Call to Action

So, Scholastic Freakin’ Books and Kaiser Permanente have put up this online video game called The Incredible Adventures of the Amazing Food Detective, in which children are encouraged to investigate the “crime” of ostensibly unhealthy eating among their peers.

You can read about just how twisted and ridiculous this game is over at Junkfood Science. A highlight:

The Food Detective game invites kids to click on the “AFD Case Files” of various “Suspects:” children who are supposedly behaving badly. The fat little 10-year old girl is Emily. The game tells kids that Emily is fat because “she eats too much and needs to learn portion control.” The food detective sets up a security cam in her house “to catch the culprit in the act” and she is shown gobbling nonstop a table of fattening foods and a chart shows her eating a whopping 4,550 [kilo]calories.

Here’s the thing that really interested me when I played the game, though: Emily’s problem is supposedly that she eats too much, not that she eats the “wrong” foods. The Amazing Food Detective introduces her by saying, “Emily has a good diet, but she eats too much. She needs to learn portion control.”

However, in Emily’s case file, we see a grocery list that reads:

  • potato chips
  • soda
  • chocolate bar
  • frosted doughnut
  • chocolate chip cookies

When you “solve the case” by shrinking all of Emily’s portions (don’t even ask), that changes to a grocery list featuring fruits and vegetables.

Even when they’re specifically saying the fat kid does not eat tons of junk food, that grocery list tells a different story. Old stereotypes die hard, I guess. And apparently, video games don’t have copy editors to catch blatant logical errors like that.

Anyway. Paul at Big Fat Blog and Kell at Disturbing Brew have gathered contact info for the folks at Scholastic and Kaiser Permanente who need to get an earful.

Worldwide Headquarters and Editorial Office
557 Broadway
New York, New York 10012

General Information

Investor Relations

Media Inquiries
Corporate Communications
(e-mail links available at BFB)

Kaiser Permanente
Their “media” contacts (yes, an HMO has media contacts) are:
*Danielle Cass
(510) 267-5354
* Sybil Kelly-Wartenberg
(510) 271-6902
* Susannah Patton
(510) 271-5826

Go get angry, y’all. Then come back here and chill out on Fillyjonk’s Friday Fluff thread.

27 thoughts on “Call to Action”

  1. That’s a great way to mix fat hatred and warrantless NSA wiretapping right there.

    I know that this isn’t being marketed by a government agency, but it’s the first thing I thought of. “Hey kids! Let’s normalize fat hatred *and* warrantless invasion of privacy”.

    I guess it was only a matter of time until being fat would be listed as a terrorist act.

  2. God, gross. I hope my future kids learn what quantities of food satisfy and nourish them, but I hope they NEVER learn the term “portion control.” Between that and last week’s episode of The Office, which I just got around to watching, I kind of want to check out of our society. I don’t think we’re going anywhere good here.

    Poor little fat kids. Usually treatment of people who are different seems to make forward progress (at least marginally) over time, but for all that they can now buy cuter clothes and stuff, I think that fat children today have it much worse overall with this Big Brother, government initiative stuff and the media hysteria over obesity than I did as a fat child in the ’80s. And it’s not like it was fun then.

  3. This reminds me of the volleyball league I joined. We play our games in school gyms and both the gyms I’ve been to for games have “obesity crisis” messages across the walls. The high school last night? Not only had posters about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, but articles from women’s magazines (!!!!!!!!!) about how many minutes of walking it would take to burn of x food. Articles such as “Yes, You Can Lose Weight” and “Eat Hearty – But Pay the Price.”

    I think that bothers me more than my team’s 0-3 record.

  4. If anyone isn’t feeling up to writing their own letter, please feel free to adapt mine.

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    As a [PERSONAL IDENTIFICATION], I am writing to express my outrage at Scholastic’s decision to partner with Kaiser Permanente to offer the blatantly hate-mongering and discriminatory “Food Detective” video game.

    Are you aware of the content of this game? Truly aware? I cannot believe that the Scholastic Company that I know and love could be a part of distributing the out-and-out lies and bigotry contained in this game. Here’s a sample, which I have borrowed from nutrition researcher Sandy Szwarc:
    “The Food Detective game invites kids to click on the ‘AFD Case Files’ of various ‘Suspects:’ children who are supposedly behaving badly. The fat little 10-year old girl is Emily. The game tells kids that Emily is fat because ‘she eats too much and needs to learn portion control.’ The food detective sets up a security cam in her house ‘to catch the culprit in the act’ and she is shown gobbling nonstop a table of fattening foods and a chart shows her eating a whopping 4,550 [kilo]calories.”

    Research from as far back as the 1950s has debunked the notion that fat children eat in this manner. Even an adult would have difficult eating that many calories in one sitting, let alone a 10-year-old girl. The plain fact is that there is no scientific consensus about what causes children—or adults—to become fat. While eating and exercise habits can play a role, research is increasingly showing that the human body is a mysterious, adaptable thing that fights to keep a person’s weight within a range proper for him or her.

    Sandy Szwarc again: “The DONALD (Dortmund Nutritional Anthropometric Longitudinally Designed) Study, for example, clinically followed children, actually weighing the individual children and recording their diets (the foods, amounts and eating occasions) at least ten times a year and followed them thusly for 17 years. They found that no matter what the children ate during childhood or adolescence, they naturally grew up to be a wide range of weights. While there were great differences in the children’s diets, these differences weren’t at all related to their weights.”

    New York Times reporter Gina Kolata made this case very strongly in her bestselling and well-researched book Rethinking Thin, and subsequent reporting from the Times and elsewhere has supported the notion that weight, like height, is largely a function of genetics.

    Writing in a 2005 issue of the journal Pediatrics, the U.S. Preventative Services Task force, after reviewing 40 years worth of evidence, admitted, “What we don’t know overwhelms what we do know about prevention of the adverse outcomes associated with childhood obesity and overweight.”

    One of the few absolutes that has emerged in recent research is that the stigma and bullying suffered by children who are considered fat results in higher levels of depression and even suicide. This is disregarding the large and growing numbers of even normal-weight children, especially girls, who are at an increased risk of developing eating disorders because of the fear of becoming fat. More than half of women aged 18 to 25 have told researchers that they would rather be hit by a truck or lose a limb than be fat.

    And this game does not just promote wrong-headed ideas about fat children. A small child, Cole, is presented as a “weakling” and a problem case because he eats junk food. Is there only one allowable body type among children? What does this tell our kids about their classmates who are smaller or larger than they are? And what about handicapped or otherwise challenged children—will that also be presented as “their fault”?

    I would like you to take a minute to imagine various children sitting down in front of this “game.” Imagine a child prone to bullying getting new ammunition to use against his fat, skinny, or otherwise “different” classmates. Imagine the class’s prettiest girl sitting down and internalizing the message that food will make her fat. Maybe she will trade away her lunch today instead of eating. Imagine a fat boy sitting down and seeing himself portrayed as a “couch loafer” and glutton—even though he loves to play with his classmates and enjoys his after-school program in martial arts.

    There are ways to teach children about eating good food and loving movement. This is not one of them. Shame is never going to succeed. If you as a company truly care about the children to whom you sells books and other educational products, you will take a long, hard look at this video game and cease your involvement in it. Until that day comes, I will not buy another Scholastic product, and I will urge the [LOCAL SCHOOL NAMES] to sever their relationship with you.

    Please consider what you are doing.

  5. So, question: my instinct here, as my instinct usually is, is to be simply BLISTERINGLY sarcastic. Better to be well-reasoned? Or do I trust everyone else to be well-reasoned, and write snarky instead?

  6. Thanks for that, Nicole! Awesome!

    Fillyjonk, I think that with this stuff you catch more flies with honey — perhaps honey tinged with righteous anger, but probably not snark.

    However, if snark makes you feel better? Go for it.

  7. That is the problem, isn’t it, Fillyjonk? I think I need to sit on this for a few hours until I can be something other than furious.

  8. This reminds me of one of my friend’s blog entries a few days ago, which included the news that his youngest daughter “just ate 3/4 of a medium pizza for breakfast. I feel a growth spurt coming on.”

    Nothing about “portion control,” nothing about “watching her weight,” none of this ridiculous “childhood obesity” bullshit. No, she’s having a growth spurt. Which is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to come to when your nine-year-old daughter suddenly eats enough for all three of your kids.

    Might that not be what’s happening to little cartoon Emily on this fateful evening as well? Seriously, Kaiser. Get your head out of your cartoon rear.

  9. Nicole said:
    “While eating and exercise habits can play a role, research is increasingly showing that the human body is a mysterious, adaptable thing that fights to keep a person’s weight within a range proper for him or her.”

    I really love most of your letter. (Well, the “prettiest girl” part made me wince a bit…I think there is no such thing as “prettiest.” I think there are many types of pretty and all girls can be in one way or another.) The part I quoted above is good, but when I write I might go a bit further to include what I’m learning from — surprise, surprise — Rethinking Thin and Junkfood Science. That fat people eat the same as thin people and for the same variety of reasons. Also that activity levels don’t affect whether one is fat or thin.

  10. Lily–Thanks for that. I really thought that the bulk of my letter tried to make that very point, but I think when we’re dealing with people who may have never heard of the concept of FA or even the bizarro notion that perhaps all fat people don’t sit around eating bon bons and watching Jerry Springer all day, it has to be couched differently.

    As for “prettiest”, same deal. Every class has a “prettiest girl” in the shallow, societally accepted way. Even kindergartners already show preferences toward conventionally “attractive” pictures. It’s disgusting how we are setting kids up that way, but there we are. The idea was that this game is not just going to harm the kids who are already marginalized because of the way they look. The kids who seem to “have it all” in terms of fitting in can still learn the disastrous group-think that leads to all kinds of problems down the line.

    Anyway, I am just glad to hear you’re already composing your own letter. We need as many people as possible to send stuff in.

  11. Kudos for posting their email addresses! Not only can we contact them now, but perhaps even the spam spiders will give them a piece of their minds.

  12. Wow. Between this and the episode of Pushing Daisies I just saw — full of cruel jokes at the expense of a woman with bulimia — there are so few safe places. I’m grateful for this one, here, and for our lovely hostesses.

  13. The game is disgusting and wrong, but I’m wondering who’s actually playing it and why it was developed in the first place? What self-respecting kid says, “No, Mommy, I don’t want to go to the Nick Jr. site. I want to play FOOD DETECTIVE to prepare for my career as a judgmental, simplistic Nosy Parker gumshoe!”

    Also, way to rip off Carmen Sandiego, you Kaiser schmucks.

  14. My letter kind of sucks, but here it is!

    Hello, I was not exactly sure which email adress would be the correct one for this letter, and if this is the wrong one just let me know the correct one and I will send it to them.

    So once again, hello and thanks for your time!

    What I find ironic is that your company claims that it embraces diversity, yet this game uses bigotry to get a political point across. From what I can tell from “The Food Detective” website the point of the game is to have children rat each other out for bad eating/exercise habits based on their physical appearance. What also bothers me is the game is made for young children who are at the age where they are prone to bullying their peers. Grade School children will tease each other for almost anything, they are even better at it when they have a pre-made excuse. As a random person looking at someone, you have NO IDEA why they happen to be the size that they are or whether or not they live a healthy lifestyle. Even if you did, whatever happened to the saying “mind your own buisness”? It is none of your concern how someone chooses to live their life as long as they are not hurting others. It is not a child’s job to rat out his or her friends for their physical appreance. Bullying is an unhealthy experience for anyone and no one deserves it. It is counter-productive to learning, which is what children are supposed to be doing in school. It is possible for schools to teach health eating and exercise habits without dehumanizing anyone.

    This letter is from a 16 year old, female high schooler. Since you seem to be obsessed with numbers my BMI is 20.9. Even though it does not affect me personally I completely support size acceptance because it is the right thing to do! Discrimination is discrimination no matter what the excuse for it happens to be.

    I hope you choose to remove the game as soon as possible,


  15. Tia, that letter far from sucks — I think it’s really straightforward and affecting, and it brings particular attention to the bullying aspect, which I think is so so important. I like that we’re probably giving them a wide range of letters — some very scholarly, some very personal, some informal and some formal (and perhaps some very snarky; I haven’t decided whether to send mine yet).

  16. Imagine kids having to do this in the school or class computer lab all together – usually they have kids working in twos or threes because most schools don’t have enough computers to go around (IME). Too bad if you’re the fat or skinny kid stuck in a team with bullies.

    “Are we doing enough to shame fat kids?” – Perhaps they took the Onion report seriously.

  17. Why is this planet starting to remind me of that bit in Orwell’s 1984, where the kids are trained to report their parents’ “crimes” to Big Brother?

  18. @fillyjonk

    I just feel it was a bit distant emotionally. I wrote it while writing articles on Iraq for the school newsmag so I was in “serious mode”.

    The part about me not being directly affected by that kind of stuff is also false.However, I am starting to get more careful about who I admit personal problems too. Someday I will write a blog about it, maybe…

  19. Everyone’s affected by this, but I think you were speaking to them in a language they can understand. I actually didn’t read it as detached at all, though it’s usefully dispassionate (as in rational — unlike the letter I initially wrote, which was so sarcastic as to be useless).

  20. What’s wrong with the chocolate bar? Didn’t your dietician tell you that chocolate is a health food?

    geesh. …

    Lily… there are pretty girls and there are ugly girls. Shania Twain is pretty. mann coulter is not (physically or otherwise).

    so sayeth me,


  21. Sauerkraut, “pretty” is highly subjective, and Ann Coulter jokes that are based on her being “unfeminine,” instead of on her being a FUCKING CRAZY BITCH are not cool around here.

  22. What depresses me is that back in the 80s and early 90s, Kaiser used to advise their doctors on a HAES approach to their fat patients and sponsored “Great Shape” exercise classes for larger people that didn’t shame them for their bodies. Guess they had it in the backs of their minds for a while that “maybe if we’re nice to fat people they’ll get thinner” and when that didn’t work, they figure they have to whip out the brown shirts again.

    The Coulter remarks are absolutely of a piece with the “fat fuck” insults that are tossed around at random. Don’t like someone? Something they said piss you off? Attack their physical appearance. Or something else about them that’s “nonstandard.” That’s always something you can hold over someone’s head. The only thing I really wish would happen to Ann Coulter is that people would stop handing her a microphone. The only reason anything she says or does is any of my damn business is that people who only care about making money won’t stop putting that human train wreck out there for people to watch and listen to. Ditto Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Malkin, and all the other hatefactories.

  23. I’m most disappointed in what this game COULD have been, but wasn’t. The developers could have used it as a fun, non-judgemental way to teach kids about good nutritional habits without demonizing foods or fat kids, or making unsubstantiated assumptions about either.

    There are so many valid nutritional concerns that could have been addressed in this game. Concerns that go way beyond the overeating/junk food/fat kids stereotypes. What about those kids (of all shapes and sizes) who refuse to eat anything beyond a short list of “kid foods,” that usually starts with chicken nuggets and ends with mac & cheese? How about a section of the game encouraging them to try new foods, and teaching them about a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of foods. I would have loved to see healthy, hunger-quelling snacking addressed, not just the same old ultra-low-calorie “fresh fruits and veggies” schtik. Because I don’t know about anyone else, but a plate of raw celery has never done a damn thing to fill me up when I’m hungry. And there are a lot of options in between that plate of celery and downing a whole bag of potato chips – not that Scholastic is acknowledging them.

    I could go on, but you get the idea. As the parent of a kid squarely in Scholastic’s demographic for this game, I’m disgusted. Because no matter how I try to teach my daughter body acceptance and good health as it relates to the food she eats, Scholastic is hell-bent on teaching her (and the kids around her) that she’s a big girl because she’s eating crap, and outrageous amounts of it.

  24. The developers could have used it as a fun, non-judgemental way to teach kids about good nutritional habits without demonizing foods or fat kids, or making unsubstantiated assumptions about either.

    That’s a great point… doesn’t “food detective” imply a sort of Alton Brown-style investigation into the nutritive properties of different foods? You could rip off Carmen Sandiego even more and have them look up how much vitamin C a food has, or what protein is good for.

    This one is just Food Spy.

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