Anti-Obesity. The phrase is so common in my circles I barely even see it any more. And yet, when I get blogged without my permission by an anti-obesity website, I am forced to pay attention. I cringe to have my work or words characterized under a paradigm that I believe has done as much to harm to a generation of American eaters as food marketers and food deserts combined. We are not just preyed upon by junk food advertisers and fast food peddlers, we are also plagued by a national eating disorder of epic proportions predicated on the faulty belief that no one can be fat and healthy, and that fat kids in particular are suffering an “epidemic” while thin kids are just fine — regardless of their food choices.
Recently, nutrition researcher Linda Bacon was accused of being “in denial” on a major food-focused listserv for proposing the radical notion that both thin AND fat kids are harmed by a diet of nutritionally devoid, industrial food. Well, wipe my jaw off the floor. Are we so stuck in this rhetoric that we can’t see how manipulated we are by the food and diet industries? As long as we keep raising our kids with a need to ‘diet’ to be ‘perfect’ the food & diet industry will have a firm foothold in this country. Our yo-yo diets (and soon, our children’s) translate to a better first quarter. Jenny Craig is owned by Nestle, and Weight Watchers is owned by the same multinational conglomerate that owns Keebler Foods. So who is really in denial here?
Acknowledging the emotional harm caused to real people by our words and beliefs is not denial. Acknowledging that the focus on fatness does NOT help anyone get healthier – and that this has been quantified over and over again – is not denial.
To understand, you have to unveil the history behind the use of fatness as a measure of health: BMI was developed as an epidemiological tool. It was not intended to measure individual health. Human adiposity exists on a bell curve – the thinnest folks being on the far left, the very fat folks on the far right and the majority in the ‘bell’ in-between. There will ALWAYS be people ‘at the tails’ that are ultra-thin or ultra-fat but naturally so. Yes, that bell curve is skewed to the right by our industrial food system — but the THIN people that eat industrial food, those on the left of the curve, they are also suffering ill health effects. The skinny kid that lives on cheetos and soda is going to be just as screwed as an adult as the fat kid who does (and even more screwed than the fat kid who eats well). We’re just not focused on him because we can’t SEE the harm being done.
In the meantime, all the screeching about obese kids is doing more harm than good. Fat kids that are made to feel subhuman because of what the scale says don’t get thinner, they get messed up in the head. They’re not reading about obesity prevention in the medical journals, they’re getting stuffed in dumpsters by their peers for being “made wrong”. And well-meaning adults reinforce that message on a daily basis. Fat kids spiral – many of them perfectly healthy to begin with (those naturally on the right end of the curve) – into social isolation, eating disorders, and a cycle of failed diets that sets them up for a LIFETIME of struggle.
We need to re-create the way we talk about sustainable food. Farms and gardens have an ability to reach ALL kids, regardless of size – and create life-long emotional bonds with healthy food straight from the plant. It’s these bonds that create health later in life, not messages of fear, hate, and doom and gloom.
We have a unique opportunity in this field to break the cycle of our nation’s collective eating disorder. I hope we actually come down from our anti-obesity rhetoric long enough to take that opportunity.
Say it with me:
Jenny Craig can kiss my asparagus.