Fat, Sweet Machine

What people think we do here

Sociological Images points to an 1898 (or 1893?) ad that demonstrates, shall we say, changing cultural norms regarding body size. We could have a fascinating discussion about this, but mostly I was struck by the way this perfectly illustrates what a lot of people erroneously think FA is all about.


Also notable: the evolving connotations of the word “tasteless.”

Attention new readers: we do not actually advocate feeding your children fattening tonic. We just think you should lay off the dieting and be nice to fat people for a change.

76 thoughts on “What people think we do here”

  1. I must admit a weird fascination with this image. I want it on my wall somewhere, probably my kitchen.

    OTOH, I don’t want anything tasteless (or flavorless) hanging out in that room.

  2. *falls over in surprise at Wodehouse reference*

    This reminds me yet again that a hundred years ago the huge worry about children’s nutrition was the fear of them starving. (I’m pretty sure it’s 1893, by the way)

  3. It really is pretty fascinating that a “healthy” body used to mean clearly well fed, while now it means barely having any body fat and possibly even malnourished.

    I’ve seen this ad a few times already and it kind of weirds me out every time. Maybe it’s my Jewish, semi-kosher, ickiness about pork that does it.

  4. Oh, and Kate, if you’re around – I finally got myself a copy of “Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere” and finished it a few days ago. The book is being passed on to my mother, who is having trouble with the idea of me no longer trying to lose weight while taking care of my health. I loved it :)

  5. Well, I think people of all faiths can be properly freaked out by a pig/human infant chimera.

    Whereas we atheists cook those things up in our basements every week or so.

  6. Bwahahaha.

    Oh, but wait…what about atheist Jews? (Ok, I’m really agnostic, but I have my leanings.)

  7. perfectly illustrates what a lot of people erroneously think FA is all about.

    Too many thoughtful and rational people are furiously determined to be against FA, even if you try and tell them what it’s about.

    I don’t think they are thinking, just busy trying to defend the indefensible.

  8. Hooray for Brain Salt!!

    I totally would have bought the chimera for my wall, but in the end I decided it was just a little too creepy for the living room.

  9. Love. It. And as a parent of a toddler, I would say weight issues around children are kind of confused rather than moving towards skinny (though we adults are certainly pushed towards looking malnourished). With kids it’s about being in the right percentiles — it’s possible to be judged for having too tall/short, skinny/fat. I have a tall skinny baby and my husband and I are trying to fatten her up because we’re so tired of people telling us how thin she is as though we’re not feeding her. Though now that I write that out, who the fuck cares what other people think of our kid? She’s just skinny right now and she eats plenty.

  10. I have a tall skinny baby and my husband and I are trying to fatten her up because we’re so tired of people telling us how thin she is as though we’re not feeding her.

    Yeah, I’d say it’s better not to. 1) It will not work at all, 2) you might push her to overeat, and 3) she’ll learn very young that she’s the wrong size and won’t like herself.

  11. I especially like the pig-baby’s double chin and neck ruffle.

    I don’t have anything more intelligent to say, but thanks for showing us this!

  12. Kate, as the parent of a teenager, who has always been skinny, I can sympathize. I just say to people about his weight “his doctor doesn’t have a problem with it.” Shuts people right up.

  13. We’re not fatting up the children? But but…I’m trying to make America the fattest nation in the Universe, what with my advocacy of McDonalds and my war on veggies. If I can’t actually make kids fatter, I’ll have to start juggling statistics to make it look like they’re getting fatter. That would be unethical!

  14. I remember a Campbell’s Soup retro commericial that used the original plump kids in an interesting ‘before and after’ type of thing.

    The Campbell kids (who had a suggestion of double chin and lots of dimples) were laughing and playing competitive sports and having fun (wearing bright, preppy clothes, if it matters) while the kid who didn’t eat soup (or much of anything else but ‘junk’) looked like a pale, thin, sad, droopy goth. He barely had the energy to lift a spoonful of nourishing soup (supplied by the kids) to his listless mouth.

    Surprise! After one mouthful, he immediately turns into a plump, healthy kid who wants to play. And wear sporty clothes in primary colors.

    I saw this a looong time ago—maybe as much as over a decade ago—and I can’t promise it wasn’t one of TVLand’s retro commercial deals, but it sure shows up the people who think 6it’s a good idea to put 6-year olds on diets.

  15. Funny, I was just at the Grove Park Inn this weekend. The building of the Inn was funded by proceeds from this-a-here elixir. Grove had odd ideas about advertising, but his hotel designing skills were top notch! (returning now to daily lurking)

  16. I’ve never really understood how you could fatten up a child who wasn’t previously malnourished, or make a child thinner in a setting where you have sufficient food (which I realize unfortunately isn’t the case for many children). I’ve never known a child (again, this is in the context of having sufficient food and not having hunger be a constant condition) who didn’t make their discomfort known when they were hungry, or a child who would keep eating once they were full. Unless you are prepared to either force feed or underfeed a child, I really don’t see much way to change their body size, since kids are, in general, way more tuned into their hunger/fullness cues than adults are.

    It also seems silly to get so concerned about how much babies weigh, assuming they are being adequately fed. As long as a child doesn’t make a huge shift off the curve they are on, in most cases, they’re fine. What matters most, from what I’ve read, is that they follow whatever curve they are on (because a sudden change can indicate a problem), and not how that curve compares to that of other kids. My son was off-the-charts heavy until about six months, during the time he was only consuming breastmilk. Luckily I was taking him to an NP who realized that was normal for him, and she never made me feel like I was overfeeding him, which I don’t think I could have, since as soon as he was done eating, he’d stop feeding. But I know so many women who’ve been made to feel like they are over or underfeeding their babies, and in most cases that’s just the doctor overreacting to where the child is on a growth curve that is always going to have people at the extremes.

  17. The Fat Nutritionist recently had a good post on how children crave calorie-dense foods because their bodies are growing at a huge rate compared to their current size.

    AKA it’s normal for kids to want foods that are much more calorie-dense than adults.

    Re: what fat acceptance is, what I tell those who ask is that I’m not trying to increase or decrease my weight. I’ve also been known to compare dieting to an evil ex, or that dieting and I have a dysfunctional relationship. ;)

  18. I’ve never known a child (again, this is in the context of having sufficient food and not having hunger be a constant condition) who didn’t make their discomfort known when they were hungry, or a child who would keep eating once they were full.

    Right, how much a child is eating doesn’t have that much to do with their size under most circumstances, except that real undernourishment can slow growth. But hey, disordered eating can start early, and they’re nothing like telling a child that they’re too big/small and that the reason is that they’re eating too much/little to start that ball rolling good and young.

  19. One caveat about kids and weight, newborns; it’s very important to track their weight and make sure they are gaining weight properly. One of mine didn’t thrive and her doctor found a medical problem that was life-threatening. She’s fine now, but those scales saved her life.

    Love the Buck-U-Uppo!

  20. slightly off topic: several months ago i was stuck in a car repair shop and sesame street was on the tv. (i don’t mean to imply that i dislike sesame street. just that i don’t usually watch it. ^_^)

    during this one show there were THREE segments on fruits/vegetables and making healthy choices. i don’t remember food really being discussed on sesame street when i was little. and it kinda scared me to see how focused this kids show is on food.

  21. hoshi, yes, ugh, it is all over PBS now!!!! There’s a song on Word World that includes the line “Don’t eat cakes” — which is odd because there’s also an episode where pig bakes a cake to share with his friends — and there’s a little exchange on Curious George where the man in the yellow hat says to the doctor that he CAN’T have gained weight because he runs marathons and eats right! And then there’s a bit in Fetch With Ruff Ruffman where the challenge for the kids is to reduce the number of calories in a pizza to make it healthier.

    I don’t give money to PBS anymore, and this is why.

  22. One of mine didn’t thrive and her doctor found a medical problem that was life-threatening. She’s fine now, but those scales saved her life.

    Interestingly, my brother M, who’s disabled and whom I’ve written about here before, got a “failure to thrive” diagnosis as his only “official” diagnosis as a child. He had a myriad of physical and developmental markers of disability, but no one could decide on any one diagnosis, so that’s what they slapped him with. Unrelatedly, he also ended up being an epically picky eater as a kid. :-)


  23. PBS also has tons of PSAs and commercials talking about how important it is to get your kid’s fat, lazy ass off the couch. Because, apparently, if Chuck E. Cheese weren’t there to tell us, kids wouldn’t want to play.

  24. My parents have wallpaper in the basement bathroom, with a bunch of old adds from newspapers.

    This is one of the ads on it VIOLA!

    Dr Hoffman’s Malt Extract. Mmmmm Malt.

    All I could remember was that the ad contained the words “puts flesh on thin people” (which I find mildly disturbing for some reason.) Thank you Google.

  25. All I could remember was that the ad contained the words “puts flesh on thin people” (which I find mildly disturbing for some reason.)

    It sounds like a really strange offshoot of “Stuff on Your Cat”.

  26. “Pig Baby. It’s got the body of a pig, but it’s actually a baby.”

    (Sorry…couldn’t resist a Father Ted reference.)

    I collect old magazines and ephemera, and it’s interesting, and sometimes alarming, how things have changed. One thing I note from about the 1920s to the 1960s is the frequent use of the word sturdy to describe the desirable quality of children, and especially babies, if fed on product X or given tonic Y. By the time I was growing up it had become a euphemism for ‘fat’, and I suspect the only ads that involve that word these days are for bookcases.

    Even in the 50s, when adult women were already having diets pushed at them in a big way, the ads play on their need to be seen to be properly feeding their children, who were assumed to be permanently ravenous (and of course, catering for their husband’s ‘man-sized appetite’. The first references to fat kids in any negative sense seem to start appearing in the 60s – I recall a warning in a doctors’ advice leaflet: ‘If any of your children are heavyweights, get them to lay off the cakes and buns between meals…’ , and an article in a mothering magazine about the fat boy who gets bullied at school until, of course, he loses weight. Sigh.

    Also, I have a leaflet for Dr. Williams’ Pink Pills, circa 1930s I think. It’s full of wonderfully melodramatic illustrations of wild-eyed, despairing women who were ‘at the point of death’ until they discovered said pills. Makes one wonder what was in the things. (Iron and hyperbole, I’m guessing.)

  27. Ooh, I want the Brain Salt poster! My poor brainmeats need all the help they can get!

    Whatever happened to the concept of the fat, healthy baby? In older literature, babies on the large end of the baby spectrum were seen as the epitome of infant health. New mothers were congratulated on their ‘bouncing’ baby. Small, thin babies were viewed with alarm. Oh no, he/she is too thin, the child needs to gain some weight in order to withstand the rigors of the cold, cruel world outside the womb! (Which is also screwed up if said infant is otherwise healthy, but kinda understandable if food shortages are a problem.)

    Now it’s the other way around. Despite a myriad of studies showing that small babies are more likely to suffer health problems, especially if they’re premature or delivered by C-section. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most C-sections premature by definition? From what I was taught about gestation, the baby isn’t done in there yet unless the mother has gone into labor.

  28. electrogirl, i recently watched “The Business of Being Born.” it’s a documentary by Rikki Lake and i found it fascinating.

    anywho, i bring it up because c-sections are discussed a lot in that film. the united states has the highest rate of c-sections with about 1 in 3 births being delivered that way. new york has the highest rates with some hospitals delivering as many as 45% of births by c-section.

    there are several theories as to why the US has more c-sections. but it certainly isn’t because a third of our babies are sick.

    oh, and the US has the highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized country. that really caught me by surprise.

  29. Electrogirl,
    One point is that once a woman has had a c section they are more likely to be recommended for future cesarean. (Something gross about scar tissue and strain of birth is involved I think? But medical stuff makes me plug my ears and go “LALALA” especially when it relates to babies.)

  30. I wanted a non-surgical birth with my second child—major drugs, yes, C-section, no.

    We found out she was breech two days before her offical due date—which was, poetically, April Fool’s Day. She’d actually been pointed in the right direction at 38 weeks, but had moved about halfway back—I did feel it, but I thought it was a really strong Braxton-Hicks.

    They didn’t want me to go into labor before she was delivered, because her position would most likely have caused some damage to both of us if I progressed too quickly before they could set up an ’emergency’ C-section.

    I fought it—my Dad was breech, and he was born at home in 1932—but then they showed me the ultrasound and I saw that she was indeed stuck sideways. After some frantic research, I capitulated, and she was delivered the next day, at a little more than 8 pounds.

    I’m just saying that not all C-sections are about time management and schedules. Not that anyone stated that outright, but I felt a disapproval of all C-sections coming through . . .that could just be my sensitivity to this, though . . .

  31. “I’m just saying that not all C-sections are about time management and schedules. Not that anyone stated that outright, but I felt a disapproval of all C-sections coming through . . .that could just be my sensitivity to this, though . . .”

    Eek, sorry! Not what I meant; I need to learn better Internet communication skills. (Better communication skills in general, heh.) What I meant was the overall trend in the U.S. that Hoshi pointed out. I’m not so much angry as puzzled.

    Am I derailing? I think so. Sorry, Shapelings!

  32. It’s REALLY EASY to feel attacked for having had a c-section (or for planning an “elective” one) so I’m not in the least surprise that that communication worked out that way.

    Knowing that overall c-sections are getting more common, or that women are entering puberty earlier, or that most rapists are men, tells us nothing at all about individual c-sections or individual women’s puberty or individual men’s propensity to rape.

    But it can make people feel like stuff beyond their control is their own fault, which sucks.

  33. hoshi — I am not a statistician or a doctor, but FWIW (which may not be much), I’ve heard from doctors and statisticians that it’s *perinatal* mortality, not *infant* mortality, that’s the pertinent stat if you want to compare how well the US health care system provides obstetric care.

    (Perinatal mortality is, AFAIK, from birth to one month of age; infant mortality is one month to a year. And the US’ perinatal mortality rate is (so the same people tell me) quite good.)

    I don’t so much go there anymore — not because it doesn’t matter, but because I don’t end up acting very nicely in birth politics conversations (which I regret, I really do, and I wish it weren’t the case) — so I just throw that out there as “Something I’ve heard but not followed up on to check, but which you could go out and check, if you were interested.”

    Actually, if Shapeling Emma B is reading this, she knows a lot about the subject.

  34. I nominate Ailbhe to be in charge of all birth politics discourse in the world! :-) Seriously, that was just lovely. And a very good point.

  35. Do you think if we gave this tonic to people who create tasteless advertisements it would cause them to chill?

    Or would it just turn them into human-pig hybrids?

    Win-win, though, right?

  36. I don’t give money to PBS anymore, and this is why.

    IMHO, that’s the problem, PBS is relying more and more upon corporate sponsorship. There’s no way you can come out against corn subsidies when Archer Daniels Midland pays for your news programs, and no way to go HAES when the diet and big pharma industries pay a hefty part of your electricity bill.

    Obvs everyone is belt-tightening right now, hell, I’m the last person to guilt people over their spending. However, the lack of public support, combined with a vicious funds cut from Congress, has left PBS without any alternatives but to cozy up to commercial advertisers.

    (Ack, I hate Flash heavy pages. Tried to find out if ADM still sponsored The News Hour and it damn near crashed my browser. Bad PBS, no biscuit!)

  37. Ok, c-sections aside, I think for most (sane) people, fat babies are still the ideal, but maybe I’m wrong since I hang out in a lot of crunchy places. Most of the moms I know brag about how much weight baby has gained. Heck I know I want to. The little man here went in to the Doctor today for his 1 month checkup and at 5 weeks he’s gained a third again of his birth weight (9 lbs to 12 lbs.) It was that nice even number that really struck me. Imagine gaining a third of your body weight in a month! At any other time in your life it would probably be a reason to panic. (Because if you’re gaining 50 or more pounds in a month? Probably something medically wrong, not because OMG DEATHFATZ.)

    Anyway there were two other babies waiting, a big chubby 4 month old girl with big cheeks and adorable little fat rolls on her arms and legs and a very small (I’m assuming was premature) month old baby, looking very skinny. And my immediate reaction to the first was, “Aww, cute chubby baby!” and to the second, “Oh, the poor little thing.”

    Anyway, I may have had a point but I’ve lost it. Instant weight gain beverage = breastmilk.

  38. GH, huh, I’d never thought of that before but that’s a good point. I can also see how if I wrote in saying, “I pledged $100 but now you’ve gone all crazy food police on me” it might get someone’s notice more than “Hi, I’m a person off the street who already doesn’t support PBS but I’ve got an axe to grind.”

    Hmm. I think maybe I’ll time my next complaint with a pledge drive.

  39. This is a little off-topic, but I am in serious need of some FA advice and I don’t want to derail Sarah’s excellent birthday thread (happy birthday, Sarah!)

    I received a mass email inviting me to join a “health improvement” competition through my university. I was interested because I know I never exercise while I’m at school, and the contest involved weekly reporting-in, which I knew would motivate me pretty darn well. It also involved a health check-up to begin and to start. The full details of the contest are here: phchallenge.com

    Here’s the catch. While the health check-ups for faculty evaluate cholesterol, blood pressure, and BMI (an imperfect but still vaguely acceptable mix of health indicators), students are only evaluated on BMI. There is no universe in which this represents “health improvement” contest for students. It’s a weight loss contest, and that’s not at all acceptable.

    Nothing starts til September so I still have time to raise a ruckus and ask for changes. I want to convince the administration to actually measure the students’ health, too (i.e., add tests cholesterol and blood pressure). It’ll probably be tougher but I also want to convince them to eliminate BMI from their measurements. I’m planning to email the site and the school administration to start. Depending on their responses, I’m fully prepared to bug the newspaper to run a column or flyer the campus and generally make a spectacle of myself until this changes.

    Thing is, I need my arguments to be impeccable. I’d like to cite research exposing BMI as bullshit, and propose a different easily-measured health indicator instead (resting heart rate?). I’d also appreciate having someone to bounce drafts back and forth with before I send them.

    So, um… help?

  40. eloriane, the best way to convince them to change tacks might be to point out (vociferously) how dangerous it is to encourage thinking that very often leads to disordered eating and exercising practices, and then suggest alternative measures of health that are not so triggering for students.

  41. Instant weight gain beverage = breastmilk.

    right… except when it isn’t.

    (The last thing I want is for this thread to devolve into bickering about breastfeeding, but this is a pronouncement. As though anything is that simple.)

    I do want to respond to the commenters above who pointed out that higher birth weights really are more favorable, and I completely agree. I was responding to comments about toddlers and children when I mentioned that eating more does not equal weight gain in children, any more than it does in adults. There is clearly very different physiology for newborns, who are growing so fast that anything but rapid weight gain can be legitimately seen as a warning sign worth investigating, I think!

  42. Yeah, “fat as pigs.” Interesting phrase.

    Pigs aren’t bred to be all that fat anymore, either, and they just don’t taste the same because of it….

    Now, I mean eating PIGS, not pig-baby-humans. Pig-Baby-Donuts? Those are just as tasty as ever, I do believe.

  43. OK, belatedly catching up on this thread. I’d just like to point out that I, Queen of the Fat-o-Sphere, was hospitalized at 17 months for failure to thrive. AFAIK, they never really figured out what was up, but in my case, it wasn’t life-threatening. I think I’ve told this story here before, but all I’ve heard relative to that diagnosis is that I scared the shit out of a nurse, because she walked into my room, and I stood up in the crib and said, “Hi, lady!” I looked so much younger than I was, she totally wasn’t expecting that.

    I’ve often wondered if that’s related to the fact that I was a skinny kid until puberty, and to this day am much smaller than my siblings (who were all average to fat kids). Mostly, I’m just thankful that in 1976 and where my parents were living, a diagnosis of failure to thrive didn’t automatically trigger concerns of abuse/neglect, as it sometimes does now. But yeah, I’m here to tell you, you can have a scrawny baby who won’t gain weight no matter what you do, and that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll have any trouble putting on weight later. :)

  44. the best way to convince them to change tacks might be to point out (vociferously) how dangerous it is to encourage thinking that very often leads to disordered eating and exercising practices

    Yes. And, especially on a college campus! It seems ridiculously irresponsible to have what amounts to a weight loss contest for college students. I think sharing some statistics about the prevalence of eating disorders among college women, and how contests like this could be triggering to people and damage other people’s recovery, could be very helpful. Given how many college-aged women having eating disorders, having a contest like this seems like it could create a very difficult environment for them.

  45. Argh, weight gain (or lack thereof) in babies is what started my irrational prejudice against nutritionists.

    With both my first two kids, I had concurrent (and likely related) milk supply issues and PPD. Both kids dropped weight between check-ups, which triggered major concern. Fortunately, I have a really great internist/pediatrician who sees the whole family – he was able to get me and the babies straightened out pretty quick.

    However, he did send me to see a nutritionist with the second baby (who had been *very* chubby before this problem). The nutritionist tried to tell me that nothing was wrong because my daughter was now “proportional” height-and-weight-wise. And I should try to keep her from gaining weight too fast so she’d stay in proportion!

    I went *howling* back to the pediatrician, who apologized for putting me through that and kept a very close watch (as in, weekly appointments) on my daughter until she’d regained all the weight she’d lost and was back on her original curve. She is now a beautiful 2-year-old, still at 50th percentile height and 90th percentile weight. :)

  46. Kate, I was a bit like you as a kid – minus the failure to thrive. My family always used to joke that I didn’t have baby fat, even as a baby, and I was about 75th percentile for height and only 50th for weight.

    You know, until I hit puberty.

  47. eloriane, I recommend that you show them Linda Bacon’s research, as well as plenty of research that shows that physical activity is beneficial even if it doesn’t lead to changes in BMI, and Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size is full of the kind of references you will need.
    BMI is a terrible way for individuals to track changes, and it’s only accurate if height is reported (and measured) accurately and consistently.
    Engaging in a bit of conversation about what they are hoping will happen as a result of the challenge, other than weight loss, is a good way to go. Ask them what they think losing weight will accomplish, and then point to the evidence that finding enjoyable movement and eating normally*, for those interested in doing those things, can accomplish what they are hoping will happen in a more long-term and sustainable way than dieting will.
    Also, looking at the questionaire that students fill out, is no alcohol consumption whatsoever the goal? Because that’s not consistent with the evidence, that shows moderate drinking is associated with some good things (not saying that moderate drinking causes these good things to happen, but there’s no evidence that complete abstinence from alcohol is necessary for health).
    * By the Ellyn Satter definition.

  48. elorraine, likely they are measuring faculty/staff and not student cholesterol and high blood pressure may be that these are numbers that naturally increase with age, and most students aren’t old enough to make it “worth their while.”

    The assumption that weight loss is always good is completely unfounded. It can push thin people into the underweight category, which is as strongly associated with disease and death as the highest “morbid” obesity OMGTEHDETHFATZ category.

    If they’re going to equate correlation with causation, they should at least do it even-handedly.

  49. @eloriane: Oh my gods! Chiming in with the “that’ll trigger disordered eating!” crowd. I’ve been going to college for a while now- as in, years. I have seen and heard so many girls who nibble on a few carrot sticks for lunch and think that skipping lunch when they’ve only had a skim latte for breakfast is somehow healthy… it’s scary. College seems to be a prime breeding ground for eating disorders. People are away from home so their parents can’t tell what they are or aren’t eating. Classes are often scheduled in the early morning or mid-afternoon, so it’s faster and easier to just skip a meal and maybe bring a Red Bull to class. Girls are trying to be fashion-magazine thin to attract boys and boys are increasingly self-conscious about any hint of a belly. Food takes time and makes you fat, drink more caffeine, hunger is a sign of weakness!

    Not sure what they could replace the BMI with if they want a quick, easy and cheap way to assess students’ health, though.

  50. Ack, that should be “and/or think that…”. I should learn not to comment when I’m sick. :P The brainmeats, they are as lethargic as the rest of me.

  51. BMI is a terrible way for individuals to track changes, and it’s only accurate if height is reported (and measured) accurately and consistently.

    BMI is NEVER accurate for individuals. It only (barely) works on a population level as a way of measuring trends.

    The guy who invented it said himself that it was meaningless to use an individual’s BMI to assess their health. I have no fucking idea why we’re continuing to do so.

  52. Caitlin, you are absolutely right. What I wrote was came from the “health report” I got yesterday where it looked like my BMI increased in a year even though my weight was exactly the same at the two measurements. How? My height was recorded differently each time. (not measured, it was self-reported, different people did the computation).
    I got into a heated discussion with a coworker about this yesterday by saying the same exact thing you did — BMI is useless for individuals. “But, but, but they’ve been telling us to teach people to compute and know their BMI for years now, instead of weight!” she said. “I know, and they were wrong.” I said.

  53. And I second those who said show them research on the (scary high) prevalance of eating disorders among college students, especially women. What are they trying to do, round up the few who’ve escaped so far?

    There are going to be very, very few women on campus who aren’t engaging in disordered eating already; encouraging them to get involved in COMPETITIVE WEIGHTLOSS in what is already a highly competitive, stressful and life-changing situation is INSANE. It’s going to trigger the dormant ones and completely fuck up the ones in recovery to see their COLLEGE advocating weight loss above all other measures of health.

    Health at Every Size is also a very good way to go. They could try to get Linda Bacon to come speak to students if they’re genuinely concerned about their health. And sure, without BMI there’s no “easy” (read: nonsensical) measure of how/whether they’re improving students’ health, but there’s also the chance THEY’RE IMPROVING STUDENTS’ HEALTH, which there just is not in a weightloss competition. Point out that they can get students to eat better and exercise more without going near a pair of scales, if health is actually their goal.

  54. wellroundedtype2, you’re right — if you’re going to use the ridiculousness that is the BMI to assess individuals you need to at the very least be measuring height and weight accurately and consistently.

    Basically, I’m sick of the “problems with the BMI” conversation. We point out that it doesn’t work for anyone except white European (male)s, and it doesn’t work even then for the well-muscled and other groups within that population. Then people come back with “But those are exceptions, it’s still a valid measurement of health for most people” and start point to the correlation=causation studies and how that means people with a BMI above 25 are going to GET ILL and COST US MONEY and DIE.

    And then we’re trying to have 3 arguments simulataneously:
    a) that conflating white Europeans with “most people” is so problematic I could die,
    b) that even for white Europeans BMI is a flawed measurement,
    and c) that the studies showing links between certain BMIs and certain medical conditions are either flawed, tenuous, or showing correlation rather than causation (depending on the condition and the study).

    But this all just smoke and mirrors obfuscating the central fact: BMI IS MEANINGLESS FOR INDIVIDUALS. Do (generic) you know your BMI? Great. Why? It means NOTHING for you as an individual. Nothing. It’s a (questionable) calculation to look at trends in a population and that’s all it is.

    So I think we need to stop having the conversation about how it “doesn’t work” for this person and that person and it has this flaw and that flaw and just say that for individuals IT IS MEANINGLESS. Start, middle, end. Everything else is acting like there’s some meaning to be gleaned from it if we just fix this problem and that problem and there ISN’T.

    I don’t know why this is bothering me particularly today, but it is. It makes even less sense than all the other fat-hating bullshit out there, but people — people who know about statistics, people who should know better — will still try to attach a population-wide measure to an individual to try to assess health, and there are however many people with a BMI over 25 walking around being told every day that they are at an increased risk to get ill and die, soon, and it’s all their own fault.

    It’s all fucking ridiculous and I’m done with it. MEANINGLESS FOR INDIVIDUALS. Done.

  55. Ha, I was actually on a fattening tonic for the first 5 years of my life–somewhere, my mother found 5% milk (whole milk is 3.5%). If that was unavailable, it was half and half or light cream. (Nothing is more delicious than oatmeal with a little brown sugar and half and half), all on doctors orders. I was diagnosed with failure to thrive as an infant, I was in the 10% for height, and well below the 0% for weight–at two, I weighed less than the average six month old. I also, according to my mother, had a fairly low interest in food, so she had to force the most calorically dense food down my throat whenever she got the chance. Maybe I too am sheltered from mainstream parenting, but I feel most people still view a plump baby as cute and healthy. My impression is most parents today are still concerned (rightly or wrongly) about children who are off the charts on one end or another, not baby fat.

  56. The other thing that I find so funny about “improving student’s health” is that, honestly, most of the students are probably already pretty darn healthy. If you’re the age of the average college student, and have enough resources to go to college, chances are that your health is quite good, and any health problems that do come up are not lifestyle-related.

    So it seems like it would make far more sense to focus on establishing healthy behaviors rather than improving health (especially when measured by BMI). I was extremely healthy in college (and, thankfully, still am), despite having atrocious health habits. I never exercised, I smoked, I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I should, and I would be surprised if I ate one vegetable each week. My health stats would have all been fine, but I was exhausted a lot, and moody, and anxious, and I think, for me, better sleep habits, quitting smoking (which I did after a couple of years), and regular physical activity would have made a huge difference in how I felt, if not in how healthy I looked on paper.

    I know that if I were to prescribe one “healthy lifestyle” measure for my college students, it would certainly NOT be weight loss. It would be more sleep. I have students drinking energy drinks in my classes for breakfast because they were up half the night trying to get work done after going to school and then working. I think when talking about college students worrying about numbers that will somehow quantify their health isn’t particularly useful, and focusing on behaviors that will help them have more energy and better manage stress is definitely a better way to go.

  57. If you’re looking for a better way of assessing health, maybe the aerobic fitness (VO2 measurement) would be something the school could use – or even resting heart rate.

    I’d also dispute the idea that measuring cholesterol isn’t worthwhile for college students. My parents (both of “normal” weight) are both on medication for high cholesterol. My cholesterol has been borderline high to moderately high since I was in college. My ratio is good and I don’t need to be on meds now, but I think it’s worth being conscious at a younger age, especially since exercising and eating nutritious foods keep mine down.

  58. This reminds me yet again that a hundred years ago the huge worry about children’s nutrition was the fear of them starving.

    For most people in the world, it still is.

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