Last weekend there was a flurry of media on the topic of CHILDHOOD OBESITY (again), with the usual talk of ‘crisis’ , ‘prevention’, ‘tackling’ and ‘combatting’ kids in larger bodies. Why is this language always so hysterical!?

The headlines were strident:
“Weigh kids at primary school to fight Australia’s obesity crisis
Children to be weighed and measured at school every two years in proposal to tackle obesity

Going by these, you’d be forgiven for assuming that some kind of policy decision had been made, that it was a ‘done deal’ that primary aged kids were going to be weighed at school.

But that’s not it at all. The actual story is this:

A few months ago, Australian Parliament set up a ‘Senate Select Committee’ into the “Obesity Epidemic” in Australia. The committee will report to Parliament in August 2018. The Select Committee have invited submissions from experts and interested parties to provide input on the subject.  

One of the bodies submitting to the Committee is the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE), who are part of Deakin University and major players in the ‘obesity prevention’ landscape. GLOBE are part of a huge, well funded obesity research machine, and they have a vested interest in gathering as much data on our kids’ weight as possible. They WANT to ‘prove’ that our childhood obesity ‘crisis’ is ‘worse than we think’, and ultimately score more research dollars to fund their organisation and their ‘obesity intervention programs’. Hence, their submission was absolutely gung ho on pushing for all Australian kids to be regularly weighed.

The GLOBE submission also STRONGLY recommends that the in-school weigh-ins should be ‘opt out’ rather than ‘opt in’, meaning that all kids will automatically be weighed unless the childs’ parents actively disagree and WITHDRAW their consent. They get much higher ‘participation’ rates by doing things this way, because of course it is harder work for parents to withdraw their kids from school activities than it is to allow automatic participation. The GLOBE submission even admits that it’s currently the parents of larger kids who are not opting ‘in’ to school weigh-ins – and they want to collect this data, missing the obvious point that parents of larger kids KNOW that weighing a larger child at school will do NOTHING to improve their child’s health, and instead place an unwanted focus on the child’s size, increasing the experiences of weight stigma, discrimination, and bullying that accompany such focus. It’s a bloody outrage that they are deliberately targeting people who DON’T WANT THEIR KIDS WEIGHED!

Let’s be perfectly clear: weighing kids at primary school will do nothing to change their weight. And weighing people does literally NOTHING to support the growth of healthy habits!

I have spent years speaking to adults who have struggled their entire lives with disordered eating and mental health issues, often stemming from childhood experiences of being shamed and singled out because of their larger body size. I have NEVER met a client who was weighed as a child, put on a diet, became life-long slim, and thanked the person who weighed them. That’s just pure fantasy. The damage done by focusing on weight is real, and it needs to stop.

I have no objection whatsoever to a whole range of policies (some of them from GLOBE) aimed at improving health behaviours, access to a variety of health-supportive foods, improving our environments to make it easier to be active, reducing poverty and discrimination and unemployment and a pile of other great ideas which can be implemented to support the health of ALL kids, of all shapes and sizes. We don’t have to make this all about ‘preventing’ or ‘tackling’ obesity. We can do all of this without witch hunting people’s bodies.

It’s also a total myth that any of these ‘obesity intervention programs’ do anything to meaningfully reduce children’s weights. A 2011 meta-analysis of 37 childhood obesity prevention program found that on average they managed to reduce weight by an average of between 100 to 300 grams – hardly enough to ‘combat’ obesity!

Although you wouldn’t believe it from all the news headlines, GLOBE is just one of 138 submissions put forward from all sorts of people, organisations, and industries in the Senate Select Committee. You can check out all of the submissions here.

One of the submissions, from Swinburne University (page 4), is particularly awesome. It’s from Dr. Carolynne White and Dr. Natalie Jovanovski from Swinburne University, and I also contributed, alongside Fiona Willer and Renata Anderson from Women’s Health Victoria. This submission is a comprehensive, evidence-based set of ideas from the weight inclusive perspective which challenges the ethics and efficacy of  ‘childhood obesity prevention’. Instead of focusing on the size of kids’ bodies, we propose that research, policies, and health programs for kids be aimed at enhancing health behaviours for children of all shapes and sizes. We proposed that emphasising BEHAVIOURS and not focusing on weight will reduce the enormous stigma currently being worsened by health promotion policies and programs which equate weight to health.

Our submission will be presented at a public hearing in Melbourne on August 7, with Dr. White and Dr. Jovanovski presenting alongside Sarah Harry, who is representing HAES Australia (Fiona and I couldn’t make it, sadly).

These hearings are public! You can go along and watch, so if you happen to be in Melbourne on Tuesday 7th August, head to the Stamford Plaza, and take some popcorn! We are on just before lunch, at 12:15. The GLOBE is presenting first, at 8:30 am.

If you can’t be there, but want to take a stand against this really silly idea of weighing kids at school, sign this petition:

We CAN make a big difference in influencing the direction of health policy in this country. It’s time to act!!