CRUE Discussion Guide: Thinking Critically About Student Health

In reading about health issues in the U.S. today, it is almost impossible to avoid articles about the, so-called, “obesity epidemic” among our children. First Lady, Michelle Obama, launched the Let’s Move! Campaign last year to “ combat the epidemic of childhood obesity.” The four pillars of the campaign include empowering caregivers, providing schools with healthy food, increasing access to healthy and affordable food, and increasing physical activity among children. These goals address major issues faced by many students, especially those from low-income families, but the language of the campaign is cause for concern.

Kate Harding, a fat acceptance activist, takes issue with the framing of the campaign. In a letter to Michelle Obama, she writes, “you're framing this as a strategy to ‘solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation,’ rather than to improve health and well-being across the board, and whipping up fear and disgust of the very fat children you're supposedly trying to help.” Harding and representatives of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) point to research that shows the harmful impact of shaming children about their weight, the health problems that can be caused by dieting, issues with measures of health like the Body Mass Index (BMI), and conflating thinness with being fit. Brandon Macsta of the NAAFA points out that Obama’s campaign may be encouraging bullying. In his letter to Mrs. Obama, he says her campaign, “fuels an entire generation of young Americans to believe they are justified in mistreating, mocking and bullying fat children! Whether you know it or not, by traveling around the country urging children to ‘get in shape’ you are inadvertently sending the message to young fat children that there is something wrong with them, and simply because their weight is ‘outside the normal range’ they need to change.”Both Harding and the NAAFA are proponents of the principles of Health at Every Size (HAES), which is about engaging in health promoting activities as a means of caring for your body and your overall well-being, rather than losing or maintaining weight.

Regardless of how you feel about the Let’s Move! Campaign or Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size, most educators are concerned about both the health of their students and preventing bullying. There are a number of ways we can work to encourage students to live a healthy lifestyle and respect people of all sizes. See the resources below for more information.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does your school or district address or not address student health, what impact does this approach have on students? Do you think educators have a responsibility to promote student health? What role does discussing healthy living have in your work? How can you and others at your school or district improve your approach to the subject?
  2. Do you agree that the Lets Move! Campaign may promote bullying among students and overemphasizes physical appearance? How could the language and focus of the campaign be improved?
  3. Studies show that bullying can lead to eating disorders, what happens when students in your school or district are bullied? Are certain types of bullying more acceptable than others?

Resources:

Teaching Tolerance Articles and Lesson Plans:

Children and Weight: The Dilemmas-Body Positive

 Educator Toolkit-National Eating Disorders Association

 

CRUE Book Studies:

To learn more about culturally responsive education practices consider signing up for a CRUE Center Book Study like John Vitto’s book Relationship Driven Classroom Management: Strategies that Promote Student Motivation. Earn 1 CEU for just $75. For more information visit http://www.cruecenter.org/book_study.php or email us at contact@cruecenter.org.

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