Hysteria over obesity

By Legal Eagle

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.

/rant over


Check out this article (hat tip to John Hasenkam).


  1. Posted June 1, 2008 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    “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’d be interested to know who gave the advice to their cook. It’s well known even among people who want to eat healthily that young children of creche age need quite a lot of fats in their diet. Whole milk and butter and olive oil and such, of course, not palm oil/trans fats. They love to eat bits of cut up cucumber, carrot, cherry tomato etc, which can sit alongside the fatty cheese and things, but a salad? you mean something they have to eat with a fork? Oy.

  2. Posted June 1, 2008 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Oh, and full fat yoguhrt too. Don’t get me started about that nasty sugary gelatinous “low fat” rubbish!

  3. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 1, 2008 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    As someone who reads a lot of health news let me offers a few tips:

    Most health reporting is parlous and misleading. That our political leaders have chosen to read newspapers rather than actually look at the relevant data is very worrying.

    Biomedical scientists often express concerns about the way health news is reported and with good reason. People read that substance A found food B is good at preventing cancer and rush out to buy B. Silly, it is rarely that linear and typically much more complicated.

    This report about obesity is a good example of how statistical analyses can be so easily misinterpreted. We were led to believe that obesity is rising across the board.

    The obesity madness began in the USA and many doctors doing obesity related research were also working at obesity clinics. The implication is obvious.


    Legal Eagle:

    Studies indicate that women who undergo plastic surgery have much higher rates of suicide and psychological\psychiatric issues. The difference is if a woman chooses plastic surgery not so much for general living but in order to maintain a career, I expect such individuals don’t fall into this category.

    If looking good = feeling good would someone please explain to me why so many glamour guys and gals end up in rehab or spend years in therapy or are always complaining about how bad their life is … . An important component of being happy is not being preoccupied with the opinions of others. Plastic surgery can be, not always but can be, a strategy that reflects too much preoccupation with the opinions of others.

  4. Posted June 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    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.

    Absolutely – and even when children are ‘overweight’ because of their diets or their exercise levels, persecution and bullying is probably not a good idea then either!

  5. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted June 2, 2008 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    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 prefer the term “buddha belly” myself. 🙂

  6. Apple77
    Posted June 3, 2008 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Good post – I have worried for a while that all the panic over how too many children are fat is going to create a generation of eating disordered teenagers. Honestly? Being fat is not the worst thing in the world to be.

  7. Apple77
    Posted June 3, 2008 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    Also, I just wanted to add that I only discovered your blog tonight, and I love it. As a law student myself I actually find it… inspiring? That sounds like I’m sucking up. Anyway, I’ll be a regular visitor from now on.

  8. Posted June 3, 2008 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    Pleased you enjoy, and we’ll try to keep it up.

  9. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 3, 2008 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Some years ago I read a very good text on this obesity business. The Obesity Myth. By a lawyer! Paul Campos. Completely changed my perspective on the issue.


2 Trackbacks

  1. […] become obese. Long time readers of the blog will know that I’ve never had much time for the obesity beat up. As far as I’m concerned, moderation in all things is the order of the day. I don’t […]

  2. By skepticlawyer » The weight of the law on June 20, 2010 at 7:50 am

    […] shouldn’t legislate against, and I think this is one of them. I’m just not a fan of the beat up over obesity. There are many different body sizes and shapes. I know some people who are naturally plump but […]

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