Friday, November 19, 2010

Bully Pulpit: Some Thoughts on NPT's Children's Health Crisis Obesity Doc

Posted By on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 9:38 AM

Thursday night was the obesity episode of NPT's ongoing Children's Health Crisis series. (If you missed it, you can and should watch it at the link above.) It was, I would say, 90 percent good. They did an excellent job of covering the issues of unwalkable neighborhoods, a lack of places for people to shop and get fresh fruits and vegetables, the motivations people have for buying the least expensive things on menus even if they're the least healthy, and the crappy foods kids have available to them at school.

I thought they also did a good job of speaking honestly about the unlikelihood of making fat people non-fat and stressing, instead, that people, no matter what their sizes, would benefit from better nutrition and regular exercise.

So pretty much everything after the first 10 minutes was good.

But holy cow, the first 10 minutes were problematic. First, they had multiple shots of either just fat bodies of children or fat children with their faces blurred out. NPT said it was because they didn't have permission to show those kids' faces. But if this is a health issue and not something children should be ashamed of, then they had an obligation to not treat those children like they have a condition to be ashamed of. If they couldn't get permission to use the children's images in a neutral manner, then they shouldn't have used them at all.

But the second issue was the bizarro — I don't even know what to call it — almost victim-blaming a handful of the health experts did when discussing the social stigma associated with being fat. Rather than framing the problem of bullying as one of, you know, actual bullying — where the child being bullied is not actually under any obligation to change his or her behavior to stop the abuse, because we are all in agreement that you shouldn't appease abusers and can't, generally, anyway — the experts seemed to frame the bullying as one more problem caused by obesity.

It was pretty dumbfounding. For all of the talk in the show of personal responsibility, there was a brief, strange moment where being the victim of bullying was treated like a problem with being fat, rather than a problem of there being bullies. It's as if bullies are just some unchanging force of nature, instead of individuals who should learn some personal responsibility themselves.

I don't really know what to make of it. For all the reasons we should strive to be healthier as a state, because it might placate bullies shouldn't even be on the list.

It would seem like part of making Tennessee kids healthier would be addressing bullying as a real problem caused by bullies, not as something the victims of bullies have to change themselves to fix.

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