Whoa. That’s quite the title for a blog post, isn’t it? Here are some other versions I tossed around, “How to make research fit your agenda,” “Misleading the public: Our way or the highway,” “It’s only a few percentage points…who’s gonna notice?”
So, what’s my point? I’ve been reading and researching the 81 pages of the new school lunch guidelines. I’ve read the comments left, I’ve read the “White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity” report. I’ve started to have dreams regarding statistics…and I hated statistics in college. Hated.
What did I learn? I learned that although the powers that be keep using the number “1 in 3″ as the percentage of obese kids in our country, well, that number isn’t right. In fact, we’re off by quite a ways. How far? Try about 14%, give or take.
Everywhere you look, you’ll read the statistic that 1 in 3 children are obese. In my mind, that means roughly 33.33%. Again, I wasn’t a math major, so if I’m wrong, please correct me. (And no, I don’t mean just take it out a few more decimal places. ) What if I tell you that the number is actually closer to 19%? Would that matter?
Well, that’s the truth.
Here, read the CDC’s stats directly from their page: “The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.” (The number in the White House report bounces between 17% and 19.6%, depending on which graph you want to look at.)
So how can they get away with it? Simple. It’s a matter of word choice. In the above report, the next line reads, “In 2008, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.” It goes on to explain that “overweight” is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obese is defined as having excess body fat.
So, when someone is making a statement, or a report, or a news conference, it’s just more newsworthy if you drop the “overweight” part off and leave it as “obese.” But the two terms are not interchangeable. There are so many factors that can weigh in on a child’s weight, not just activity level and diet. What about injuries? What about stress? What about extending health issues?
What causes an overweight child? Here are a few examples: Imagine a high school student, very active, with an injury that requires months of rehab. They continue to eat as they’re used to, but realize they need to make some diet adjustments once they start noticing a few pounds being added on. The pounds drop again once activity is resumed.
Or what about a teenage girl, just transitioning into her cycle. Weight fluctuates greatly, revolved around hormones and other things that occur as the body makes great changes. Same is true for boys as they hit puberty.
No, an overweight child is nothing to scoff at, but it’s also not something to legislate for…it’s a natural occurrence in the life cycle.
But obesity, well, obesity is a little different. And although we do need to take steps to make improvements, the majority of the differences need to be made at home. And that’s not a place where legislation reaches…at least, not yet.
By law, we are not required to buy fruit. By law, we are not prohibited from purchasing soda. By law, we are not limited to the number of times pizza can be served as a meal.
As parents, we need to make the right decisions for our children, that includes after the bell rings.
If we truly want to drop the obesity rate in our children, we can’t expect cuts to the school lunch program to be the smoking gun. School lunch was never the root of the problem.
But we also can’t go around making changes, touting stats and bending the information to fit our goals. Some may not take the time to read the fine print, but when you get caught using misleading numbers, I start to question the rest of your agenda as well.
I applaud the new fruits and increased use of vegetables in our school lunches, I love the new recipes and new twists on the old-standby’s. Yet calorie caps and protein limits will not succeed to achieve a goal that’s been misquoted in the first place.
Can we work together to make real change?