succumbing to peer pressure

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Six-year-old Karlind Dunbar barely touched her dinner, but not for time-honored 6-year-old reasons. The pasta was not the wrong shape. She did not have an urgent date with her dolls.

The problem was the letter Karlind discovered, tucked inside her report card, saying that she had a body mass index in the 80th percentile. The first grader did not know what “index” or “percentile” meant, or that children scoring in the 5th through 85th percentiles are considered normal, while those scoring higher are at risk of being or already overweight.

Yet she became convinced that her teachers were chastising her for overeating.

This breaks my heart.

As Heebie-Jeebie says over at her place, the primary problem here is the lack of any constructive things for schools to do, what with P.E. programs and recess being cut from most public schools, and whatever the deal is with being generally unable to provide healthier school lunches.

But, as I commented over there, my secondary problem is the sending home of BMI scores at all. Sure, as a public healther I am sympathetic to the desire to keep kids healthy, and I get that BMI is an imperfect yet cheap and useful tool. HOWEVER, given the potentially fragile and still developing relationship that kids have with food and their bodies, could we perhaps stop and think for two seconds about the sort of impact a measurement that, although disguised, still focuses pretty much entirely on weight might have? Since calculating BMI already indicates that schools are sitting these kids down and weighing and measuring them, why not also slap a BP cuff on 'em, and send that measurement home? Better yet, why not slap BP cuffs on every parent at every PTA meeting? BP is highly genetic, much less controversially linked to heart disease and other health problems, and still motivates healthy choices like a less sedantary lifestyle and better nutrition.

The thing is, as soon as you start talking about weight, even if you're careful to link it to general health, many people fall into one of two camps - defensive or potential complex leading to an eating disorder. Neither of which results in the stated goal of healthier people. And we need healthier people, especially healthier kids.

Kids These Days!

Here's the part where I sound like an old person. What's up with kids these days? I coach little kids in gymnastics. And I mean little kids - starting at 3 years old, working up to around 7. And some of my youngest ones are tired 20 minutes into class! How many three year olds do you know who are winded after 20 minutes of fairly mild running around? And today, my 7 year olds got their first crack at our new rope. Not only could half of them not climb it, at all, but when I was trying to give them some pointers - how do you climb a tree? do you use your arms and your legs? - every one of them looked at me questioningly, then said, I've never climbed a tree! And these aren't inner city kids who may not have the luxury of a good climbing tree. These are yuppie, suburban kids who I would bet go home to manicured lawns and spend weekend afternoons at the park.

And it's happening in my neighborhood back home - my parents recently hired a local kid to housesit for them, and they had no idea he lived one house over, because they had never ever seen him outside. Not once. They know that there are a similar number of kids living in the neighborhood to when my brother and I were little, from talking to the grown-ups, and yet they've only ever seen the one kid across the street who skateboards from time to time. Are you kidding me? Growing up, every grown-up in the neighborhood knew every kid in the neighborhood, regardless of their own parental status, because we were always running around! The neighborhood is tailor-made for it - one main entrance, a giant loop, and tons of dead-end cul-de-sacs. We ran through every neighbor's yard, organized huge games of spotlight and tag, all the crap that I imagine every one of you reading this did as a kid. So what's changed? I know that a lot of places just aren't conducive to it - urban environments, or just less safe neighborhoods. But at least in this one specific example, I know those excuses don't play out. So what's up?

The other example from back home that bugs me is my friend Kelly's apartment complex. When she grew up there you could practically walk across the pool in the summertime because it was so jampacked with kids. A few years ago she and I were lounging around sunbathing all afternoon, and we saw one family. This is an apartment complex full of fairly small one- and two-bedroom apartments. Kids are cramped in there all the time, bumping into their parents. Why on earth would they choose to stay inside??


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with you about the next-door neighbor kids... why aren't they outdoors enjoying life before they all end up in a 6'x6' cube doing software engineering for some corporation when they turn 23?

When i was a kid, my mom told me to pick different hobbies since i was playing so much in the backyard that i was wearing down the grass to the point where it couldn't live anymore.

In the wintertime, i'd just play sports in the basement. I broke about 200 lightbulbs, busted some furniture, some insulation, you name it.

These days, some parents would KILL to have their kids play sports to the point where the basement's foundation erodes. instead, i think video games and the internet have taken over.

9:52 PM  
Anonymous heebie-geebie said...

Not specifically what you posted about, about "Why aren't they playing outdoors?" but the whole mess in general...It's very overwhelming. Is eating healthy an ethical issue? I think you can make a case that it is. In which case, it's very sticky to legislate morality. On the other hand, we do it all the time, I guess.

So tied up with class beliefs, also. Who values being thin, to what degree, and at what expense. Apparently I can't phrase anything I'm trying to say, so I'm going to quit trying.

1:00 PM  

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