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You wouldn’t cease using the word "cancer" in front of a woman just diagnosed with a malignant tumor in her breast, would you? Or dance around a diabetic by alluding to his "little sugar problem"? Of course not.
But there’s a movement afoot in the UK to drop the words "obese" and "obesity" from all public health strategies aimed at improving children’s diets and health. The Liverpool City Council "believes the expression could stigmatize youngsters and wants to replace it with the phrase 'unhealthy weight,'" according to the Telegraph.
Jeff Dunn of the Liverpool Schools’ Parliament, which issued the recommendation, said, "...['U]nhealthy weight'] is more positive and a better way to promote [weight loss]. The term 'obese' would turn people off, particularly young people.”
Sorry, but this seems ridiculous to me. If a child is overweight, he needs all the help he can get when it comes to getting healthy. Part of that means not being lied or condescended to. It’s not only patronizing, but it defeats the purpose of trying to educate the child so he can grow up to be a happy, healthy adult. If a child’s obese, he’s obese. He’s not "adiposedly-advantaged," "lipidly-privileged" or "differently thin," as one Telegraph commenter jokingly suggested. If parents feel more comfortable referring to him as "plump" or "big-boned" at home, that’s their choice. But to make it a free speech issue and ban the word "obese" is ill-conceived and extreme. I'm not saying we need to be mean or taunt overweight children, just to be frank, tell it like it is, and help them confront the issue in an age-appropriate way. (That said, I do love some of the other ideas set forth by the Liverpool peeps, such as appointing classmates and local sport stars as "food heroes" to promote healthy eating in schools.)
Besides, childhood obesity public health campaigns need to target the parents as well as appeal to children, as the former are responsible for buying food, preparing meals, enforcing outdoor time or shuttling the latter back and forth to athletic and extracurricular activities. And the word "obese", while perhaps blunt, conveys just how serious their child's weight issue may be, in a straightforward way that "unhealthy" may not. And if that’s the slap in the face that wakes parents up to the needs of their children, then that’s what we need. I’d rather have a child be mildly embarrassed than doomed to a life of Type 2 diabetes, joint pain, cancer, heart disease and worse.
As long as we’re engaging in some wishful thinking, here’s a list of what I wish had been outlawed when I was in school – it would have made things a heck of a lot easier on me:
-Color Guard should be issued mandatory "cool" status.
-Being picked last for kickball in gym class. No more picking teams... PE teachers should automatically appoint the least athletic kids in class as team leaders, and then just divide the rest equally and without rank.
-Kids should be taught from a very young age that the bigger your nose, the shinier your braces, the pimplier your skin and the frizzier your hair, the cooler you are.
-Any girl over 5'8" should receive a free pass through the first round of cheerleading or poms try-outs (first round is when you have to do the spilts and jump up and touch your toes in a straddle) because tall girls have waaay longer to reach.
Want to read about other current events in body image? Check out this study which shows women can become literally blinded by jealousy when their man looks at another woman, or this study which shows women (but not men) have an innate fear of gaining weight, triggered when they see an overweight female.
Do you think the word "obese" should be banned from public health campaigns? Chime in below.