Your fetus, your diet, and you

I’ve been quietly (or not so quietly as my husband who has to listen to my various outbursts and scornful scoffs as I read) taking in the latest news on the dieting front.  Mainly the news of a new trial study to put overweight pregnant women on a drug intended to prevent their fetus from gaining too much weight.

I think Dances with Fat really did a fabulous look into the many reasons that this entire concept is just entirely disturbing.  A bit of that post which really keeps resonating for me is this:

Weight and Health are two different things and cannot be freely substituted for one another.  Health is multi-dimensional and includes things in our control and things out of our control such as genetics, environment, access, stress and behaviors, and being healthy is not the same as being thin. There are healthy and unhealthy people of every shape and size. (emphasis is mine)

I think that in all the fervor to ensure that our children and our general population masses stay healthy; we’re really focused on weight because it is perceived as far easier than focusing on the multi-dimensional reality of health. If you prepare a program intended to create weight-loss; that is far more easily measured than, say, determining all of the many variant factors tied into the concept of Good Health. Yet, as Dances with Fat and many others have pointed out time and again, Thin(ner) is NOT, nor should it be, a synonym for Healthy.

So much gets missed when size is  pushed forward as the best, nay the ONLY metric for measuring a body’s health.  My fear is that in this zeal and zest (and other “z” words) to Think About The Children, we’ve actually gone and forgotten all about them.  Children are merely another pawn in this War on Fat being waged.  Like the rest of us; they only stand to lose from such a position.

I don’t see how this sort of fetus-dieting study can possibly benefit anyone; let alone our children. These initiatives to drastically attack a body’s fat (or in this case a fetus’ potential to gain fat) can only serve to further reinforce already damaging stereotypes about  fatness, health and worth.

Michelle Obama’s “Fight the Fatties” mentality in addressing the United State’s “Obesity Problem” via the Let’s Move campaign seems ripe to instead (or additionally?) help INCREASE bullying and increase the prevalence of destructive behaviors (such as disordered eating); all in the name of fixing a purportedly drastically growing problem that DOESN’T REALLY EXIST!!!

In case you don’t click that last link, it leads to the CDC’s own admission that childhood obesity levels have LEVELED OFF. Since 1999! “Between 1999–2000 and 2007–2008, there was no significant trend in obesity prevalence for any age group”  Despite a recently released letter from the same CDC advising immediate actions to fight this disastrous scourge on our nation that is a fat body, there is NO EPIDEMIC of an increasingly fat nation. (PS: this rate has also been level for adults for a while now.)

Lifespan is at an all-time high in the US, and is increasing. Has been for nearly a decade.  Yet, why use such a silly measure of health as Life Expectancy?  That’s not a quick and dirty way to quantify an individual’s unique health profile! Weight is by FAR easier to track. Less work, easier to assign blame on the individual when efforts fail rather than on the initiative itself.  Hmm.  Some might think researchers and obesity experts were lazy or something?  Nah.  Only us fatties get that moniker: Lazy.

Deaths associated with fatness are being revealed to have less direct one-to-one Fat-to-Death correlation than assumed: “Overweight was not associated with excess mortality. The relative risks of mortality associated with obesity were lower.” Yet, despite studies cropping up with these and similar findings about the intricate (at the least) relationship between body size and health; initiatives continue to crop up destined to give us all the quick-fix marketers seem to feel we crave: that Get Thin Quick scam that we all know deep down (skin deep at least) is based upon shallow measures of appearance; not true measures of health.

Children, like adults, are not just bodies to be measured and judged.  They are people.  We are people. People  should not be judged Healthy or Not based upon the size of the bodily container they inhabit. Health should not be a metric by which a person’s worth is measured.


11 thoughts on “Your fetus, your diet, and you

  1. What is so heartbreaking about all of the emphasis on weight is that there IS a real public health crisis going on – when working people can’t afford to buy fruit and vegetables, or can’t get access to them; or when people are having to work insane hours and commute long distances in demoralising and poorly paid jobs; or when access to health care is denied, you are going to see public health problems. And yes, there they are, in rising rates of depression, diabetes and so on. But to attack the problem at its source would mean standing up to extremely strong and well-funded vested interests. Instead, it’s so much easier picking on fat people – it provides a convenient scapegoat and encourages everybody to think something ‘is being done’.

  2. On top of all of this I have another concern. When my girls were little, I read a lot about how children grow and some texts mentioned that children put on weight and then grow taller using the weight they had previously stored. I saw this happen overnight when my girls were infants. All judgements about what bodies are supposed to look like aside – kids need fat stores to grow properly! Thinking about dieting children makes me feel ill; messing with fetuses is appalling.

    • Susan that is a very valid concern and I’m glad you put it out there. I’m so frustrated that these measures keep coming down more and more harshly against child bodies who NEED nutrients to grow (as adults need nutrients to function but sticking with the Kids here). Denying pregnant bodies the ability to feed and nourish a fetus and/or baby as it is PROGRAMED to do just rings of complete and utter nuttery to me!!

    • YES. We try to keep fat talk out of the house, but my daughters have both commented unfavorably about their own bodies–the younger one especially, because she is right in the middle of the height and weight curves and her sister is tall and slender. (They are currently 7 and almost-5 BTW.) I counter by explaining that it is normal for kids to fill out and then shoot up. I show my middle girl pictures of herself as a baby, when her dimples had dimples and her folds had folds–seriously, this kid kept tipping over because her bottom was spherical–and then show her some shirts that fit her just a month ago and show her bellybutton now. She has JUST lost the last fold around her wrist and every time we measure her she is taller. This, we explain, is normal and it is going to happen repeatedly as they grow up.

      I also point out that when she has gained 2 1/2 pounds, she will be heavy enough to hold a backless booster seat down and she won’t have to wear the annoying 5-point harness anymore.

      About the OMG YOUR FETUS IS FAAAAAT thing: I tried to be a “good” fatty during my first pregnancy. I avoided “bad” foods even though I was craving them. Then one day I found myself eating the topping from an entire medium meat lovers’ pizza. I didn’t even feel full; I just felt better than I had in months. And that was the baby who was born looking like a skinny little old man, took forever to fill out, and is now a tall and slender girl.

      • Jenny I wonder how many others have similar anecdotal evidence to add because I have a feeling you’re not alone in both struggling to keep your children’s minds at ease about growing and also about efforts to be a “good” pregnant eater having very little impact (body size-wise) on the little one growing inside!!

  3. Just something I need to share: In Saturday’s local newspaper, there was a short note in the “Lifestyle” section: “Diets are not safe for children and teens. Malnutrition in growing bodies leads to lifelong trouble maintaining stable weight. The younger a child is, the more likely a diet will result in disordered eating.”

    Of course, this tiny grain of sanity was brought to you by the ministry of “but of course the goal is to produce thin adults”. Still, if it spares a few kids from being starved by their parents, I’m willing to take a cynical stance and say, better good is done for the wrong reasons than not at all…

    Also, what Susan says about growth. In old books on child development (which we had a bunch of in the house) there were some chapters about “filling out” and “shooting up” phases, and how parents should not worry if a healty kid is stouter or lankier than his or her agemates, as not all kids grow at the same speed.

  4. I am cheering at Alexie’s comment up there!

    Also, I think you’re 100% right with lazy researchers. Health is difficult to quantify. Weight is easy to measure but a really crappy proxy.

    But it’s okay, right? As long as they (maybe?) won’t grow up to be fat it’s okay to give fetuses drugs (not to mention pregnant women) that could harm them…

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