April 2007
E-mail this article

End the Food Police state

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Two words.

Stop it.

That’s right — cease, desist, knock it off already.

Stop freaking out over fat kids.

Seriously, is any refrain in the Public Nanny’s “think of the children!” battle cry more obnoxious than the words “childhood obesity”? While it’s undeniable some kids are fat and others are not, the reasons why might not be nearly as simple as public awareness campaigns like to present them. Nor might it all be as easy to change as insisting on “more exercise, less to eat,” since plenty of thin kids are couch potatoes. And the credible data suggesting fat, with some exceptions, is not quite the demon we’ve made it out to be, is worth noting.

We need to start considering that, but more important, we need to consider to what degree we want social engineers and the capitalistic marketing machine tinkering with our kids and our emotions.

There are plenty of examples of this very occurrence: Electronic lunch tickets that allow parents to spy on what their kids buy in the cafeteria. Mariska Hargitay from “Law & Order” shilling milk products by scaring the dickens out of new moms with her “concern” over — yup — “childhood obesity.” Across the pond, the UK has the singularly joyless chef, Jamie Oliver, a self-anointed kiddie lunch cop and fatsuit wearer extraordinaire.

From the looks of things, it will get worse before it gets better.

Exhibit A? That’d be Boston’s recent billboard scare tactic. In January — as if relentless media coverage of the Threat That Is Fatness wasn’t enough — billboards popped up along the roadways, with such images as the chunky legs of a child next to a scale and the words “fat chance.” Another sign puts Mariska to shame. It shows the back fat of another child (you see, giving fat people a face might humanize them), and the question: “If that’s your kid, what are you waiting for?”

Exhibit B? The mandatory “BMI report cards” issued in several states, thanks to Mike If-I-Lost-Weight-So-Can- You Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and possible no presidential candidate. Recently, he was spitting mad because Arkansas’ new guv wanted to do away with the lame-brained requirement. Current Gov. Mike Beebe missed the point with his “it hurts fat kids’ feelings” reasoning, but, hey. It’s a start.

Then we have the media hype itself. Even the likes of the New York Times, when reporting on some of the unintended consequences of the BMI report cards, can’t rise above the obsession. School districts, we are breathlessly informed, “continue to serve sugar-coated funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast” while they dutifully weigh and measure the kids to determine where they fit on the meaningless body mass index chart.

In general such news reports read like what others have rightly called “food porn.” How much soda are fat kids drinking? Omigoodness, are they buying Rice Krispie treats?! Ooo, yum. Rice Krispie treats... er, we mean, how can schools and local governments let children eat like that? Obviously, they don’t get it. And if your kid is fat, obviously, neither do you.

So the tortured logic goes.

Which brings us to the most offensive element of the war on fat: the notion that we’re all stupid. Kids are fat because they “need help” learning the “right” things to eat. Kids are fat because their parents are “uneducated,” failures, or somehow haven’t noticed Junior’s weight, so the public needs to drop 250-grand on billboards to whack them upside the head.

Or schools need to be allowed to weigh and measure our kids and point it out to us.

Privacy? What’s that? Relevance? What’s that? That the BMI is pretty much useless as a predictor of true health? Well, never mind. This feels good. This is easy. Besides, we hate fatties and this is a politically correct way to express our revulsion. It allows us to look saintly. And if fat kids’ feelings are hurt, why, that’s just tough love. Because we only have their best interests at heart.

But the people who really don’t “get it” are people like Susan Green, the woman who helped unleash the moronic billboard campaign. While expressing concerns that fat kids might be depressed, this compassionate wit actually said: “It would be hard to see your kids depressed because they look a certain way.”

Um ... So a ginormous billboard is going to help them forget they look a certain way? Besides, heartbreak over being fat is not actually caused by being fat. The misery comes from the social prejudice meted out by others. Surely, the best strategy here is to confront the prejudice, not conform the victim.

It’s also telling that several of the BMI report card news articles were angled along the lines of how the reports make thin children feel, and how the reports might promote eating disorders. Yet fat kids’ feelings are dismissed as a necessary sacrifice by those fools who cannot see the objections to their invasive and irrelevant strategies are a rejection of insanity, not maudlin self-pity. Anorexia, after all, is tragic, while obesity is “naturally” the result of weakness, laziness and stupidity. Fat kids therefore “deserve” to be ridiculed. For their own good. Now, fat kids, don’t let that depress you!

Even if obesity awareness campaigns really were about health — and not, say, driving up demand for diet products, weight-loss drugs and giving a forum to the “experts” who shill them — the billboards and report cards would still miss the mark.

Healthy people come in all sizes. So do unhealthy people. If schools and Boston and the media and your hysterical Aunt Nellie would address actual nutrition and physical activity independently of weight, we’d all be better off.

America’s obsession with weight rises to the level of a collective mental illness. This lunacy is frequently referred to as “common sense” and vaunted as “conventional wisdom,” but it is past time we realized the difference between conventional wisdom and an old wife’s tale is only about a generation.

The latest campaign in the “war on fat” is really quite simple: The government wants to regulate what you eat because of misguided fear; financial opportunism and size prejudice.

Stop it.

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes from Montrose, Colo.


E-mail this article