Some things bear repeating. Actually, a great many things bear repeating–I think that’s one of the reasons we have religions. They function as repositories of things that bear repeating. Of course, like any human endeavor, institution, or intention, they have a slight tendency to go kind of sideways and turn the good messages (care for Creation and one another, tell the truth, behave decently, keep your mitts off of other folks’ stuff…) into reasons to loathe/dehumanize/harm others and the planet, but that’s an impossible meditation on any day of any week, and not what I meant to do here today. I wanted to reference two articles, one of which I have referenced before, because the information in them is information we need to keep in our dealing-with-the-uninformed (who too often include our medical teams) tool kits.
Here’s a good 2008 piece on BMI:
The second is by Philip Alcabes, whose book Dread is an examination of the way we are taught to fear. You can read a useful review of it here:
and his discussion of the Obesity Panic here:
All of this came to mind today because I had a discussion with my daughter about whether she should go into her daughter’s 18-month check-up armed with articles and asking that their otherwise excellent pediatrician never mention the acronym BMI in front of her children. I’ll be interested to hear what happens. It goes without saying that I want to go with her and YELL at this perfectly nice doctor (I suspect the overwhelming majority of pediatricians are really good humans–at least if you take the fact that they’re the lowest paid and most-often-bitten-or-peed-on doctors to mean that they’re not in it for the money). But she’s a totally competent adult and it’s not my business to be haranguing my grandchildrens’ doctor. Whatever she decides to do is her choice, though I did encourage the heck out of her addressing the issue. I’m shocked, in fact, that an otherwise calm and competent doctor has drunk the BMI Kool-aid. That stuff is everywhere, and I sometimes think they knock med students out and administer it intravenously along with the cholesterol-drugs-are-good-for-people Kool-aid when the med students are not paying attention. Maybe there’s hypnosis involved. I don’t get it. Doctors are supposed to be trained scientists as much as they are intuitive artists. You’d think they’d have let go of the BMI garbage (it was designed to be a sociological tool, not a medical tool–and I don’t altogether have much respect for sociological tools in the first place–statistics just bundle humans into blobs and blobs are not humans, though the professions can be hugely useful if properly used, still, statistics…) ages and ages ago. But no.
There is too much investment on the part of SOMEONE(S) in keeping us all in a state of judgmental panic. I’ll spare you my usual Corporate-Capitalism-is-the-Root-of-All-Evil rant for today and just focus on the fact that one very good mother with two very healthy (and vaccinated–seems important to note that) children even has to talk through with someone else whether or not she should address the fact that those childrens’ doctor gives any credence at all to something as demonstrably snake-oily as BMI, and that he’s willing to apply it to the group for whom it has the LEAST validity–children. What is wrong with people?!?!?!?! With smart people???? I know there are dumb and/or careless doctors out there, but that’s a pretty relative sort of dumb given that they had to have gotten some sort of decent grade in Organic Chemistry at some point and passed a test or two that required they be able to name all the parts of the body we know about. But mostly, these are unusually smart people who are choosing to operate according to invalid scientific tools. It’s weird. Though the human tendency to do that is, arguably, our most prominent assholic trait. Well, that and hitting other humans.
And there are lots and lots of mothers out there who will believe the BMI-based crap their childrens’ doctors will tell them, and believe their children are fat, and then tell their children they’re fat. And because one of the things humans (especially the younger ones) also do is believe too much of what other humans tell them about themselves, those children will grow up believing they are fat, and will (there are a good many studies out there proving this, too) grow up to grow into their ideas of themselves. Which will keep the bariatric surgeons of the world in summer homes and high-end German cars for ages to come. I am not saying that this is THE reason there are fat adults in the world, but it’s damn-sure one of them. Lots and lots of useless suffering from this one cause.
And, furthermore, babies are supposed to be fat. The 18-month old in question was magnificently spherical before she started walking. And babies need to eat fat–it’s critical for proper brain development.
And mothers shouldn’t have to act as the correctors of their doctors’ bad practices. But I hope my daughter does, and I hope her pediatrician listens. It’d be a start.
So if you’re a parent, and your kid’s pediatrician uses BMI and talks to your kid about his or her weight, it might be your personal place to start a little revolution. The world, heaven knows, is in need of a whole bunch of revolutions (preferably the Gandhi/King/Tutu/Dalai Lama/Greenpeace sort, please), and this can be yours. The person in the white coat is not infallible. But you can help him or her get a little closer to it, and be a bit more humane in the process.
Go for it, daughter mine!