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Thin Cover —

January 30, 2012

Originally published on Fierce, Freethinking Fatties by Atchka!

Friday I explained why I am willing to accept the assistance of anyone who wants to help us tear down the billboards in Georgia, whether in the form of comments from fat-shaming Alton Brown or the theoretical support of MeMe Roth.

And the fact is that people from all sides of the obesity issue are galvanized in opposition to a public “health” campaign that shames and stigmatizes fat children. The question remains who, aside from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is still defending these ads as acceptable?

This past weekend I received the disturbing answer to that question.On Friday, I received a request from Leah Segedie of Mamavation to help respond to Strong4Life supporters on Twitter. Since I firmly believe that refuting bigots and maxim-chucking fat haters is a great educational tool, I decided to take a look and was taken aback by the person who seemed to be giving Leah the greatest pushback.

I am erasing the name of this Manic Tweeter to minimize the flaming she truly deserves, primarily since after the onslaught of tweets I received this weekend (you can see the entire stream here), I’m starting to think there may be something seriously wrong with this woman.

So, basically, Manic Tweeter says that these ads are giving a voice to obese children since the parents of obese children are in denial and refuse to listen to their kids. And since the Fat Children of Georgia hired Strong4Life to send a message to their parents, then whatever Strong4Life, as the voice of the Fat Children of Georgia, decides to say is fully justified since 75% of Georgia’s parents “do NOT recognize the problem and their role in it.” Furthermore, fat kids expressing how they feel about themselves should not produce guilt, and the stark messages are necessary since kids don’t control their food supply.

Have I summarized this first series of claims okay?

Great.

Now, let’s talk about height. Short boys and tall girls experience their own fair share of bullying, and both groups frequently express self-loathing for the physical attribute for which they are stigmatized. Being picked on day in and day out for being too tall or too short takes its toll on a child’s self-worth, and that insecurity worms its way into the child’s identity so that when they speak of their own physical appearance, they mimic what they have been told.

Now imagine if there were national campaigns that reinforced the belief that being too tall or too short was unhealthy, unattractive, and unacceptable. This cultural environment only contributes further to the self-loathing of the tall girl or the short boy.

Now imagine that we ask that tall girl or that short boy to describe their own bodies, their own feelings, their own sense of self-worth. Will their words be positive or negative? Proud or ashamed? Healthy or self-destructive?

For those kids who take in those messages, yet retain their feelings of self-worth, they may very will express a positive outlook on their own bodies, while a greater number will express those internalized feelings… feelings that strangers and bullies and, sometimes even, parents drummed into the tall girl or the short boy.

Finally, imagine that only the words of the children with low self-esteem were chosen to represent the internal emotions of ALL the tall girls and short boys in Georgia. What message does that send to that fortunate group of kids with resilient self-esteems and strong feelings of self-worth? It tells them, “Feel good about yourself? Well, this is how you should really feel.”

Posting the self-loathing comments of fat kids on billboards is not therapeutic. It is manipulation and exploitation. Presenting the words of a stigmatized group as if they are statements of fact that justify Strong4Life’s campaign is preposterous.

It would be as though someone took the experiment which found that black children prefer white dolls and decided that used this research to justify the elimination of all black dolls, since black kids find them inferior. To use a stigmatized group’s natural response to stigma and turn it around as if to say, “HA! Even you admit you’re inferior!” is truly disturbing, but not surprising.

So, no, publicizing the internalized stigma of children is not therapeutic, it is highly manipulative and dangerous to the self-esteem of all kids who feel fat in Georgia, which includes those who aren’t actually fat, but have a distorted body image.

As far as the claims that the children of obese parents don’t care/ignore the issue/are in denial, this has to be the most degrading comment this person has made. The only “evidence” that this is true (the 75% claim) comes from a study funded and reported on by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. As I mentioned on January 9, this study has not been published, nor has CHOA provided the details of the study itself.

It has now been 19 days since CHOA finally responded to my requests for a copy of the research when they said “research bkgrd is being collected.” Meanwhile, ignorant bigots are citing this number as though God descended from the Heavens to deliver this statistic.

Of course, this won’t matter to this, or any other, person who thinks shaming and stigmatizing fat children is an acceptable tool in the fight against childhood obesity. In the War on Fat, any harm done to a child’s psychological health is necessary collateral damage.

And what these bigots refuse to respond to is the broadly-accepted research that definitively outlines the harms caused by stigmatization, which includes a worsening of the very metabolic disorders they claim to be fighting against. Or how about the explosion of eating disorders, which are pose a greater threat to a child’s health than obesity. While the fear is that obese kids become obese adults, at which point they will reap the consequences of their weight, children who suffer from anorexia are in very real danger of dying now as a child, rather than later as an adult.

Which brings me to the claim that stark messages are necessary because children don’t control their food environment. So, if a child is fat because their parents’ have fostered an unhealthy food environment, then why target fat kids with ads that tell them they will die before their parents?

When I asked Manic Tweeter that very question, this is the response I got:

Ah, yes, I had forgotten that children are forbidden from entering downtown Atlanta during rush hour and that after rush hour, the billboard company covers the entire thing with a drop cloth.

Seriously? I’ve been cracking wise about “magic sunglasses” that allow parents to read the billboards, but not the kids, and Manic Tweeter actually owns a fucking pair.

Ah, yes, because Manic Tweeter’s children don’t read billboards, then no fat child will ever see them. Children are far too busy with their iPods and their comic books and their Britney Spears’ to see what’s going on outside the car.

I believe this is the point in our back-and-forth that I decided that this person has lost her grip on reality in her zealous fight against obesity. And that zealotry, mind you, is based on facts. Cold, hard facts.

You can find a compilation of those tweets here, but I’ll list them out with the actual links and describe the contents:

  • LA Times article titled Fat American Children: Many Causes, a Lifetime of Effects — The article is about a study that shows how poverty, race and the state you live in can contribute to obesity (aka the social determinants of health, which I covered in great detail here). Basically, this article explains how the circumstances you are born into, rather than the nefarious intentions of bad parenting, affect a child’s health and weight.
  • Fitness Programs For Kids — An article on incorporating more physical fitness into your child’s life.
  • Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: Baby Fat Can’t Be Blamed for Obesity — A story about research that found that a baby’s weight does not determine adult weight. “The basic fact is this:  bigger babies do not automatically result in the outcome of obese adults, like some people may have you believe.” The author then goes on to suggest that education, not birth weight, is responsible for the obesity epidemic, a claim the Tweeter was originally linking to.
  • 6 Naturally Sweet Treats — A Parenting magazine article about replacing sweet treats with fruit. Wait, fruit is healthier than ten pounds of chocolate? Gee, thanks for enlightening me, Manic Tweeter!
  • 2011 Florida Statutes: 381.0054 Healthy lifestyles promotion — Legislation to promote healthy lifestyles. How legislative action equals “fact” is beyond me.
  • The CDC’s Obesity and Overweight page — So by simply referring me to the CDC’s page on obesity and overweight, this somehow proves that using shame and stigma on fat children is acceptable. That’s like a global warming skeptic saying, “Refute these facts!” and linking to Climate Skeptic. The CDC is not the Pope, they aren’t infallible, as demonstrated by their complete botching of the mortality statistics on obesity. Now, if you want to present me with a specific claim of the CDC, I’ll be happy to comment on it, but simply linking to an anti-obesity site doesn’t really do anything for me.
  • CHOA’s Childhood Obesity Panic page — More “facts” that prove we have to treat fat kids like shit to save them. But let’s just assume you wanted me to see how fat children get horrible diseases. Fair enough, I’ve already responded to that claim in this post, where I explained how although childhood obesity is correlated with some diseases, the actual incidence of those diseases is quite low. But regardless of disease rates, those of us who are against Strong4Life are not against treating diseases or improving the health of children, but we’ll get to that. What we are against is singling out one group and shaming them ALL for the diseases they may or may not get.
  • Stop Making Excuses and Teach Your Children How to be Healthy — This “fact” is brought to us by some irrational butthole who thinks “Maggie Goes on a Diet” is perfectly acceptable and said, “The thought of my children growing up as one of the ‘fat’ kids is absolutely horrifying to me.” I’m sorry, but the person who wrote this post has some serious issues that preclude any rational person from taking health advice from her. But even setting that aside, IT’S HER FUCKING OPINION, not a statement of fact. Linking to your eating disordered pal as proof that Strong4Life is justified does not fly. Sorry.
  • MTV’s True Life: I’m Obese — I’m sorry, but how difficult is it to have a casting call for self-loathing fat kids? This proves nothing except that MTV once had a TV show with self-loathing fat kids. Wow, stunning fact.
  • Overweight kids experience more loneliness, anxiety, MU study finds — Aside from this coming from my alma mater, MU, what is this supposed to prove except what we already know: fat kids are stigmatized by our culture and, as a result, feel like shit. Wow, stop the fucking presses.
  • Obesity ‘worse for teen girls’ blood pressure’ — Ah, we finally get to an actual scientific claim, which is substantiated by research. Ooooooooooor is it? Turns out, this “study” was actually just an abstract, and nothing more, issued by the American Physiological Society after a conference. I currently have a copy of that abstract, which does not indicate actual rates, merely the risk ratio. It has not gone through the peer review process, which instantly puts their claims into question, but the fact that all that is given is the spooky risk ratio without any context means that this study is completely worthless. It would be as if I said, “Blue-eyed kids are 5 times more likely to die of brain cancer” and you said, “But how many blue-eyed kids die from brain cancer each year” and I said, “Meh… I’ll figure it out later.” So, the one solid claim the Manic Tweeter makes is based on incomplete research that has not gone through the process which ensures the data is accurate. Great job!

Wow, those are some stunning facts that have convinced me that the way to treat childhood obesity is to shame and stigmatize fat kids. Congratulations, Manic Tweeter, you persuaded me!

But that isn’t even the best part. Are you ready for the best part? She directs me to this story, the headline of which reads “Girl hospitalized after 15 years of chicken nuggets.” Oh no! Poor little fat kid was forced to eat chicken nuggets for 15 years and her obesity finally laid her low. We must save the Obese Nugget Monkey! Finally, definitive proof that we must do something to save the fat chil—

Eh? What’s that? You want me to look at the original story on Daily Mail? Okay.

Wait, this is the obese nugget monkey?

But she’s not fat? How can a kid eat chicken nuggets every day of her life and not be fat? It’s like there’s a whole complicated regulatory system that limits a person’s ability to alter their natural genetic inheritance.

That’s because there is a whole complicated regulatory system that limits a person’s ability to alter their natural genetic inheritance. To learn more, check out the awesome article on Dr. Jeffrey Friedman here.

Not only that, but it means that Manic Tweeter’s pathetic assumption that fat = unhealthy is based on stereotypes, not facts, not data, just ignorance and lazy thinking.

That is why when you present facts to people like Manic Tweeter, it does not matter. They respond with their own set of “facts” that are culled from the most troubling headlines they can find. They don’t actually read the articles they are citing, let alone dig deeper to find out more about the research on which the articles are based. Simply Google, “Obesity Bad,” cut and paste your links and your job is done!

And when you present them with actual research that cites actual studies with actual conclusions from actual scientists, such as this review in the Journal of Nutrition on the expanse of literature supporting Health at Every Size®, they respond not with counterarguments based on competing research, but with accusations and more stereotypes.

Because you and I and the rest of a rational, compassionate humanity find Strong4Life’s billboards to be hateful and dangerous, Manic Tweeter accuses us of being anti-health and against a child’s right to be healthy.

These are the remaining supporters of Strong4Life: angry, irrational, hateful people who have no idea what it’s like to be a fat kid in this country.

We do not need stigma and shame to promote health. We can improve the lives of ALL children EVERYWHERE by focusing on improving access to healthy, fresh foods and places to play. Education is the key, not shame, and anyone who thinks that Strong4Life is an educational organization is dead wrong. They have one goal: spreading shame and stigma throughout the state of Georgia.

I don’t know about you, but I will not stand for this shameless approach to healthcare any more.

From → Blog Posts

2 Comments
  1. Cat permalink

    I’ve been thinking about this 75% statistic. Could it be, like the story we read yesterday, that the arbitrary BMI system is being used to categorize kids “obese”. So when parents get the news that their perfectly normal, or perhaps even chubby child is obese, they respond shocked “I had no idea”. That could be a large contribution to that statistic. Not to mention that BMI should never be used on a child that is still growing.

    • Cat,
      We don’t know what it means. In this post, I outlined the three different statistics that Strong4Life has used in reference to that 75%. It’s either parents aren’t aware, parents ignore the problem, or parents don’t know kids BMI. Without releasing the actual study, we’re just guessing. And that’s not even considering the statistical errors that could be involved. And for kids, growth patterns, not BMI, is the best measure of health, per Ellyn Satter.

      Peace,
      Shannon

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