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.
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