Here’s an excerpt from what I sent…
If I were to construct a game to encourage healthy habits in youth/teens, I wouldn’t focus so much on the habits themselves — in a “deadly sins” approach — but rather, what are the things that help people stay healthy — a positive, rather than negative focus.
Rewarding movement in a game with “muscle points” or “feel good points” or “years of life” points
Rewarding picking out the healthier foods from a landscape with “feel good points” or “healthy habits points”
Rewarding avoiding smoking with “feel good points,” “healthy habits points” or “years of life points”
Rewarding not giving in to peer pressure to bully someone earns “feel good points” or “healthy habits points”
Rewarding coaching younger children in being active (a sport or a game) earns “feel good points” or “muscle points”
Rewarding seeking out a friend to talk with when you feel low with “feel good points” or “healthy habits points”
Rewarding playing music, making art or another creative endeavor with “feel good points,” “healthy habits points” or “years of life points”
Rewarding doing well in school with “healthy habits points” or “years of life points”
There are certainly behaviors that if engaged in, lead to a longer, healthier life. While childhood obesity may seem to be a “big problem” — the more immediate, life-threatening challenges that young people face with include suicide, eating disorders and drug and alcohol use, as well as pressure to be sexually active before they are ready to.
If there is anything to be demonized — let it be isolation, bullying, peer pressure, cynicism — and feeling pressured to grow up faster.
I know what I wrote wasn’t perfect… I wrote it quickly. Looking it over now, I notice that there is of course the “good foods” vs. “bad foods” aspect I might want to reframe.
Rule #1 of public health education is this: Involve the people you are attempting to impact from the start… this includes assessment, understanding and diagnosing the problem, planning and implementing the “intervention” and monitoring and evaluating the outcomes.
Anyone who did any formative research around weight and children would learn that reinforcing stereotypes will only exacerbate the pain of the population they are trying to change.
As a so-called fat kid* (I was barely fat), I would have given anything for someone in a position of power to say that the first priority was for me to be loved and accepted and protected from harm. Then, to be provided opportunities to be active and to develop skills that would serve me well in my life. Not to be told the solution to all of my problems was to not be fat anymore.
This, I think, is the fundamental issue — are fat children really children, or are they are problem to be solved? If they truly are children, then like all children, they need love, nurturing, appropriate limits (including not harming others with physical, verbal or emotional violence), opportunities to learn and grow, supportive friends and family, an opportunity to discover the joy of movement, and certainly foods that help them grow healthy and strong as well as some foods that are purely fun. Just for fun, what if we were to try this first, before any other “intervention?” Or, better still, ask fat kids what they think — what would help them? Sure, some would wish to not be fat anymore — who wouldn’t want to be rid of the characteristic that makes you a target of hate — but others would ask just to be treated like any other kid who wasn’t fat. Skilled researchers would dig deeper than just “make me thin!” knowing that would likely be there. And I’m sure I would learn quite a bit from that quantitative research, probably some things that surprised me!
* I did have a therapist who I adored and saw for a long time look at photos of me as a kid with some surprise — she expected me to have been much fatter than I was, based on what I told her about the attitudes of my family and pediatrician. I vaguely remember her saying something like “you weren’t always fat” — I think she probably didn’t say “fat” but overall, she conveyed something like, no, your perceptions of yourself as having been fat from the get-go — that was formed by the people around you, not the reality of your body.