Kate Harding argues on Salon against Michelle Obama’s health plan to target childhood obesity on the basis that it hurts their self-image and causes all manner of distress to the little butterballs. But a few things get me in how she presents the case:
Now, let’s unpack that a little bit. According to the CDC, for children, “Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.” 12.5 percent of preschool-aged children, 17 percent of kids 6-11, and 17.6 percent of adolescents up to 19 are obese by those criteria. So the key words in that one-third stat are “overweight or” — combining the two categories makes the “childhood obesity epidemic” sound a lot more dramatic than it is. Granted, there has been a big jump in the childhood obesity numbers since 1980 (up from 5 percent, 6.5 percent and 6 percent, respectively), but the good news is, there’s evidence that it’s already leveled off.
Uh, if you define obesity by relative to the average, then when the average changes, the parameters that define ‘obese’ change. To put it another way, if the average person drinks a fifth of whiskey a day, only those who drink two fifths can be alcoholics. But wait, hold on: Doctors may have posited just why the numbers in that Center for Disease Control study leveled off:
Dr. Ludwig [of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital Boston] said the plateau might just suggest that “we’ve reached a biological limit” to how obese people could get. When people eat more, he said, at first they gain weight; then a growing share of the calories go “into maintaining and moving around that excess tissue,” he continued, so that “a population doesn’t keep getting heavier and heavier indefinitely.”
This is as fat as we can get! We’ve reached the maximum capacity for fatness! Now we can only get more dense until we’re all American singularities. But back to Ms. Harding:
I’m sure you don’t have anything against fat kids, Mrs. Obama. But you know who does? Other kids. And a lot of adults, including parents who see their fat children as reflections of their own failings, as disappointments, as embarrassments, and doctors who see them as problems to be solved. You said in your speech yesterday, “Teachers see the teasing and bullying; school counselors see the depression and low-self-esteem.” But your solution to that is to get rid of the fat, not the hate.
You can’t solve a problem if you can’t call it a problem. Then again, making it socially acceptable to be unhealthy is totally a great idea.
I’m sorry, Mrs. Obama. I shouldn’t get so snippy with you, when it’s prejudice and hatred that really anger me. Like I said, I think what you’re doing here is great for the most part. But gosh, I wish you’d consider focusing on Health at Every Size instead of childhood obesity.
Sure, but at certain sizes there’s early-onset diabetes.
On a whim, I looked up Kate Harding. I think I found out where the anger was coming from.