Prev Next

Hey, fat-obsessed America!

By Alice Bradley

Last week I dared to take the I-will-take-no-stance stance, as I composed a please-let-me-offend-no-one, after-all-both-sides-have-a-point post. I’ve since recovered from my bout with objectivity, and I’m ready to judge someone, anyone. Like fat kids! Those underage slobs.
I… I can’t. I can’t even joke, when it comes to the children. Why did God make me such a softie?
Anyway, as I was saying: overweight children. We are raising a nation of fatties! So some schools are doing what they should have done long ago: sending the kids’ Body Mass Index scores home with their report cards.
The BMI, in case you didn’t know, is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared. If you can’t instant convert your height and weight and then do the math, as I just did in my mind, go here. If your number is over 25, you are officially (in medical parlance) a fatty fatty boombalatty; if your number is under 18, you are officially dead.
You’ll notice that the BMI fails to distinguish between pounds that are dense with muscle tissue and the ones that are flabby with flabby flab. This means that muscle-bound types can easily fall into the obese category. Such is the plight of Tom Cruise and George Clooney, both of whom are overweight, according to their BMIs. And now Tom’s probably upset. “I’m all muscle! You don’t know! You don’t know anything about muscle! You don’t even know what muscles are! They’re on your body!” George is unfazed, but that’s George for you.
So: never mind that these scores are handed to the parents without any explanation or guidance, like what they mean or what can be done about them. Never mind that many of the schools who supply the numbers don’t have the resources to provide healthy meals or daily physical education. Never mind that the scores aren’t placed in any sort of context, such as the dietary habits of the child or their exercise habits, and may actually be rewarding kids with eating disorders. With this program in place, kids can feel bad about themselves, but have no clue what to do about it. Ignorance plus depleted self-image = sure-fire plan for success!
Even the experts who recommend sharing this information with families agree that the BMI is only a rudimentary indicator of anything. So kids everywhere get to feel worse about themselves than they probably already do, because of a number that could, in the end, mean nothing. But then again, when schools lack the resources to provide healthy food or increase gym time, students can burn calories by filling themselves up with shame and self-loathing! (Oh, if only shame were an aerobic activity. I would be so buff.)
In related news, apparently people with kids eat more fat than childless–or as I call them, “free”–people.
Our children’s predilection for macaroni and cheese and goose-liver pate, it seems, has a bad effect on our diet as well. Myself, I’ve had many a post-dinner snack of grilled-cheese crusts and pudding leavings, so I know whereof they speak. The experts stress that it’s not the mere presence of children that drives us to eat more fat (oh god my life is over where’s the ice cream WHERE) merely that the foods they tend to prefer, or that we believe they prefer, tends to be fattier. So in other words, with their refusal of steamed asparagus stalks and broccoli-sprout popsicles, the kids are dragging us down along with them.
But ho! Here comes a Swedish study to tell us that more fat is okay! Yes, a “full-fat diet” is slimming, according to this twenty-year study. When the Swedish (translation: sexy, probably nude) scientists tracked the dietary habits of 20,000 overweight women over a 20-year period, the women who ate full-fat milk and cheese lost significantly more weight. Thank you, people of Sweden! Once again you have saved the day.
In conclusion: your child’s BMI may or may not be an indication of their overall health, but you’re probably fat because you have a child, or rather you’re eating more fat, which means that you’re skinnier than you were before you had kids. Got that? Good. Now go make me a grilled cheese.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

icon icon
chat bubble icon


  • goodsandwich

    January 12, 2007 at 11:42 am

    O Alice, how I love you. And not just because I totally agree with every word you wrote above. Although that’s what prompted the declaration. (Why in the world do we Americans get so damn serious and boring about everything? I mean really, a kid with a little pudge? Have these people never noticed that that’s what happens just before a kid GROWS? Oh heavens, soon we’ll be talking about the epidemic of GROWTH SPURTS and taking steps to make sure everybody grows at exactly the same rate so we don’t have to look at their hideous pudge OR their hideous gangliness!)

  • ozma

    January 12, 2007 at 11:49 am

    You mean the American public school system tried to solve a social problem in a pointless individualist way? That’s so unlike them.
    But thanks for clearing up that mystery why my toddler who never eats anything polished off 5 pork ribs in one sitting while visiting her grandparents. And then fought with the dog over the bone.

  • Kyran @ Notes to Self

    January 12, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    I heard it said that our public disdain for fat people is the last socially acceptable prejudice.
    i know that’s not true (we still have plenty of moral superiority to go around for smokers, breastfeeders, and plenty of other folks who seem to be at the mercy of various appetites. but it’s interesting to think about .

  • Angela

    January 12, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Is the BMO even accurate for kids? My three year old has a BMI of 15.4, according to the calculator. Even though she consumes somewhere near her weight in food each day – darn kid metabolism.

  • Amy

    January 12, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    I used to teach school. We wonder why kids are fat and yet the school only gave them 12 weeks of PE per year and routinely served bread sticks and cheese “sauce” for lunch. (The cheese sauce apparently qualified as the protein part of the meal.) And for the vegetable, they were offered a “lettuce salad” which consisted of shredded iceberg lettuce with their choice of ranch or French.

  • Starshine

    January 12, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    If the Swedes could produce stores as brilliantly wonderful as IKEA and H&M, I’m definitely going to try their diet plan. Full-fat milk and cheese? And I’ll lose weight? It’s a win-win!

  • Sara

    January 12, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Goodsandwich – the kids Alice speaks of are not kids with “a little pudge” – I invite you to spend some time in a pediatrician’s office, and count the number of obese children you see – I’m talking about kids like the 181 pound 10 year old boy I saw at a checkup recently. To give some context, 95th percentile for 10 year old boys is about 105 pounds. No, he wasn’t 7 feet tall, nor was he all muscle. If I recall correctly, he was about 4 foot 8, which places his BMI at 40.6. The cutoff for morbid obesity is BMI of 40. This kid could have grown a foot and still been overweight.
    I’m not trying to make any point here other than this: yes, it’s counter-productive to send home BMI scores without educating parents and kids on what these scores mean and what steps they can take towards changing them. But it’s at least as bad to deny that there’s a problem.

  • Kate

    January 12, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    When I lived in France in the ’90s there was a marketing campaign that tried to get you to eat full fat yogurt instead of skim because they said it had more calcium. I’ve never heard that piece of info from any other source, but damn it, while I lived there, I decided to believe it and enjoy!

  • Rebecca

    January 12, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Bah. According to that Swedish study “…increased consumption of cheese meant that overweight women lost weight.” I eat cheese nearly every day and I haven’t become slim, sexy and probably nude, or even Swedish.

  • Jen

    January 12, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    I’ve got to agree with Sara. If you’ve got little kids, you don’t really see what school-age kids look like these days. Especially when you see kids at pools (and even kids on swim teams).
    Where there used to be maybe one or two really large kids in a grade, now there are 5 or six in every class. Kids who are big enough that running and jumping is hard to do.
    Personally I just wish that everyone would stop having food everywhere all the time — it would sure help me out and I guess it would help the kids too. Think back — did your parents always carry huge quantities of snacks and juice everywhere you went? Nowadays not having provisions for a full sit-down dinner for 8 in your purse seems negligent.

  • Heather

    January 12, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Okay, so maybe Illinois is different here, but don’t kids have to see physicians for annual check-ups anyway? Wouldn’t any good physician cover what the parent should know about their child’s weight?
    Oh Alice,
    I love you so. I’m so glad you’ve signed on to AlphaMom 🙂

  • Melanie

    January 12, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    I feel like I need to go lie down after reading all that. The confusion! The what the hell are they thinking-ness! I think I’ll lie down with an ice cream bar or two, though. For skinniness. I love the weirdness of the world.

  • Anna

    January 12, 2007 at 11:35 pm

    I don’t have a source, and too tired to look it up, but i believe calcium gets absorbed better in presence of fat; i dont think the yogurt actually has more fat.

  • kalisah

    January 13, 2007 at 1:23 pm

    yeah, I’m with Angela here, wondering how accurate the BMI even is for kids.
    My 13-y-o son is 5’9 and weighs about 120. That scale puts him at “underweight.” Yeah, he’s thin, but he eats like crazy (the way you’d expect a 13-y-o boy) and is extremely physically active.
    His pediatrician tells me he’s fine – that he merely burns off the calories that he eats, which hello? Is how we ALL should live, right? So I say the hell with it.
    Unfortunately – and to your point – parents receiving this ambiguous number in the envelope with their kid’s report card proabably won’t see it the way I do.

  • alice


    January 13, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    Angela and Kalisah, the BMI number for children does indeed read differently. The range of “normal” isn’t the same. I should have used a link to a pediatric BMI calculator — like this one!

  • slouching mom

    January 13, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    I have just received my first BMI report about my nine-year-old son. His number suggests that he is, as you said so well, officially dead. He weighs only 12 pounds more than my five-year-old son. But as much as the BMI people claim that they are concerned about kids who are at both ends of the BMI scale, they didn’t have any strategies to offer me to help with my bread-cheese-milk-only skinny kid. I don’t think they could care less about the skinny kids. A bit hypocritical of them, no?
    Meanwhile, my five-year-old comes out on the top of the scale, in the danger zone. He does not look overweight to me; he enjoys his food and has a big build, but he is nowhere near fat.
    I will be laughing when the same school starts to send reports for both my kids, and one is flagged at the top, one at the bottom.
    Genetics trumps all.

  • Judypooh

    January 13, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    I think I’m even more confused by the second chart you linked. Everything is refered to a percentile as in “your child has a BMI of 20.9 which puts her in the 97% and that makes her overweight”. That’s completly insane since my 5 and a half year old is still wearing size 4 and 5’s – she’s at 90% for height. My 7 year old is also in the 97% for BMI but she’s at the 95% for her height.
    I wish I knew how they came up with this BMI stuff for kids – the pediatric chart makes no sense what so ever.

  • alice


    January 13, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Judypooh, I’d probably just rely on what the pediatrician says. I agree that these numbers make no sense. I’ve looked up a few different BMI calculators–who his doc tells me is in the 95th percentile for height and weight–but each online calculator placed him at the 70th percentile. So I’m doubting the accuracy of these.

  • Jessica

    January 13, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Ow. I’m pretty sure my pain stems from the fact that my brain just tied itself in a knot! Yikes!

  • monster mama

    January 14, 2007 at 9:53 am

    first off….I don’t know how I am writing this when I am supposed to be DEAD according to my BMI. Once again, schools bringing issues to our attention that they are not willing to address. For some it is “your child has speech problems…..go find your own speech therapist”… it’s, “your kids a blob….but we aren’t going to address the issue during school hours….it CAN’T be the tater tots and corn dogs we feed them here! Go find them a dietician!” Not that I feed my critters the greatest foods in the world….I pick my battles-Peyton hasn’t touched a fruit or veggie unless it’s hidden somewhere or overprocessed in, hmm, let’s say a fruit roll up-since he was about a year-he’s 6 now and the kid is a string bean. Active, healthy… I said I pick my battles….a rice krispy treat for breakfast isn’t offered, but when suggested (and after 10 minutes of arguing) he wins….IT IS CEREAL AFTER ALL! Lucy eats or will try anything you place in front of her….(that sound is me screaming from the roof tops by the way!)
    Let’s give our already super self concious….body obsessed young ones more to stress about……like, you’re not in the “IN” crowd, the school has decided you are now in the fat crowd….COME ON!

  • Ariella

    January 15, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Uh… sorry, Alice. There are maybe 1-2% of the population who fall within the “healthy and muscular but BMI makes me obese” category because it takes an incredible amount of work to get your bodyfat that low and your muscle mass that high. The truth is, unless you spend 3 hours at the gym per day and you’re on a ketogenic diet, you’re probably just one of the regular people for whom a BMI over 25 means fattitude.
    And the same goes for your children. So everyone out there who has a fat kid — get them off the TV. Get them out in the yard. Give them more vegetables and less crap. It’s amazing what a little more exercise and a little less sugar could do for everyone.

  • Monkee

    January 18, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    In college I had a little problem with food. By little problem, I mean huge ridiculous, “Is that an elephant on your back or are you just happy to see me?” sized problem. Long story short, I pretty much cut my fat intake down to about 5 grams a day. One night, in the middle of another weight loss plateau, wherein I had gone a whole 48 hours or so without losing any more weight, I went to the store and bought a bag of cookies. When I got home I ate half of the bag before regaining my strangle grip on my self control and chucking the rest of it over the side of the balcony in a dramatic show of my power over the evil chocolate demons that taunted my from the snuggly little morsel bunkers that dotted the surface of the cookies. When I weighed myself the next morning I had finally lost a pound. (Hooray, one step closer to finally fulfulling my dream to be blown away by a stiff breeze!) The thing was, my body couldn’t continue to function and I couldn’t lose weight without a normal amount of fat intake. I’ve since recovered and am now, what I’d like to call, pleasantly plump. So, lesson learned, fat is friend!

  • rose

    January 20, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Not only did they hand these out without good info to the parents, they sent them home with the kids, who compare and contrast report cards. There has been a lot of conflict among gher kids who are gettong called names because of their BMI, when they look in the mirror and don’t see themselves that way.
    Barnstable schools are rethinking their policy.