I was curious. “What was lunch?” I asked.
The carer sighed. “Salad,” she said. I gave her a wry look.
“Yes,” she said, interpreting my wry look correctly, “none of the two year olds eat their salad. But we have to serve food like that because of this emphasis on childhood obesity and healthy eating.”
I have long thought that the campaign against childhood obesity is a bit of a beat-up. It seems that new data published in The Australian today confirms this. At the least, it suggests that the picture is much more complex. Most of the statistical increase in childhood obesity is confined to children from low-income families. Certainly all the middle class mothers of my acquaintance are fastidious in the food that they give to their children. I felt rather guilty for a time because I was the only one not giving my child organic food in our mother’s group. I’m probably still one of the least fastidious in that I allow my daughter to talk me into Maccas from time to time. So shoot me! My daughter is certainly not fat. I suspect that she will be like her father and I: skinny and naturally muscular. Genetics plays a big part.
The thing that gives me the irrits about all of this is that the messages are very conflicting. On one page of the paper, you may read about the obesity epidemic, and on the next, you may read about the rise in anorexia suffered by young teens, or uber-skinny models being banned on the catwalk. Um, did no one see the conflict or irony in this? Also, I worry that some kids may be made really miserable at school because they are overweight. The article in The Australian seems to bear this out:
Jan Wright, director of the Child and Youth Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Wollongong, agreed the problem had been exaggerated and dramatised, and said prevention programs needed to focus on improving neighbourhoods with poor facilities, rather than blaming individuals.
“In one Victorian primary school, overweight children were singled out and told to do laps of the oval – which were known within the school as ‘fat laps’,” Professor Wright said.
I’ve had a few girlfriends who were teased for being “fat” in primary school who subsequently became either anorexic or bulemic. Now that I think about it, their mothers were larger women, and therefore they naturally took after their mothers. There is more than one perfect shape, for goodness sakes!
I have another group of girlfriends who were normal-sized in primary school, but when they hit puberty, their weight suddenly rose dramatically. One of my friends was bullied severely by a horrible sports teacher at her high school, and made to do “fat laps”, which still makes me so angry. As it turns out, all these girls had something in common: polycystic ovary syndrome. The symptoms include weight gain, irregular or few periods, hirsuitism (increased body hair), acne and infertility. People with PCOS have to work so hard to keep their weight under control, and some of my friends have to constantly exercise, eat a low carbohydrate diet and take medication. Even then, the weight does not always come off easily, or “yo-yos” up and down. I really hate it when people make stupid ill-informed judgements about these women. They assume that the women are fat because they are “lazy” or “eat a lot”, when in fact this is not the case. Assumptions that “if that person just exercised and ate healthily she’d be skinny” are deeply wrong and hurtful in the case of such women.
The other thing that worries me about this “obesity” campaign is that it suggests that there’s only one right body shape. There’s a lot of different body shapes, and genetics plays a big part in what we look like. Obviously, it’s not good for someone to be morbidly obese, but there’s lots of other shapes in between which are okay if you ask me.
Furthermore, obviously the body changes over time. I am certainly not the skinny girl I was at university. And let’s not even consider the changes which took place when I had my daughter. Geez, I hate this phenomenon of “yummy mummies”. These celebrities can only look like that through constant exercise and/or plastic surgery, in my opinion. And I’m sorry, I’m just not rich enough to be able to afford a personal trainer or a tummy tuck. Hence I have a bit of a “jelly tummy” (although obviously it’s nice and round at the moment because of the presence of Eaglet No. 2). I have enough trouble making sure I have clean underwear for work the next day without worrying about the presence of cellulite, or a slight “pooch”. Lucky that I didn’t throw out those saggy underpants with the weird elastic, hey?
Yes, it’s definitely good to exercise and to be healthy. It’s also good to feel good about yourself. But you can feel good about yourself without being a rake. And I think it’s really important that children not be persecuted or bullied for being overweight, when it may not be because they eat badly or do not exercise.
Check out this article (hat tip to John Hasenkam).