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Michelle Obama and Jamie Oliver -- Hurting Kids' Self-Esteem?

4501308954_182f4c4eaeLesley Kinzel, author of the blog Fatshionista, knows that kids today, perhaps more than ever, need to be taught the value of good nutrition, the joy of regular movement and exercise.  She just wishes we’d all quit calling Michelle Obama’s movement for kids’ health a childhood obesity campaign.

In a recent essay in Newsweek titled Fat Kids, Cruel World, Kinzel wrote:

The need for better education of both children and adults of all sizes on the subjects of nutrition and exercise is undeniable, and on this account the intentions behind Michelle Obama’s efforts are admirable. But approaching this subject by employing (and even exploiting) the entrenched culture of guilt around the state of our bodies is unlikely to succeed in making any of us healthier. All that I learned as a result of my efforts to combat my own personal battle against “childhood obesity” was that being fat was one of the worst things a person could be, and I was obligated to do everything possible—no matter how unhealthy—to change. It was only as an adult, after I gave up dieting, that I began to exercise because I enjoy it, and to eat a healthful diet because it’s delicious. Eating well and exercising regularly work together to make a body—any body—feel good, even if they don’t result in weight loss.

Kinzel isn’t the only one who is worried that this newest fight against childhood obesity might backfire.  Fat acceptance activists have been calling Jaime Oliver out on his fat-shaming ways ever since his show, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (deemed a failure, as of last Friday) started.  After watching the first episode, Melissa at the blog Shakesville wrote:

Headless fatties? Check. Enormous food stock footage? Check. OHNOES Obesity CrisisTM? Check. Being fat is ugly? Check. Fat people are lazy? Check. Fat people are stupid? Check. Fat people are sick? Check. DEATHFAT? Check. Mother-blaming for fat kids? Check. Fat as a moral failure? Check. Religious shaming of fat? Check. Fat people don’t have “the tools” to not be fat? Check. Fat people need a skinny savior? Checkity-check-check!

Not exactly the message that we’re hoping to send to our kids.

But at the same time, both Obama — who was called out for discussing her daughter’s weight back in January — and Oliver are bringing much needed awareness to an undeniably important issue. As a country we have forgotten how to eat, and our kids are being raised on french fries and fruit roll-ups.

Rather than waging war against obesity which, if not handled correctly, could end up being a battle against fat kids themselves, maybe we should consider what anonymous teacher Mrs. Q, who eats a school lunch with her kids every day and writes about it at Fed Up with School Lunches has to say.

She rightly points out that it’s not just the kids who are obese noshing down on greasy pizza and limp fries.  The normal-sized kids do too, which means that no one — fat or thin — is getting the proper nutrition.  “I think I know why the Let’s Move folks chose “childhood obesity” as the enemy,” she writes.  “Because it’s an easy win — who can argue? If they instead tried to focus on nourishment or nutrition, they would lose people. Let’s face it, ‘childhood obesity’ conjures up a picture of ‘a fat kid’ (not politically correct but true). In our thin world it’s easy to say ‘Let’s fight fat!’ ”

Obesity is a complex issue — it’s not all about school lunches or fast food or TV or video games.  And solving it, as this article points out, will be anything but easy.  But promoting the message of good health is fairly simple: eat when you’re hungry, choose mostly healthy foods with a few treats thrown in, and move as much as you can. Is it possible to get our kids to understand it without crushing their self-esteem in the process? What do you think?

Photo: treehouse1977, Flickr

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