Let me preface this by saying I am a mom who made all my own baby food, made sure our milk and chicken were antibiotic-free and didn't allow TV on weekdays, the better to be outside running around after school. Added to that, as a parent volunteer and a teacher, I've seen far too many lunches that consist of two bags of chips and a soda. Don't get me started on the loss of daily P.E. and adequate recess in our schools.
I am VEHEMENTLY opposed to any type of specific nutritional education and BMI/Fitness testing in our schools.
Whaaaaat? You ask. Whyyyyyy? You ask. Let me tell you, I reply.
Because in addition to the above, I am also the mother of a daughter in recovery from anorexia. Because I know things I never knew before about eating disorders and genetic predispositions and at-risk personality traits. Because nutritional education is likely triggering eating disorders in younger and younger children. Because the obesity epidemic--a complicated intersection of agricultural policy, urban design, and social and educational policies, and a dieting culture is not going to be solved by teaching kids that sugar or fat are bad. Not for that child and not for all children.
Because all this talk about good and bad foods, healthy and unhealthy behaviors, and the attendant fat-shaming as you share cautionary tales of unhealthy lifestyles, harms and kills kids. And while obesity might kill your child someday, anorexia is happy to do it today.
For children who are people-pleasers, who are perfectionistic, who are black-and-white thinkers, that nutrition unit is a finger firing a trigger on the loaded gun of genetic predisposition.
Talk to the parents of an anorexic (there are other eating disorders of course, but this is where my expertise and experience lie) and the stories sound so similar it would be comical if it was at all laughable.
It goes like this: their child decided to follow some rules about food and exercise-rules their teachers and parents taught him/her. (This is where that personality profile comes in--children who go on to develop anorexia are generally really good students and overall terrific kids--smart and creative are common adjectives. They want to make you happy and they want to do things right.) At first, you usually congratulate yourself on parenting that mythical unicorn of a kid--the one that loves an apple better than a cookie, the one that would rather take a walk than watch TV. High-fives all around.
If you're the parent of a little, you probably pick up some issues right away. If you're the parent of an older kid, it may take awhile. One day, you realize you are scared out of your motherfucking mind because you CAN'T get your kid to eat. CANNOT DO IT. If you're lucky, as I was, you have a great pediatrician, a phenomenal program nearby, and insurance that does what insurance is supposed to do. If you're not lucky, you struggle to find help as your child gets sicker and you deal with clueless clinicians and then when you do find help, you have to mortgage your house to pay for it. If you're lucky like me, your daughter is alive, in recovery, and goes to college. If you're not lucky, your son is dead; many sufferers die of medical complications and suicide while waiting to access treatment. When treatment is available quickly, the 20% mortality rate plummets.
Back to my original point: think about this--you take a kid who is a rule-follower and a people-pleaser and a perfectionist and a black-white thinker and say:
Sugar is BAD
Fruit is GOOD
Fat is BAD
Vegetables are GOOD
Soda is BAD
Water is GOOD
Being sedentary is BAD
Being active is GOOD
The fun, creative, kid you love more than life itself takes this information to heart and begins to restrict eating and starts exercising for fitness. And they are GOOD at it--oh, so good; no days skipped, no cheating--it's impressive initially. At some point, the period of malnutrition and/or weight loss flips the switch in their brain and they no longer have control over what and how much they eat--the disease now dictates food consumption and exercise--and your life as you knew it is over and so is your child's.
You can have immediate access to the best treatment in the world as our family did and you are still looking at a minimum of two years before you can quit holding your breath. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness for a reason; anorexia is a bitch of a disease and tenacious beyond your wildest nightmare.
This is my plea to you; mother to mother, teacher to teacher: MODEL balance in your food choices and your activity level and keep your mouth shut; let your actions speak for you as you eat balanced meals and go out for ice cream now and then and take family bike rides or walks. If the obesity epidemic is your issue, I get it. But tackle it among adults, not among kids: advocate at all levels of government for changes to our agricultural policies that affect our food supply, for urban design and public transportation interface that give us walkable cities, for reintroducing movement and nurses into schools--these are ALL important issues and I support your work.
But please, LEAVE the children out of it--it might be your daughter who goes from being the adorable third--grader who delighted both you and her teacher with the outline she drew for reading and writing her first chapter book report in third grade to the 17-year old who missed the last semester of high school because she decided that she could avoid the Freshman 15 in college if she got a head start on adhering to reasonable "healthy eating and exercise" rules.
I encourage a dialogue about this and welcome your questions. There is a lot of common ground on what we are #FedUp with and we all have the same common goal--to safeguard the health and welfare of ALL our children.