Fat kids, schools, and their unfit parents

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?

6 thoughts on “Fat kids, schools, and their unfit parents

  1. On a roll there….

    And lazy fucking parents in being surprised they’re not paying attention to their kids shocker. No wonder they’re fat when they only notice when they walk in front of X Factor.

  2. well if the government started out by telling the parents that theyre fat first, or cut benefits to the ones who clearly have too much cash to spend on food, that would be a start.

  3. “cut benefits to the ones who clearly have too much cash to spend on food”???!!!

    you don’t seriously believe the problem is people having “too much cash” from benefits to spend on food?! obesity is, like everything else, closely linked to socio-economic status but believe, the problem isn’t abundance but lack… lack of access to healthful foods, lack of education, etc etc.

    hell, it’s a whole separate blog.

  4. Oh my. You’re going to hate me. Truly, truly hate me.

    But…obesity is a multi-faceted problem. It might seem as simple as telling the kid to push away from the table, but it involves a whole host of factors. Obesity is a result of, among other things, genetics and neurotransmitters. Both of those are intricately involved with emotional state and environmental factors. By this, I mean genetics affect neurotransmitters. The brain chemistry balance (or imbalance) affects and is affected by emotional state and environment. Of course, environment affects emotional state, and emotional state can affect the state of the environment. This is further…..etc., etc., etc.

    Now, I totally agree that parents should be aware of their children’s physical state and should try to do something about it. Your kid’s getting a bit pudgy? Encourage her/him to get more active, either by playing a sport or simply going for walks with him/her. Improve the healthiness factor of the food in your home…etc., etc., etc……

    The other thing I wanted to ask was does “unfit” mean only physical fitness in the UK? In the US an “unfit parent” is one who neglects a child, endangers a child, or something similar. I find the linguistic differences fascinating. I had heard my Brit friends using the term “tosser.” I thought it was cute and was calling my kids “tosser” (very affectionately, like one might say “you little stinker”). Fortunately, someone clued me in before we arrived for our first visit. I can just imagine if I’d yelled across baggage claim at Heathrow “Get over here, you little tosser!”

  5. i’m going to hate you? why?

    i completely understand that obesity is a complex problem, that wasn’t the point i was making *at all*. merely that parents should be able to recognise if their child is overweight — which as far as i can tell only really involves looking at the kidlet.

    “unfit” in british parlance can mean “unhealthy” or “neglectful,” etc (also “fit” is used as a synonym for “physically/sexually attractive” as in “that bloke is well fit”…)

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