6th Graders Monitoring Body Fat and Caloric Intake for School
by Jeff Dinelli
(crossposted at Shakesville)
This is a copy of a letter I just had to send to the Vice-Principal of our public middle school, located in a far southwestern suburb of Chicago, with the names held back:
Ms. (Vice Principal),
My name is Jeff Dinelli, and I am the father of two (local school) students, one of whom is (my daughter), a 6th grader. I am writing to express my extreme concern over a Physical Education project that started this week in Mrs. (Physical Education teacher's) class.
The kids were to enter their height and age into a computerized program, which informed them of their "ideal" weight and percentage of body fat. They have been instructed to count their daily caloric intake. Wednesday night I picked up a pizza on the way home from (my 2nd grade son's) little league game and (my daughter) was frantic because the box didn't indicate how many calories were in each slice.
She and her friends now discuss each other's weight, body fat, and how many calories they ingested the night before.
Frankly, I am furious. Let's leave aside the very real problem of the overweight children in the class who assuredly are suffering from utter embarassment right now because they are heavier than their classmates and are surely being harassed for it. We live in a culture where the ideal of what a female should look like is extremely unrealistic. From the models on the covers of magazines, to actresses on television and in movies, girls are taught to starve themselves to match up with their role models. I'm sure I don't have to remind you of the horrific prevalence of serious eating disorders such as Anorexia nervosa, Binge eating and Bulimia (if you need help please Google the Center for Mental Health Services or the National Institute of Mental Health).
If an "ideal" weight or percentage of body fat is taught to 12-year-old children in school, it should concentrate on the absurdities of what our culture expects girls to look like and the often deadly diseases that can easily begin to affect young women who become obsessed with squeezing into the latest fashions and looking "good" exposing their midriffs or wearing that two-piece bathing suit at the pool.
There are many ways to teach the importance of proper nutrition and exercise without being told what they "should" weigh or how their bodies "should" look.
I would like this program justified, though I cannot think of a way that could possibly be done. My home e-mail address is "Cc"-ed above in the address portion of this message. Twelve years old these children are. I am incredulous, and I'm not stopping with this e-mail. I have no intention of this sounding threatening, but I'm very curious as to how prevalent this sort of "teaching" is throughout the country. I write for a nationally-read blog that deals in politics and culture, and am outlining an article about this project to be posted on the site. I'm not sure about a letter to the editor of the (local newspaper) at this point, I'd like to wait for a response.
If this should be directed at someone else, like the school board, please forward it or inform me of the proper direction.
This was sent yesterday so I have no response yet, but I have a couple questions for you readers.
I'm most interested in finding out if any of you parents have run across anything like this in your schools. How common is this?
Also, I guess I'd like to know your opinions on how I handled this. Are you as baffled and upset as I am? To me, it's absolutely disgusting. I ask this question because I've heard mixed opinions on my letter (though most are on my side). Is this not early indoctrination into our sick culture's mores and expectations of women?
Please, be my guest, respond away.