Eschewing the fat

by CarlD

My local paper reports on a major study of a three-year campaign at 42 schools around the country in which “[m]iddle school students targeted with an intensive effort to reduce obesity did no better at losing weight than their peers in schools without special programs.”

Researchers were stunned, suggesting an unexamined assumption that lots of focused education is sufficient to create big behavioral changes. Looks like another nail in the coffin of the teachers-cause-transformation hypothesis.

A local principal is quoted muddying the waters: “It’s like a lot of things in education…. We can control a lot of what they do at school, but if they go home and they’re sedentary, they eat fried foods, that can sabotage the data.” I like the idea that life variables other than school ‘sabotage the data’, but the point is a critical one: despite its prominence in our hopes and dreams, school is just not the salient influence in many kids’ lives.

Oh, no!

UPDATE: The very next day my local paper reports that our state is #10 on the national fatty list. But wait! “Gloomy numbers aside, the report’s authors noted signs of progress. Many states, including North Carolina, are starting programs in schools, churches and communities that promote exercise and healthy diets.” This is progress? Apparently they do not read their own newspaper. Or they do, yet it teaches them nothing.

On the same page is a local-interest article gushing about the delicious deep-fried squash at the Legislative Cafeteria. Nothing like it to sabotage the data.

UPDATE: While I’m thinking about it I want to belatedly link this to Daniel Lende’s much more substantive work over at Neuroanthropology. Find a gateway article with great links here.


3 Comments to “Eschewing the fat”

  1. If the schools had managed to get the kids to lose weight they’d have been the ones sabotaging the data, since BMI is heavily (sic) influenced by genetics — up to 80% of the variance in adolescents, with a bit more malleability showing up later in life.

  2. Yup. BMI is also heavily influenced by a couple weeks lost in the desert and brutal exploitation of peasants, but you’re right that evolution has prepared some of us for life’s little privations by making us excellent calorie hoarders during times of plenty.

  3. It turns out that high-BMI people don’t just have slower metabolisms than low-BMI people. They do tend to eat more and exercise less: that’s why it seems that diet programs should work. Somehow though, genes affect not just involuntary biological functions but also behaviors that would seem to be under conscious willful control. No doubt this is why the low-BMIers regard high-BMIers as moral failures: if they’d exercise a little self-discipline etc. etc. Either fat people are genetically predestined to succumb to the sins of gluttony and sloth, or else skinny people just naturally feel like eating less and moving around more.

    I recently saw a study estimating that people in Americans consume something like 600 more calories per day than they did 40 years ago, which corresponds to the continued rise in overweight and obese percentages. There’s no evidence of a widening weight gap between the thin and the thick, though: it’s an across the board thing. Apparently even the congenitally thin aren’t immune to the eatogenic factors that saturate our culture.

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