Here’s what I submitted early this morning to the White House:
Along with the majority of caring professionals in this area, I believe that labeling children obese, or the problem that we are facing as “childhood obesity” does much harm, and little good. It distracts from the real power/money centers (food producers and marketers) and causes rifts between children and parents, and alienates children from their peers and best selves.
As I child, I found attempts by my parents, family members and pediatrician to “slim me down” to emphasize an aspect of who I was that out of proportion to other aspects of myself. This emphasis did long-lasting damage to my self-image and self-esteem that I am still recovering from, even though I know they were acting in what they perceived at the time to be my best interests. I spent several years in my early 20s rebelling against that, and ended up developing type 2 diabetes at age 25, the exact outcome they were trying to prevent. I have since focused on my overall health, on regular physical activity and mental health, I now have a much improved “health profile” and I’m managed in my condition with inexpensive, generic medication, regular doctor visits and a balanced, healthy lifestyle. At age 41, I don’t have any detectable complications from diabetes. And I have a healthy 5-year-old daughter.
I support Ellyn Satter‘s assertions: “Research shows that children who are labeled overweight or obese feel flawed in every way–not smart, not physically capable and not worthy.”
I urge you to reframe your approach. Look at how we can raise up child and parent self-image, self-efficacy and self-esteem, rather than creating greater stigmatization. Then I would consider your initiative something I could support and promote with my whole heart, body and soul.
I believe you didn’t set out to be divisive and alienating — but the guidance you received about messaging may not have consulted with people impacted by the problem — such as people whose genetic imprint is such that they will never be thin, but who strive to be healthy, and may be healthier than their sedentary thinner peers with poorer health habits overall. I encourage you to work with compassionate experts like Ellyn Satter, and to bring on many more champions and allies who see their mission as improved health, not “obesity reduction.”