Kids are Being Sent Home with Letters for Being Too Fat

We all know that a letter from school to a student’s parents means the kid is in trouble, whether for tardiness, failure to turn in homework, acting out, or, now, being fat.

Education officials who decide these fat letters are a good idea operate on three assumptions: one, that being overweight is inherently bad; two, that overweight people can make themselves slim; and three, that singling fat people out will make them lose weight. None of these are true.

Overweight Doesn’t Mean Unhealthy

It is possible to be both fat and healthy. A person can eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly but still have a high body mass index (BMI). And now I’m going to get really heretical: in some ways, fat may promote health, according to Everyday Feminism.

Fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events and not suffer as much blood loss due to treatments such as angioplasty. Fat has even been shown to protect against a variety of problems, including “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Fat people also have lower rates of emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hip fracture, tuberculosis, anemia, peptic ulcer and chronic bronchitis.

A  BMI that is lower than recommended can be as bad as, or even worse than, one that is higher. “The bulk of epidemiological evidence suggests that five pounds ‘underweight’ is more dangerous than 75 pounds ‘overweight.’”

Calories In, Calories Out is a Myth

Most of us understand this simple equation for weight loss: eating fewer calories by changing what you eat, plus burning more calories by exercising, equals losing weight. The only problem is that it doesn’t work. Calorie deficit plans have a success rate of just five percent over five years. The other 95% of people didn’t lose weight at all or couldn’t keep it off.

One reason is that withholding necessary calories means declaring war on your metabolism, and it is a war you will lose. The longer you stay on a reduced calorie diet, the more your metabolism compensates. ”Your body becomes very efficient, and you have to eat less and less to continue to lose weight,” says psychologist Traci Mann. Your body goes into starvation mode and stockpiles fat to protect itself.

Many factors besides calories determine people’s weight, including medications and stress. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says research suggests that “a sizable portion of the weight variation in adults is due to genetic factors.” Some of us are just born to be big.

A calorie restriction diet can be worse than useless. Dieting can be very bad for one’s health. “A recent study found that people who lost 15% or more of their body weight had an increased risk of death compared to people of the same size who didn’t lose weight.”

Fat Shaming Doesn’t Work

A letter from school telling parents that their kid is too fat could prompt them to get on the kid’s case about it. Actually, that is probably the intended effect. But it’s counterproductive. Wagging a skinny finger at overweight people is more likely to make them gain weight than lose it.

Since the assumptions behind the fat letters from schools are false, there is little argument to be made that the letters are worthwhile. They might actually be counterproductive.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill3 years ago

In a world where everyone gets a trophy to keep kids to feeling bad about themselves, we are going to embarrass them because they are fat? REALLY BAD idea!

Andrew R.
Andrew R3 years ago

this article is a nonsense

Lynda H.
Lynda H3 years ago

Sure, Jim. I note that you come from Gatlinburg; one of my favourite places on Earth! Many happy memories.

There is most definitely an increase in obesity and weight gain BUT it is not an “epidemic”, therefore my position would be D). I believe the term “epidemic” is not biologically accurate and has been created by the weight loss industry to generate hysteria, government/medical support and mega$.
I would have to say that C) is partly correct: a contributing factor.

Lynda H.
Lynda H3 years ago

Just learned about a book that agrees with me:

Jim S.
Jim S3 years ago

i Lynda, could you clarify your position? I'm confused after reading through your graf, whether it is:

A) The increase in "obesity" is entirely fabricated or illusory data
B) Same is a semantic result of applying new number boundaries to data that isn't changing
C) Same is initially fabricated or illusory, but the "diet industry" scares the crud out of people, causing them to diet and otherwise screw up their metabolism and make it real.
D) Same is real, but does not warrant the term "obesity epidemic" for other reasons, such as not being a useful biological construct.

As I understand Suba's position, A) is a high possibility. Because "Obesity has increased" and "Obesity has not increased" by definition encompass all possible realities, one must be true, and one is more likely than the other, on account of the other entailing a scientific error and/or conspiracy without precedent in human history. One cannot assign equal probabilities by default - that is a basic error in logic.

BTW, I've killed public-space time in the same manner. Personally, I'm surprised that the BMI-derived obesity rates are that low.

Lynda H.
Lynda H3 years ago

“In 2011–12, around 60% of Australian adults were classified as overweight or obese, and more than 25% of these fell into the obese category. In 2007, around 25% of children aged 2–16 were overweight or obese, with 6% classified as obese.” (NHMRC statement)

Rubbish. I’ve conducted several private surveys myself in public places, observing well over a thousand people. MY statistics for adults are: 50% slim; 20% slightly overweight; 19% overweight to the point of potentially having health issues, and 1% obese. Children had the same rate of obesity - 1%, but a lower general rate of chubby/overweight: 20%.

Now I cannot speak for any other country, but next time you need to ‘kill time’ in a busy public place, get out the pen and paper and jot down what you see. See if it compares to your country’s touted statistics.

The “BMI” test shifts the the majority of people (in developed countries) who were previously described as ‘a bit overweight’ into the category of obese, and those with a perfectly healthy weight for their height are now being labelled ‘overweight’. So they diet, stuff up their metabolism, and end up obese. More $ for the weight loss industry.

I firmly believe that, while there is definitely an increase in rates of obesity, the concept of “an obesity epidemic” and the hysteria accompanying it has been engineered by the weight loss industry, fattening their income to $61Billi

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

Rainbow: My excuses for having substituted your name on a previous quote.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

Suba, my excuses!!! It was Rainbow, I meant to mention you as one of the posters keeping up a lively debate in the next sentence and ooops...

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

so now obesity is "in" care2? smh I know f
w if any "fat" people who also eat right and exercise\\\\\\\\\

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

Linda: Thank YOU! The comment about the "media effect" was really spurred by this part of Suba's comment:
"But one doesn’t factor in: the population growth, technology [we are bombarded with information everyday], and the fact that as a Child Psychologist I am more likely to see these children, it reinforces the illusion of increase; it can be we are simple more aware today then we once were."
I know there's a very interesting debate going on between some posters here including you, Suba and others. The point I really wanted to make is I'm convinced the overweight increase in the population is real. Other points pertaining to research designs, statistics, descriptive and inferential analysis I would rather not elaborate on them right now.