I am trying to get out of the habit of burdening other people with my assumptions. What is obvious to you isn’t necessarily obvious to everyone else, I remind myself regularly. But every time I feel like I’m approaching some absolute limit. The point where surely everyone can agree on this, I’m left slack-jawed at just how much of what is fundamental to adult human life appears to be a mystery to the general public.
What else can you possibly infer from the sentence: “the [British] government has decided that parents ought to know if a child’s weight is well above the healthy norm”? Give that a good, long look. “The government has decided that parents ought to know”?! Until the moment I read that it never occurred to me that a child’s weight might be an enigma to parents; a deeply shrouded secret only be penetrated should the government choose to unveil it to them.
To put this stupefying revelation in context, the UK’s Department of Health has decided to measure school kids’ BMI (Body Mass Index, based on height and weight) and “parents in England will for the first time be routinely informed if a child is clinically overweight.”
I swear on a stack of cupcakes, it never in my life occurred to me, till now, that a parent might not know if their child was overweight. Here’s a clue. If your little darling can’t walk up stairs without huffing and puffing. If Jimmy or Janey subsists entirely on Walker’s Crisps, Happy Meals and Coco-Pops. If the kid needs two seats on the school bus. If he or she gets teased. If their belly hangs out over the top of their trousers and their fat bum wobbles dangerously down around their knees. Oh god, do I have to go on? We all know what fat people look like. It doesn’t take any great inductive leap from knowing what a fat adult looks like to inferring what the symptoms of porkery are in kids.
So why in the name of Ronald McDonald is the government whispering behind their hands about this? Astonishingly, the point of this article isn’t even the outright lunacy of this policy. Oh no. The debate is over the value of government advice that letters to the parents should avoid using the terms fat and obese “in case they stigmatise children and discourage parents from tackling the problem.”
Wrong question, folks. Forget dithering about what euphemisms schools should or shouldn’t use to inform parents their progeny more closely resemble baby belugas than baby humans, the question should be: in what Christ-forsaken universe is it okay for parents to be too stupid, negligent, self-absorbed or drowned in denial to not notice if their child is unhealthily over weight?
Childhood obesity isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom – an ugly indicator of the gradual erasure of adult behaviour from British culture. This absurd discussion lies on the same continuum as cowardly responses to child abuse, or the demand that “someone do something” about knife crime, or teen pregnancy, or whatever.
Here’s a thought. Why don’t you do something? Instead of waiting for the patronising minions of government to tell you your child is overweight, or being beaten, or at risk on the streets step the fuck up and do your job as a parent.
When I was a kid I got in trouble if I left my bike out in the rain, or dog-eared a book. Minor things, but they embedded in me the lesson: look after your stuff. If adults these days aren’t expected to look after the single most valuable, vulnerable thing that will ever be placed in their care – their child – then what hope is there they will behave like a grown-up in any other scenario?