Stef (firecat) wrote,

  • Mood:

I hate having to be an activist

I received an email advertising my town's activities guide and I was
angered to discover an introductory message from the Parks and
Recreation Director labeled "Childhood Obesity - Problem & Solutions".

I send him an email as follows. If anyone is willing to provide me with
references to back up my points or to challenge his statements, I would
welcome them, in case he decides to respond to me. You could also reply
to the email message yourself, using the email address provided, but it
might not mean much if you don't live in San Carlos, California.

Dear Mr Weiss,

I'm disappointed that you uncritically parrot the rhetoric of the
multimillion dollar diet industry in your "Childhood Obesity - Problems
and Solutions" letter in the San Carlos Parks and Recreation Department
Activity Guide. In the future, please familiarize yourself with more of
the research in this controversial field before repeating fear-mongering
statements such as "children born today have a shorter life expectancy
than their parents."

The life expectancy of people in the US has done nothing but rise
throughout the history of our country (just as our height *and* weight
have continued to rise, due to improvements in nutrition and health
care), and it's sheer statistical nonsense to claim that the trend will
suddenly reverse with the next generation.

It's fine to encourage children to engage in physical activity and teach
them about sound nutritional practices, but doing so in the name of
"obesity prevention" sends the wrong message that weight is more
important to health than physical fitness, nutritional choices, and
other elements that make up a healthy lifestyle. It tells our youth that
thin children (and adults) don't have to exercise or eat well to
maximize their health, all they have to do is be thin.

Studies that control for fitness level and not just for body size show
that fitness cannot be determined by a person's body size because
exercise and good nutrition do not automatically make a person thin, and
fitness and activity level is a much better measure of health and
longevity than body size.

Society puts tremendous pressure on children to be thin and one of the
results is that some young people, especially young women and girls,
struggle with dangerous anorexia and bulemia disorders. Why add to this
pressure when you can simply encourage physical activity and good eating
for everyone? Scientists studying body composition, nutrition, and
physical activity probably need to play up the so-called "obesity
epidemic" in order to get funding for their research, but surely San
Carlos taxpayers are more enlightened than that and will fund physical
activity programs and healthy snack programs for the youth center
without the scare-mongering.

*Providing* healthy snacks and opportunities for movement is great.
*Forcing* children, in the name of "obesity prevention," to engage in
competitive cardiovascular activity runs the risk of socially isolating
larger children who may be subject to teasing and rejection in the
context of competitive sports. Social isolation will cut down on these
children's opportunities for physical activity and limit them in other
undesirable ways.

Stef Jones
1372 Rosewood Ave.
San Carlos, CA 94070

The pdf of the activity guide is available here:

This is the introductory message:

Childhood Obesity - Problem & Solutions

For the first time in history, children born today have a shorter life
expectancy than their parents (Dr. Kelly Brownell, Yale University).
Children spend about 44 hours a week on "recreational" media use (Kaiser
Family Foundation Study). Within California, 26.5% of our children are
obese and 39.6% are unfit/overweight. 50% of obese adolescents become
obese adults, putting them at a much higher risk for heart disease,
cancer, stroke and diabetes later in life. Obesity costs California an
estimated $14.2 Billion a year in direct medical costs and lost
productivity (California Center for Public Health Advocacy).

San Carlos Parks & Recreation is excited to be a leader in addressing
this community issue. Your Youth Center is one Parks & Recreation
facility that successfully focuses on health and wellness programming.

* In 2003, the Youth Center embarked on a nutrition and fitness
challenge. All snacks in vending machines were analyzed and those not
meeting our nutrition guidelines were removed and replaced with
healthier options. All snacks now follow the SB 12 and SB 965 standards
for schools. All vendors must now comply with our nutrition guidelines
for healthier options.

* For every hour a Youth Center participant is in attendance and playing
a sedentary game or engaged in the Homework/Computer Lab, he or she must
complete at least 10 minutes of cardiovascular activity. Engaging
cardiovascular activities were identified and implemented including
"Dance Revolution," a cardio building video game, and Dodgeball.

* In 2004, the Sequoia Hospital Health and Wellness Department provided
a Certified Nutritionist to train Youth Center staff in dietary
guidelines, portion sizes, balanced diet, fat intake, the importance of
protein, and fruit and vegetable intake. Through a generous grant from
the Gellert Foundation, staff and participants created a cookbook for
teens utilizing the knowledge gained.

* A list of healthy snacks and lunch options is provided to Day Camp
participants and parents. We make a similar list available to any camp
providers who desire a copy. Classes are offered in nutrition, physical
activities, and community programs.

We have fascinating nutrition and engaging physical activity programs
for all ages -- tots, youth, adults, seniors -- everyone! Please take a
look through this Activity Guide and select a health and wellness
program for yourself and your entire family.

Creating Community through People, Parks & Programs,
Barry E. Weiss, Director
San Carlos Parks & Recreation

The part where I hate being an activist is the part about how I now feel
like [insert all sorts of negative things here] because I sent that.
Even though I know it's needed. I don't know why I feel that way.
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