13 November 2013

The Right Lessons For The Wrong Reasons

As I was tweeting earlier, Charlie and I had an "interesting" exchange that was was very telling of what she is learning in her health class. In a nutshell she said something about being able to have chocolate milk with dinner because she had water and white milk the rest of the day. I responded with my usual spiel that there are no bad foods, that you shouldn't feel guilty for eating something and that our food choices are about the big picture. We talked a bit about making good food choices and why her choice was a healthy one when she busted out with "because I want to stay skinny, that is how you stay healthy."

Oh just fuck that noise.

This pretty much highlights everything I abhor about the current trends in fighting the childhood obesity "epidemic." (Quotes entirely intended.) Everything about this movement, including Mrs. Obama's fat-shaming campaign disguised as an activity initiative, is based on the premise that you would only make good choices so as to achieve the end goal of thinness. So yeah, all the right things (eat your fruits and veg, get out and get active) for all the wrong reasons (you can be thin and therefore magically healthy).

I hate to say that education is not the key, education is always an important first step, but in this case, it is not like people don't know that squash is a healthier choice than Swedish Fish. You don't have to alive in this country for long without learning the rules of eating healthy and the cultural hierarchy of morality that goes along with those choices. What these initiatives fail to adress is the actual root cause of our health crisis.

Many people do not have the resources to obtain the foods we deem healthy.

Maybe you don't have the money to be buying red peppers at $2.99 a pound when the same $3.00 can keep your kids In granola bars for a week. Maybe you don't have the time/ability to prepare the food since you are working two jobs, or single parenting, or disabled in some manner. Perhaps you don't have access to a supermarket with such items due to location or lack of transport. There are so many reasons that USians are unable to obtain the food required to eat healthily and lecturing people on steaming broccoli and measuring their pasta doesn't fix that. All this hype about teaching kids and families to make good choices does nothing to actually help people get heir hands on fresh produce, quality protein sources and whole grains.

Additionally, even assuming that all we need to magically make people able to eat well is education, the reasons why you should try and make healthy choices are misrepresented. Achieving a certain body weight is not the end goal of a healthy lifestyle. Being healthy and living longer is the goal of a healthy lifestyle. For some this may also result in weight loss, for many it will not. When countless studies have proven that you can reap the health benefits of lifestyle changes even if you don't lose weight, why is weight loss and/or maintaining an arbitrary weight still held as the highest measure of success. Or perhaps more importantly, why are we teaching our kids at such a young age that your food and exercise choices are only valid if viewed though the lens of BMI. Why is my 7-year-old so sure that being thin equal being healthy even though she comes from a family full of diverse body shapes, all members being in good health due to healthy choices? Why is it OK to teach kids the subtle art of fat shaming? Is that really going to help anyone?

I guess the best I can do is explain this as well as I can at home, dispel those myths she is being taught and set a good example. Hopefully if I keep up the Healthy at Any Size propoganda around here, my girls won't have to be in their late 20s before they make peace with their bodies and come to love being active for no reason other than it is fun. As long as we remember to follow the science, I suppose we will be OK.