February 16, 2010
Michele Obama's War on Childhood Obesity has received a great deal of praise from many who think it's time we took back the health of American's youth. The blame for this epidemic of chubby children has been placed on parents, poverty, fast food, the media, genetics and even toxins.
In the middle of all this debate and well-meaning problem solving are a whole lot of obese children who face tremendous obstacles in just trying to get their education, live their lives and grow up in a society that on the one hand pushes high-caloric indulgences and on the other hand condemns those whose bodies conform to what one would expect from consuming such indulgences.
What is missing from First Lady Obama's plan, which focuses on healthy eating, providing better choices for food in schools, increasing access to healthy affordable foods, and movement, is compassion for the special emotional needs of children dealing with weight issues. What's also missing is the crucial element of the voices of the children themselves, and an acknowledgement of their suffering.
Without a fundamental shift in the way childhood obesity is viewed in society, and without the emotional and mental health issues created by it being addressed, this initiative is doomed to failure because it further isolates children suffering with a problem that is not merely physical. These children, their bodies now "attacked" as a "crisis" are bound to suffer even greater losses to self esteem and self-acceptance, leading to increased physical health issues and decreased ability to overcome their obesity and the challenges that it creates.
These children, already struggling every day to get by, deserve our compassion and our love, not just yet another program that will encourage others to marginalize them further.
Michele Obama, if you want to help a fat kid, give them a place to go where they can feel safe. Tell them that they are beautiful the way that they are, and that the changes you propose are about their insides not their outsides. Tell them that they aren't going to be taken away from their parents because they were "allowed to get fat." Tell them that you are working to end discrimination against them.
Don't just hand them an apple and tell them to go move.