A few weeks ago my 11 year old daughter’s math teacher brought in a scale and weighed her Grade 5 class in front of one another in the context of learning about volume.
I’m sure it was well intentioned.
And for some of her students, I’d venture it was their worst day of the school year.
Given weight has been found to be far and away the number one source of childhood bullying, it should have been predictable that there’d be snickers when the heaviest kids in the class were weighed.
The lightest kids’ weights elicited snickers too.
11 year olds’ teachers ought not to be contributing to their students being self-conscious, embarrassed, or ashamed of their bodies.
So here’s my very simple request.
Teachers, schools, coaches, educators of all sorts – please, unless it’s essential (and it’s difficult to imagine many circumstances when it would be), never weigh your students, and if you do, do so privately.
And this goes for so called BMI report card programs as well, whereby children are weighed at school and notes are sent home to parents as to their child’s BMI. While here in Canada these programs are fewer and further between, in the US, 25 states have legislated that schools weigh kids, and 11 of those have legislated that BMI report cards be sent home to parents. The legislation arose consequent to a 2005 recommendation from the National Academy of Medicine that such programs be implemented as part of a childhood obesity prevention strategy.
The issue with these report cards aren’t their intentions, but rather their efficacy and potential risks. To date, the evidence is equivocal as to whether BMI report cards affect children’s weights. It’s also equivocal as to whether or not they might increase weight-based stigmatization, unhealthy weight control behaviours, and/or body dissatisfaction (though we ought to know more in the next year or so as the results from this trial get reported).
If schools and teachers want to have a positive impact on kids’ health, I’d encourage instead them instead to focus on the one thing well within their control to change – food. And there are ample targets for improvements including in-class rewards, class parties, chocolate milk programs, pizza programs, school fundraisers, holiday celebrations, vending machines, cafeteria fare, planting and tending to school gardens, and using (or establishing) school kitchens to teach children how to cook healthy meals, to name just a few.
(This post was first published on US News and World Report in November 2013)
I’m not suggesting your child should never get weighed – certainly I’d encourage annual weigh-ins with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor to track growth curves – I just don’t want you weighing your child.
Aside from determining whether or not your kid has outgrown their car seat, or what size uniform or sporting equipment they require, there are three main reasons for a parent to want to weigh them. The first would be a worry about a child not growing sufficiently – and herein I’d encourage you to defer to your child’s doctor to determine whether or not worry is warranted.
But the second and third reasons are the ones that concern me. The second reason is a parent’s belief that his or her child’s weight is too high. The third reason is the second reason’s corollary, where a parent might be weighing a child to see if the child has lost weight or to keep track of the rate of gain.
The thing is, scales don’t measure anything other than weight. They don’t measure the presence or absence of health; they don’t measure whether a child is being fed a nutritious diet; they don’t measure whether a child is regularly active; and they don’t measure self-esteem. But they sure can take away self-esteem, can’t they?
And while I haven’t seen a study that proves it to be true, I’d be willing to wager that scale use in children has played a formative role in their development of mood disturbances and eating disorders over the years, as well as having had many negative impacts on their self-esteem, body images, and relationships with food.
Yes, childhood obesity is worrisome. And yes, if you’re worried about your child’s weight – especially if it’s having a negative impact upon his or her health or quality of life – you might want to try to help. But weighing your child doesn’t actually do anything. All weighing your child does is teach him or her that scales measure success, self-worth, and parental and personal pride – and that weight is all that matters.
You might think that tracking your child’s weight loss on a scale may be motivating, but celebrating a loss on a scale is no less risky than shaming a gain; they’re flip sides of the same coin – the coin that says scales measure success. And what happens if that child who is losing one day gains?
A child’s actual weight doesn’t really matter, at least not in any constructive, formative way. Ultimately, a child’s weight is not something that is directly controllable. Weight’s primary levers – eating behaviors and activity levels – have dozens, if not hundreds, of drivers and co-drivers, and many of them won’t in fact be modifiable.
Genetics, peer groups, socio-economic status, coexisting medical conditions (both mental and physical and for both child and parent), food available at school and after-school activities, and many more factors all have a very real impact on weight, while none are particularly changeable. Moreover, weight management is a struggle for highly motivated, fully mature adults with various weight-related medical conditions. Should we really be expecting children to accomplish a task that eludes many grown-ups?
If you’re worried about your child’s weight, look to those weight-relatable behaviours that you might actually help to change instead of weighing your child. For example, consider the source, quality and quantity of their calories and of the meals you’re providing them.
Look to your own examples for fitness, and cultivate active family outings. Review your home’s screen-time rules, and certainly rid all bedrooms (again, including your own) of televisions (which has been shown to dramatically increase risk of obesity in children. Cut your cable (and hence, eliminate the constant food advertisements your children are exposed to), and ensure that your child’s bedroom and habits are conducive to adequate sleep (as short sleep duration is also strongly associated with increased weight).
While it’s true that there are things affecting your child’s weight that you won’t be able to change, it’s also true that there are many things affecting their weight that fall within your parental discretion – and it’s there where you should expend your energies. Importantly, do so without explicitly putting a focus on weight as the cause of your home’s changes or the child as their sole target; instead, put the focus on improving the health of your family as a whole, with your changes affecting every member of the home, as the cultivation of healthy living behaviours provides benefits to everyone at every weight.
Bottom line: If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, don’t rely on a number to tell you or your child how he or she is doing. Simply measuring their weight does nothing to helping you understand how it got there nor will it do anything to help it to go away, but it may make your children hate themselves just a little bit more each time you put them on that scale.
Or at the very least stop until we’re actually as a society trying to do something about it? Because why would we expect it to change if we’re not doing anything about it?
As to why stop? Well because despite not doing anything as a society, it seems to be changing….but not really the way you might expect.
Here’s what coverage has looked like for the past 8 years
|STABILIZE IN 2010|
|SLOWLY RISE IN 2012|
|FALL IN 2013|
|BARELY EXISTS IN 2014|
|LEVELLED OFF IN 2015|
|STILL RISING IN 2016|
|STOPPED RISING IN 2017|
|GETTING WORSE IN 2018|
All this to say, these annual takes? They don’t make sense both in terms of the outcomes (up, down, sideways, gone, up, down, etc.), but also not in the context of change. Changes tend to occur consequent to changes, and given there really aren’t any initiatives going on in the US or Canada that one might expect to impact on childhood obesity rates, perhaps the coverage instead could be about our inaction as a society on this sad file, rather than whether there’s been a tiny blip up, down, or sideways in some survey’s reported incidence.
Not sure if you caught this news release last week. It detailed McDonald’s announcement that they’ll be overhauling their standard Happy Meal offering in a bid to, “support families“.
Part of that “support” (I’ll come back to the word, I promise), is ensuring,
“at least 50 percent or more of the Happy Meals listed on menus (restaurant menu boards, primary ordering screen of kiosks and owned mobile ordering applications) in each market will meet McDonald’s new Global Happy Meal Nutrition Criteria of less than or equal to 600 calories; 10 percent of calories from saturated fat; 650mg sodium; and 10 percent of calories from added sugar“
And to meet those goals cheeseburgers will only be available by special request, a kids; fry size (smaller than current small) will be developed, bottled water will be a featured beverage option, and chocolate milk will only be available by special request.
Though I’m certainly happy that McDonald’s Happy Meals will generally be lower in calories and sugar, here’s the rub. While the rollout of this initiative speaks to health, corporations never make changes that they think will hurt their bottom lines. This is not an indictment – corporations aren’t social service organizations – their goals are profit driven, and McDonald’s are no exception as evidenced by their press release’s first line?
“Today, McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) announced an expanded commitment to families, supporting the company’s long-term global growth plan by leveraging its reach to impact children’s meals“
They hope that these changes will bring in more families more often for more meals at McDonald’s, which is good for their investors, but probably not so much so for public health, even without chocolate milk.
But you know which organization’s goals aren’t profit driven? Your children’s elementary schools’, yet their chocolate milk programs continue with no end in sight, and not just for a sometimes treat, but daily. If you wouldn’t serve kids who didn’t eat fruit, daily pie, you might want to rethink their daily chocolate milk.
Motivation aside, it’s odd to see McDonald’s being more proactive than our kids’ schools on this file.
Many years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Beef’s Fred Morin when we were on a panel together at the Trottier Symposium. Since then we’ve managed to keep in touch. If you don’t know Fred, he’s a wonderful, ribald (don’t say I didn’t warn you), irreverent, French Canadian who is passionate about food and cooking, whose restaurants are ranked among the world’s best. Last week Fred contacted me last week wanting to write about home economics and of course, I said yes.
Lunch is a chore and dinner barely squeezed in between school, homework and whichever sport or instrument you practice vicariously thru your offspring. For much of us the saving grace is the anonymous, and all to easy drive thru. Pardon the pornographic and graphic reference but the drive thru is no different than the glory hole, the source and recipient remain nameless in this rapid exchange of sin.
You see, meals went rapidly from something you made to something you buy, quickly ingested this brilliantly engineered modern days ration pack even comes wrapped in easily discardable containers, because, why would you be reminded of your sins beyond your health and/or weight!
Cooking, like football is played by a few skilled professionals on weekly tv shows, but like football, played by less and less of us. A quest for complicated taste and showy presentations has led many to head the way of the drive thru, paralyzed at the very idea of cooking a dinner that wouldn’t live up to Gordon Ramsay’s standards.
It may sound as a betrayal to my craft to preach simple meals but it actually very well may be the gateway to actual and beneficial cooking. a routine menu simplifies the arduous chore of shopping and your time in the kitchen. Don’t fret; simplicity is not the antagonist to diversity, you can season and twist a dish as you wish!
Cooking was, un-rightfully so a gender specific chore, in school, the boys would have shop class and the girls, home economics, only my generation was fortunate enough to experience both, Between the time schools became co-ed, and the day they removed the stoves and sewing machines to make place for room fulls of Coco 3 computers.
The secrets of braising, the skills of chopping, peeling and searing are all but lost!
We may project our own likes and professions, and pretend our kids need more coding, chess, nutrition, and organic farming classes, perhaps as a trained chef and cookbook author I’m am a little guilty of that.
Not overloading their ever morphing frontal cortex with page loads of facts on nutrition is crucial. I may be sounding like I’m metaphorically wiping my boots on my gracious host’s best Persian rug by denying the need for nutritional education in schools, while a guest on his nutrition blog (ed note: I agree with Fred), it’s unnecessary to provide tools for obsessive calorie counting, more label reading and macro nutrients deciphering to a generation who already has a very conflicted relationship with the simple act of eating, in fact, most ingredients you would want to cook do not even have a nutritional label!
I don’t want my kids to learn how to blowtorch meringue or to make spherical ice for mocktails, not yet, instead I want them, their friends and class mates to grow up with a comprehension of cooking that will set them up for life, with the ability to perform daily culinary tasks, whether they choose grass fed pasture raised hormone free Angus steak or certified authentic Kobe massaged beef, it’s up to them to decide, later!
Fred (all in his words) co-owns Joe Beef, Liverpool House, Mon Lapin, and Vin Papillion restaurants in Montreal, and is the co-author of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. He fathered three offspring that currently prevent him from living a second youth behind the stoves. He also wishes he had gone to College. He divides his time between being fat, becoming slim, being slim and becoming fat. He lives close enough to Montreal, to call it Montreal. And you can follow him on Twitter