"Don't let Jerrod eat any junk food. He is going to be fat if he doesn't watch it, and I won't let that happen. Don't let him have any ice cream, hamburgers, hotdogs, or any picnic type of foods. And no candy whatsoever. No soft drinks, no juice. And make him run and work off that gut. It's disgusting.  I told him that people won't like him if he insists on having that gut" the mother admonished. We were all standing around waiting to drop off our kids at the camp. The angry mother presented a list of good and bad foods to the camp counselor who looked embarrassed. And poor Jerrod. He stared at the  ground hoping that a hole would appear and swallow him up. Jerrod's father was checking his i-Phone and was determined not to get involved or to acknowledge his wife's rant or his child's discomfort. The rest of us looked everywhere, but at the spectacle.

Again the mother shrieked "no ice cream, no ice cream for you" as she pointed at her son. I couldn't resist. I turned to my child and said "Oh goody. You can have Jerrod's share." That didn't stop the mother. She told us that Jerrod needed to work his muscles; especially "the one between his ears."  I muttered "The brain is composed of fat mostly. Two-thirds of the brain is composed of fatty acids." Maybe Jerrod's mother didn't have enough fat in her brain and that is why she acted the way she did.

I looked at Jerrod and he was not fat. He was a tall, skinny adolescent—as was every kid going to camp in this wealthy suburban environment. His mother was afraid that Jerrod could become fat sometime in the distant future and therefore would earn less money, not marry, have poor health, and generally have a horrible life which, of course, would reflect negatively on her upbringing skills.  Every study confirms this bleak forecast for the overweight and obese. Maybe Jerrod's mother is just being proactive.

The episode was bad enough, but I encounter such behavior often—parents calling their kids names at sports events, in grocery stores, at restaurants, and on the street. I hear them call their children fat ass, lardy, pig, and every other cruel name the parents could think of. My most vivid memory was of a young girl in a restaurant with her parents. The parents were instructing the kid that she couldn't eat any of the famous concoctions on the menu; she had to order salad. They said that, I guess, because the girl was a little bit pudgy. They told her piggies have to watch what they eat.  The parents wanted to nip those fat genes in the bud. News to those parents: If you don't want you kid to eat dessert, don't take her to the Serendipity restaurant for goodness sakes where she might be tempted by, oh the frozen hot chocolate, or the towering sundaes.

Our First Lady, Michele Obama, has launched a war against childhood obesity. Good for her. I guess that means she will take on the food industry and their lock on us, attack the ads marketing to children, slap calorie content on everything, tax junk food and give tax breaks on fruit and vegetables, reinstate daily recess in all public schools, limit access to cars and convenience, and have everyone walk everywhere. I applaud all of that. Once when I was at Kennedy airport, I was standing line to purchase a coffee and a muffin. I looked up at the display of calories next to each item and was shocked. I walked around the entire food court reading every calorie display and decided that I wasn't really that hungry. Having calorie content posted did change my behavior and so would all of the other recommendations I have mentioned; however, no matter what, there will still be people who are not thin.

Dr. Thomas Knedler, psychologist, declared "that there are many reasons someone is overweight and a lot of the reasons are beyond a person's control." One of the reasons is that foods that contain fat, salt, and sugar, alter brain chemistry. David Kessler, doctor, lawyer, and former head of the Food and Drug Administration says in his book The End of Overeating that food alters the chemistry in the brain and causes people to overeat. He believes that our failure to address obesity is because we have been studying the physiology of the body, and not the reactions in our brain. Our brains want more of those foods that provide mind-altering experiences. Overweight people have a predisposition to these mood boosters. Our brains, our very receptors want fat, sugar, and salt. 

Recently, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance took on the war against childhood obesity and is gaining support to add obesity as a category of bullying. "Obesity makes children a target for bullying" states Julie Lemoung, MD, at the University of Michigan. Her recent study on bullying showed that being overweight or obese increased the likelihood of abuse. This was evident even after the study controlled for race, class, gender, and geographical location. I wonder if her study included bullying by parents.

On August 3, 2011 a Maryland psychiatrist (Dr. Margaret Ferne Jensvold) killed her son (Ben) and then herself. Her son attended Wellspring Academy in North Carolina and lost over 160 pounds.  Wellspring is a weight loss boarding school. Ben was featured on the television show Too Fat For Fifteen. He had been bullied for years about his weight. Several newspaper accounts state that Dr. Jensvold believed her son was better off dead than bullied. It is not news to me that fat kids are bullied. I grew up with it, and yes, the bullying and name calling changed me in every way possible.  What is new is that people are bullying kids about the potential of becoming fat. I hope that for the Jerrods of the world that we get over our paranoia about weight.

About the Author

Jean A Anspaugh

Jean Anspaugh studies the folklore of dieting. She is the author of Fat Like Us.

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