Tag Archives: collateral damage

Weight (Stigma) Affects School Children’s Grades

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My dear friend and colleague Angela Meadows recently penned this important article for The Conversation discussing the issues surrounding weight, school children and academic performance.  There have been  a number of studies over the years linking higher weights with lower performance in school–particularly among female pre-teens and teenagers.  Many of these studies have sought and eliminated co-variables in other health issues, potential depression and the onset of menses in women.  However, many of these early studies seemed to avoid what would seem the most obvious connection between school performance and weight–the impact of weight stigma on school children of all ages (especially girls).

Angela then shared with us the results of a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health specifically documenting the results of weight stigma on kids  in school.  For the most part, the study which followed over 3,000 kids for over 10 years found no significant difference in test scores for the kids who became fatter.  However, the study indicated that as the students weights went up, the teacher’s evaluation of the kids abilities went down.  (Primarily for reading in girls and math in boys).   And to a certain extent, as weights went up, the students evaluations of their own abilities went down.  Although, the studies didn’t specifically measure attitudes of weight bias in teachers, Angela pointed to other studies that do just that.

Angela goes on to discuss important research linking weight stigma to bullying by other children as well as studies that indicate that much of the lag in academic achievement by fatter kids can be explained by bullying from both fellow students and educators.

I have not been shy in the past in saying and saying and SAYING that stigma does not make people healthier, happier or thinner.  In fact weight stigma makes people less likely to seek medical treatment, leads to disordered eating and risky behaviors, leads to more stress, anxiety and illness and yes, leads to lower academic performance.  And since there is literally no scientifically proven way to help most people lose a lot of weight and keep it off, perhaps telling people to lose weight to avoid this stigma is ill advised.

We know that weight-based stigma is harmful for people of all ages, yet we continue to march in the war on obesity for the fatties’ own good.  We continue to fight body fat and ignore the plain fact that it is our societal attitude towards fat people that is causing much of the damage.  We continue to wring our hands and shout “What about the children?” as an excuse for maintaining this war on big bodies, without addressing the simple fact that the number one casualty of the “war on obesity” seems to be from “friendly fire” on the folks we are purporting to help.  At what point will we finally realize that stigmatizing children into a fruitless attempt to change their body size so that they can avoid weight stigma is at best, seriously messed up?

I hope that moment is coming and I hope it is coming soon.  Our kids have enough to deal with just trying to grow up in this world without being victimized by the very people who we engage to help them.  I hope that we can start some efforts to seriously help our educators and child caretakers recognize weight bias in themselves and work to push past it.  I hope that we can stop allowing our kids to be collateral damage from a war that it is nearly impossible for them to win.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Teenage Boy “Diagnosed Fat”–Infection Missed

chart2How many times have we heard this same story?  A vibrant, active young man goes to the doctor, in this case, with knee pain.  The doctor does a routine test and doesn’t see a problem.  The doctor does see a young man who fits into an “undesirable” segment of the BMI chart.  The solution, the young man is diagnosed as fat, is told that his “extra weight” is probably causing the pain in his knee and sent home.  Now Kaleb is an active kid.  He plays rugby, and he loves to sail.  But once the doctor sees Kaleb’s place on the BMI scale, he just might think something like this: “Aha!  I don’t have to say that I don’t know what’s wrong with this kid’s knee.  I can write obesity in the kid’s chart and then we have a diagnosis!”

Unfortunately, in Kaleb’s case there was another diagnosis besides “fat” to be found.  A short while later, he was taken to the hospital via ambulance after he fell down some steps.  At that point, he was referred to a specialist that he saw two weeks later.  The specialist ordered an MRI and during the scan they found a serious bone infection.  Kaleb was scheduled for emergency surgery the same night.  He is recovering well.  So thankfully, the story has a happy ending.

But how much pain could have been avoided without the “fat diagnosis”? It appears that had this infection been detected earlier, it could have been treated with antibiotics rather than emergency surgery.  Now there’s no guarantee that had Kaleb been thin, they would have found the infection sooner.  They might have still sent him home and told him to take some aspirin and take it easy.  Thin people are misdiagnosed too.  But I’ve heard time and time again about people who are “diagnosed fat” and sent home.  Remember this guy who was diagnosed fat, and it turned out to be a brain tumor?  Remember his emergency surgery?  I wonder if doctors, frustrated by a lack of diagnosis and discouraged from ordering expensive tests don’t lean on the BMI chart as a way to have something to write in their diagnosis box.  I imagine in many cases, once patients are “diagnosed fat” and are shamed and blamed, they stop asking annoying questions.  They stop demanding that doctors figure out what is wrong with them.  In some cases, they stop going to the doctor altogether.  This is part of the collateral damage and opportunity costs in the “war on obesity”.  This is another example of the casualties that arise from singling out a body type as unacceptable and trying to eradicate it.

And we’re not just dealing with misdiagnosis here.  We’re dealing with fat people suffering and dying from the mutilation of otherwise healthy tissue via gastric bypass and banding surgeries.  We are seeing the development of more and more new strategies for trying to make fat people “healthy” by making their digestive systems mimic eating disorders and limited blood flow to the gut.  We are so focused on helping fat people get healthy by making them thin that we are willing to make them really, really sick to help them get there.  And sadly, in so many cases, the fat people who undergo these treatments end up fatter or sicker or less happy than they were in the first place.

There are weapons we can use in this war.  One of them is to ask the doctor if thin people also experience the same problem.  In Kaleb’s case, he or his mom might have asked, “Do thin people also have knee pain?  What tests might you do if I were thin.  Can we do those tests please?”

Another weapon is to help make doctors and other medical professionals more aware of the pain and repercussions of fat bias.  And it just so happens that we have some terrific tools to do that.  The Association for Size Diversity And Health (ASDAH) along with the Size Diversity Task Force are compiling videos about fat bias in healthcare.  The project is called RESOLVED.  Some folks at ASDAH have informed me that the deadlines are being extended.  You can hear more about the project and see my sample video HERE.  In addition, the Size Diversity Task Force has a unique opportunity through one of our members to help train medical advocates about fat bias in healthcare.  But in order for your video to be used in both places, you need to submit your video by March 18.  If you’re interested in participating in the project and/or have any questions or concerns, please leave me a note in the comments below.  Or send me an email at jeanette at thefatchick dot com.  I’d be glad to help.

Let’s do what we can to limit the number of casualties in the war on fat.  Let’s help kids like Kaleb get the attention and care they need at the first doctor’s appointment–not the third.  Let’s see what we can do to have “diagnosed as fat” be a thing of the past!

Love,

The Fat Chick

Where there is Hatred, Let’s Sow Love

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Recently my good friend Deb Lemire sent me a link to this amazing Ted talk.   Why not go take a look right now?  It’s that good.  I’ll wait.

It’s clear to me that Lynne is an amazing woman–one I’d love to meet one day.  She said many, many true and moving things in her short talk.  But one of the things I’d particularly like to talk about today is her discussion of the war on obesity, and her assertion that war is about hate.

I think it’s important to share this business about this war on obesity.  There are new people every day who join the ‘righteous’ and march out in this war.  The recruits are now younger and younger with indoctrination beginning in kindergarten and even preschool.  So what’s wrong with it?  Why not fight against this crushing “disease” which is “killing our children”?

In answer, I’d like to begin with two words: collateral damage.

I think many of us have been caught in the “friendly fire” of the war on obesity.  Many of us have seen the disapproving looks as we dare to order a roll (maybe even with real butter!) to eat with our salads.  We’ve been photographed and filmed with our heads cut off and displayed for the wartime propaganda.  We’ve been made scapegoats and blamed for everything from high prices for flying and insurance to global warming.  We have been named bad parents and some of us have even had our children torn from our grasp.  We are the butt of the joke, the cautionary tale, the perennial ‘before’ photo and the ’cause of the downfall of the human race’.

Except, for one problem.  It ain’t necessarily so.  There is little evidence that fat people raise health insurance rates to any significant degree.  Flying is expensive because of a whole host of reasons including  high fuel prices, inept airline management, a complex web of travel taxes and tariffs and poor aircraft upkeep among many other factors.  There is little reason to blame fat people for any of the problems the world is facing right now.

And even beyond those issues, there is one other.  The war can’t be won this way.  You can’t hate fat people thin.  For all the marching and the propaganda and the fabulous uniforms and billions of dollars spent, people aren’t getting any thinner.  All the money we’re spending and the people being emotionally and physically damaged in the crossfire is for nothing.  We are not making people any thinner.

I’d say that perhaps some of this money should be spent on determining what should be done to make the world healthier and happier without causing massive casualties from collateral damage, except we already know what actually works.  It’s called Health At Every Size or HAES and it’s for every BODY.  There is a lot of evidence that healthy habits are a better determinant of health at all sizes than body size.  So HAES simply suggests that we work on making healthy behaviors available and attractive to folks of all sizes, and stop trying to make fat people into thin people.

Why can’t we focus on health irrespective of size?  Why can’t we focus on making healthy options like good locally sourced food and safe places to walk and play for people of all sizes, races and economic levels?  Why can’t we focus on teaching our children to love and respect their own bodies and those of everyone around them?

We can.  As it says in the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, “where there is hatred let us sow [your] love”.  So, let’s do it!  Let’s commit to being body pacifists.  Let’s throw down our weapons and walk out on the battlefields and bring aid and succor to those who are hurting out there.  Let’s find the kids who are wandering around shell shocked and bewildered and show them that there is another way.  That making a healthier body is about having a healthier community and a healthier world forged from love and not hate.  “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Love,

The Fat Chick