C for Corpulent

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Over at America's Newspaper, Paul Greenberg thinks giving kids BMI report cards is a fabulous idea. He thinks this because teaching self-esteem in public schools was a bad idea. And as it turns out, some people who are into self-esteem are anti-BMI.

Remember self-esteem? It was one of the sillier—and more dangerous—fads in educational circles, which keep going round and round. The theory was that promoting kids' self-esteem would convince them they were great. And it just might. But that's no guarantee they are great.

[Arkansas Gov. Mike] Beebe came out against schools' sending reports home about overweight kids lest we hurt their "self-esteem." What kind of report? It's called a body-mass index, which measures how fat or skinny a kid is—based on factors like height, weight, age and sex.

The theory behind the Cult of Self-Esteem is simple: First get the cart, then put it before the horse. Just feel good about yourself and achievement will follow automatically.

Self-esteem classes were a "dangerous" educational fad. Therefore, if you worry about a kid's sense of self-worth, you must be a loony leftist bent on the destruction of protestant virtue. Does it need to be said that being against self-esteem instruction doesn't entail support for everything that could plausibly damage a 9-year-old's self-image? I guess it does.

The ever-slender Jacob Sullum on BMI report cards here.

NEXT: I Know a Guy Who's Tough But Sweet/ He's So Fine, He Can't Be Beat

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  1. In an emotion-centric public school system, there is no such thing as the “fattest” kid. They are all, in their own special way, fat.

    And there are so many different kinds of “fat”…

  2. My teacher says that I’m brilliant
    My mother says I’m a star
    My girlfriend just avoids me
    But I still pay for the dinner and the movie
    The best years of my life oh my god I hope not lets go
    I hope not lets go

  3. Kids have it tough today — now they have to fudge the BMI score on their report cards so that parents have no idea — none — that their kids are fat asses.

  4. Why stop with fatness? We could start sending home reports detailing all of each child’s imperfections – ugliness, stupidity, pimples, unfashionable clothes, funny-sounding names, poor haircuts, etc. Only kids who really feel bad about themselves turn out to be productive and happy adults.

  5. A BMI is a sometimes report.

    I don’t really know what that means, I just wanted to say it.

  6. I’m so glad that I’m skinny and well out of school.

  7. This latest effort of legislator’s and school official to “do something” about obesity will hopefully be stopped sooner rather than later.

    The evidence is in and this policy clearly has proven to have an adverse effect on adolescent teens.

    And as BP said, if you need a report card to tell you your kid is fat it’s a little sad. But the other problem is teachers handling 35 kids and then weighing and measuring them in front of the class and creating a caste system based on a marginally accurate weight chart.

  8. Does the BMI grade count toward the culmulative average?

  9. thoreau

    Somebody should do a word-per-thought report on you. It wouldn’t be pretty.

  10. If bullying and mockery can’t make fat kids slim down, nothing can.

  11. If your children ever find out how lame you really are, they’ll murder you in your sleep.
    ~FZ

  12. Except for the Wii!

  13. Somebody should do a word-per-thought report on you. It wouldn’t be pretty.

    I’ve never pretended to be anything other than a guy who uses too many words and frequently just wants to have fun.

  14. I don’t know about this whole BMI thing. When I was in school I was a bean pole, bordering on two-dimensionalism. Now, I am a fatass. Grade A American lard. I’d hate to see what would have become of me had they said “Little Kwixy is too thin, he has far less than the normal 6% body fat. You need to feed him more.”

    Wait, you mean they aren’t interested if you are too thin, just too fat? Oh, then that scare involving teens who read weight loss articles being unhealthy must have been in my imagination. Nevermind.

  15. Let me see if I understand this:

    Logically, if you’re not in favor of self-esteem, you must be against it. Therefore, anyone opposing efforts to improve self-esteem is morally obligated to make an energetic effort to reduce the self-esteem of children.

    I’m with Dan T: let’s issue report cards on the children’s attractiveness. Because if you don’t call the kids ugly to their faces, they won’t make any effort to change.

  16. “Self-esteem classes were a “dangerous” educational fad. Therefore, if you worry about a kid’s sense of self-worth, you must be a loony leftist bent on the destruction of protestant virtue.”

    I work with kids. Irrespective of one’s political leanings, self-esteem is a train load of bullshit heading straight for a cliff.

  17. I just entered in my height and weight from my high school wrestling days in to the BMI Calculator. According to the BMI, when I actually did have 6% bodyfat, I was clinically overweight. Now it has me at clinically obese.

  18. “Does the BMI grade count toward the cumulative average?”

    Of course. So does your fashion-coordination review, your hygiene grade and your quarterly comprehensive popularity analysis (CPA).

    This is what we mean when we say “standardized education.”

  19. David raises a good point–BMI is a notoriously blunt instrument which doesn’t take into account different body types. It’s basically meaningless except for a super-quick-and-dirty measurement. Why anyone would want to put it on a report card is beyond me. At least use body fat % or something.

    Not that they should use anything at all. Just saying: BMI is a waste of time.

  20. “I’m with Dan T: let’s issue report cards on …

    In my day they had this thing called citizenship. It was basically a grade about how you got along with the other kids; were you an asshole, did the other kids treat you like an asshole, did the teacher think you were an asshole. It wouldn’t work out today because all the kids now are assholes. It’s all that misogynistic thug shit they listen to.

  21. Man, a whole day of hit and run and not one mention of the surreal story of 2007, the stalker astronaut with pepper spray and the diapers.

  22. Man, a whole day of hit and run and not one mention of the surreal story of 2007, the stalker astronaut with pepper spray and the diapers.

    Where do we even start with that one?

  23. ” I work with kids. Irrespective of one’s political leanings, self-esteem is a train load of bullshit heading straight for a cliff.”
    I’m skeptical of the self esteem stuff too, but how so? You seem to know more about it.

  24. I am skeptical of self esteem to. But I am that way because I think kids go to school to learn not to feel good about themselves. Of course I also don’t see how learning has anything to do with some nitwit bureaucrat telling the kids how fat that are. This is jsut another example of how the schools would rather do anything except what they are there for.

  25. Isn’t there a ‘self-esteem’ component to objectivism?

  26. Nobody needs a school’s help if they want to calculate their kid’s BMI, or anyone else for that matter. You need all of two pieces of data.

  27. People have self ownership over their own bodies. Hearts are inside people’s bodys. When that bitch Lauren stole my heart and stepped on it, she was infringing upon my property rights.

  28. David is absolutely right: it’s amazing how much faith people put into the BMI, which is only a rough, one-size-fits-all approximation. First of all, there is the fact that many overweight but otherwise active kids can avoid most of the health risks of obesity. More fundamentally, many people (particularly athletes and those with athletic builds) have quite low body fat but a high BMI, as muscle weights more than fat.

    On the other hand, I do feel confident that kids now are fatter than they were in the past, and this can have implications for health. I think the main reason for this is not that food now comes in bigger portions or has become less healthy, but because kids (and adults) are more sedentary now. This is due in part to videogames and the Internet, but also because kids now are more likely to be driven everywhere they go (due to safety fears about walking to school or biking around town). I remember reading somewhere that the percentage of kids walking or riding to school is much lower than it was even 20 years ago. Anyone else seen some data on that? I know that I ate tons of junk food as a kid, but could walk or bike to school, sports, most of my friends’ house, the shopping center (in other words, most places I wanted to go). Kids now, however, with either protective parents or live in the exurbs, probably have to be driven their everywhere. All else being equal, this can’t be good for obesity.

  29. thoreau

    I thought you pretended to be a physicist or soemthing.

  30. I think they should do away with BMI on report cards, and use the much more scientific measurement of one’s ass. This system would use the following identifying codes, along with celebrity reference points:

    NA = “No Ass” (Katie Holmes class)
    BA = “Boney Ass” (Keira Knightley class)
    AOK = “Ass Okay” (Jessica Alba class)
    MFA = “Mighty Fine Ass” (Jessica Beale class)
    JA = “Juicy Ass” (Beyonce class)
    BFA = “Big Fat Ass” (Jennifer Lopez class)

    Once we get this system in place, we can then proceed in educating our children and helping them become better people.

  31. Self-esteem classes were a “dangerous” educational fad. Therefore, if you worry about a kid’s sense of self-worth, you must be a loony leftist bent on the destruction of protestant virtue.

    I don’t know what hairs Kerry’s trying to split here, but I’ve known enough k-12 teachers (especially in the 90’s) to agree fully with Greenberg. Horse, cart, dangerous fad, exactly right.

    Where’s Jennifer?

  32. Edward, bubbie, that’s some clumsy-ass trolling. Put some thought and craft into it or try to be civilized.

  33. Man, a whole day of hit and run and not one mention of the surreal story of 2007, the stalker astronaut with pepper spray and the diapers.

    Where do we even start with that one?

    That’s easy. Start with the diapers. She was wearing diapers?!

  34. “That’s easy. Start with the diapers. She was wearing diapers?!”

    Yup, so she didn’t have to stop on her drive from Houston to Florida to kidnap the woman who was dating the man she was stalking.

  35. “That’s easy. Start with the diapers. She was wearing diapers?!”

    Yup, so she didn’t have to stop on her drive from Houston to Florida to kidnap the woman who was dating the man she was stalking.

    Well, that’s just common sense. It hard to keep up the level of concentration necessary to kidnap a “rival” when you have to keep stopping for bathroom breaks.

  36. People are kind of missing the point. Of course the BMI is a bad system for determining health! The point is that any government system for managing “health”, needs a simple index for quanitfying health data such as the BMI. If you don’t have an easily derived objective metric for health, there can be no management of said health. You need a statistic that can be mapped on a graph chart, and then you enact policies that make the line on the graph chart go down.

    The government cannot possibly have the resources to evaluate each person’s health, well-being, bodytype, and lifestyle in detail… and there is no way they could easily compare it to other people even if they could.

    If you believe that government has a role in “managing health”, then of course you support retarded systems like the BMI being the final word on if you are healthy or not.

  37. Edward-

    I am a physicist. A physicist who uses too many words and whose blog comments are often intended as fun rather than something serious.

  38. Why would they use BMI when you can just grab a pair of handles on a cheap device and find out your approximate body fat percentage? My roommate bought one of those devices my freshmen year in college, and we had a good time putting it to use. Also, didn’t they already do a BMI measurement in the presidential physical fitness test? I vaguely recall some sort of fat pincher or something.

  39. Grotius: Nathaniel Branden, after his split with Rand, sold a ton of books with titles like The Psychology of Self-Esteem. He was trying to help neurotic individuals by discovering what harsh judgments of their self-worth they had internalized. I think he had something there, even if he may have oversold it, like most self-help gurus. He did emphasize that, aside from one’s inherent self-worth as a human being, real self-esteem arises from learning to be a competent adult. I tend to take the view that one should avoid both underestimating and overestimating one’s self-worth.

    Back in the Cretaceous Period, when I was a parochial schoolboy, we had annual health examinations. These were done so that we kids could qualify for low-cost insurance the school offered, covering playground accidents and other vissisitudes of childhood. If your family didn’t want to be examined by the doctor the school provided, they could make an appointment with the family physician, who would supply a letter to the insurers. We also had to show a clean bill of health before joining youth sports, like Little League. If a doctor saw a child who was abnormally chubby, he could tell Mom and Dad, “Junior needs to lose some weight.” Teachers never came into it, though a PE instructor might chide the slow and heavy to get their asses off the couch and move them periodically.

    Maybe schools don’t so much of this sort of thing anymore, but I wouldn’t think that having Ed School grads “diagnosing” their charges is very smart. Look how well that’s turned out in the ADD/ADHD controversy!

    There was many a chunky kid who slimmed down when he got a growth spurt, or after he hit puberty. Others put on the weight as they got older. Whether that extra mass was muscle or fat probably had as much to do with the child’s activity level as it did calorie consumption.

    In my case, I was always more than slim, but not really fat. In retrospect, I was a fatty waiting to happen. I only made a school sports team once (7th grade), but I did spend a good bit of my free time bicycling or swimming, and I usually walked or biked home from school. Once I adopted a more sedentary adult lifestyle extra poundage became insanely easy to pack on, and hard to lose. Dicovering beer didn’t help, nor did the realization that adults can have as much pizza as they can pay for.

    Today’s students may sit around playing video games too much, but I used to lounge around watching TV or reading. Depending on whether I had my nose stuck in a newspaper, book, magazine or comic, I was either improving my mind or rotting it. Either way, my Dad would remind me that the sun was shining and that I might want to get some exercise. Mens sana in corpore sano, after all, which was just the sort of sentiment a fellow with a Masters in P.E. & Health would have. Our high school had P.E. every third day, and we had daily recess in grammar school, if infrequent gym. I gather that those practices are in decline in many schools.

    Today is the second day our local schools are closed due to extreme cold. I’ll give the little punks a pass on going outside when it’s 0?F, but if it were in the teens or twenties and we had a snow day, it would have been all-day pond hockey for me. Nowadays the cops chase the kids off the ice in the parks, even if it’s been shown to be safe enough for skating, because the pols are so fearful of lawsuits should someone get hurt. Their are even people agitating for mandatory helmets when the kids go sledding!

    Maybe parents should agitate for regular P.E. in their school, recess for they younger kids, and get their kids into after-school activities that encourage exercise, at the Y or the Boys & Girls Clubs or wherever. The “some stranger is out to kidnap and rape my child” meme seems to have put paid to the kind of unorganized afterschool adventures my siblings and friends used to have when we were kids.

    Kevrob

  40. I’ve never pretended to be anything other than a guy who uses too many words and frequently just wants to have fun.

    I dunno, thoreau, remember that time you pretended to be Engles? Man, traveling back in time and fucking with Marx was awesome, we should totally do that again, too bad about splitting off the alternate universe, though, this one could’ve used the Labor Theory of Clowns.

  41. My BMI is dead on perfect. All you BMI haters sound like a bunch of sour fatties.

  42. In my day, they would just make us kids sit next to the radiator if we wanted any of this “self a-steam” nonsense.

  43. Thoreau: Perfectly. Just trying to bring some nonsensical levity to the situation.

  44. I’ll add the time-travel/Marx thing to my list of jokes that failed miserably.

  45. thoreau

    I’ll bet you have more time on your hands than most physicists.

    Eric

    What makes you the expert on how to troll?

  46. Timothy

    Your adverb usage is very funny.

  47. Ed: Glad to know I’m amusing you, mate. Although, frankly, you’re really only about a 3.5 out of a possible 10 for trolling. You’d do well to try more ALL CAPS posts, direct personal attacks and cyberstalking if you want to get into the elite class of H&R trolls with Dave and Gunnels. Shit man, you’re not even on the same level as Dan T. That’s just sad.

  48. Timothy

    Re: Your 4:50 PM post.

    Cruel.

    True, but cruel.

    ;}

  49. Nobody needs a school’s help if they want to calculate their kid’s BMI, or anyone else for that matter. You need all of two pieces of data.

    Are there multiple formulas for calculating BMI? Is this the Celsius version? This is a complete and utter fucking joke. It says that at 6′ 3″ you are obese at 200 pounds, and not underweight until 148 pounds. Since when is the Auschwitz look considered normal? Besides being a useless waste of resources for public schools it imparts no useful information whatsoever.

  50. Where’s Jennifer?

    Renouncing her atheism just long enough to give hearty thanks to God she’s not a teacher anymore.

    Are there multiple formulas for calculating BMI? Is this the Celsius version? This is a complete and utter fucking joke.

    Note, as well, that there’s only one BMI chart to be used by men and women both, despite the fact that a healthy woman is supposed to have a higher body-fat ratio than a healthy man.

  51. Tim, my boy, your troll-bashing isn’t quite up to snuff either.

  52. Nobody really cares how you feel about teaching, Jennifer. As for your comments on the BMI chart, even the most obtuse can state the obvious. Have you done your mails today?

  53. We absolutely NEED a Special BMI Olympics so that every child, regardless of his/her BMI can compete. Every child will win a Blue Ribbon and a trophy engraved with their event and their BMI. Regular Special Olympics kids can compete without discrimination based on their own BMI. Even kids with low self-esteem will get a blue ribbon based on their BMI, regardless of high or low. These things are really important and I think the government should pony up some money and perhaps a Cabinet level seat. After all, it’s for the children and they are our future.

  54. How does one go about doing one’s “mails”?

  55. What makes you the expert on how to troll?

    Maybe we need a Special Troll Olympics for those trolls who have the heart to troll, but who, due to various limitations beyond their control, can’t actually compete with regular trolls.

  56. So, in the Special Olympics of Trolling, is everybody a loser, or do we still have to have a winner?

  57. How does one go about doing one’s “mails”?

    Simple One goes through the mails and decides which ones to do.

  58. you’re all wrong.

    edward is the best troll i’ve seen in the past six months, hands down.

  59. What’s better than winning a gold medal in the Special Olympics?

    Not being retarded.

  60. Look, as long as we’re going to make kids feel really bad, why not have a hair grade, or a CQ for “coolness quotient,” in which kids are graded down for listening to lame bands and wearing out of style shoes.

    Seriously, this guy seems to think that because self-esteem as a curriculum subject is a stupid idea, we should make it public policy to insult kids as much as possible. I’m going to send my 5-year-old to him. Aaron will loudly and dramatically announce every time this guy belches or farts. Especially farts, and with even more enthusiasm when it’s in an otherwise-quiet public place, like church or a nice restaurant. One day of this and our columnist will be a raving liberal.

    Timothy, I thought your Marx joke was funny. And also, for what it’s worth, I figure that Dr. thoreau’s IQ is slightly higher than the cumulative score of any three random commenters on this blog.

  61. Isn’t there a country song “I’m lookin’ for a girl / with low self-esteem”

  62. A 6′ 3″ person would be considered slightly overweight at 200 pounds. Obesity would be at 240 pounds. At 148 pounds problems with underweight would start to appear. But 165 pounds would be considered the perfect weight.

  63. You know, being against “self-esteem” when it interferes with the school’s legitimate function (theoretically, imparting knowledge) is fine. But saying “Hey! Tell kids they’re fat, that’ll solve this ‘self-esteem’ problem!” seems almost like a straw man to me.

  64. No, C is for Corn Syrup.

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