Tangent — Social Engineering Gone Awry? or “Mom, Jennifer’s Sweat Pants Don’t Fit Anymore”

I just read this piece:

NYC school calls thin school girl fat. Authorities must re-think ‘fat-shaming’ campaign.

By Rhodi Lee, Tech Times | May 26, 9:36 PM


America has an obesity problem and something should be done about this but calling thin girls as fat isn’t exactly a good idea.

The mother of nine-year-old Gwendolyn Williams said that her daughter became conscious of herself after learning that the fitnessgram, the fitness report from the New York City Department of Education’s annual fitness assessment program, has labeled her as overweight.

The rest here

The message of this article’s lead implies only thin girls should not be subjected to fat shaming. Everyone else is fair game. I can’t help but wonder why it was not made clear that fat shaming of anyone is unacceptable for school authorities to engage in even indirectly.

Couldn’t this facilitate a culture that makes it easy for school authorities to find overweight students lacking? Not to mention how it could give a blessing for peers to ridicule?


  1. God, how the world has changed–we didn’t do stuff like this when I was in school. The worst thing that ever happened in my high school was the cheerleaders making fun if you flubbed the tryouts.

  2. Body shaming is absurd. I read this earlier and totally agree with you.

  3. It’s bullshit, and the grand irony is the NYC schools generally don’t have a great academic record. Plus, they’re super segregated compared to years past. Let them get their act together on those issues before they get into fitness counseling.

  4. I agree that NYC schools don’t have a good academic record, but what are you basing your statement on that they are” super segregated” compared to past years? And in what way should they get their act together in connection with “super segregation?” And should the academic failure of the NYC schools preclude the DOE from enacting other health related or social programs? I agree that this incident is a SNAFU, and more to the point, I agree that the POV of the article itself is wrong. But I also don’t see how these fitness assessments would lead to a culture where school officials find overweight students lacking? School officials come in all sizes.

  5. So much wrong with it. I don’t think NYC public schools are unique here (and I’m a graduate of them, grades K through 12), but in general I don’t think schools should be doing this type of assessment across the board. If there is a health concern, the school nurse can contact parents. And I agree that fat-shaming at any age is unacceptable.

  6. Abby,

    As for NYC schools being worse academically than others, I just wan to make clear that I didn’t say that. I said they generally don’t have a great academic record. But they are certainly not alone. This is a widespread problem in the U.S. as we have continually been slipping when compared to other developed nations.


    I based my comment about segregation on this report: http://civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/news/press-releases/2014-press-releases/new-york-schools-most-segregated-in-the-nation which it seems is stating that NYC actually been consistently segregated over the course of the study period. So I did reference that incorrectly.

    My point is NYC schools have some issues to grapple with that come ahead of trying to tackle the obesity issue, and they haven’t even dealt with those more important issues effectively, so why take on obesity? My jaded self thinks it has little to do with real concern for children who are overweight and more to do with funding, i.e., getting more money in the schools. I could be wrong, but my gut says no and mainly because I’ve up close and personal too many times with school funding, have friends who work in the NYC schools, and last but not least, if it were really about the kids, this kind of insensitivity would not have happened.

    Whatever the motivation for the NYC schools taking on this issue, I agree with Abby and like how she put it:

    “…in general I don’t think schools should be doing this type of assessment across the board. If there is a health concern, the school nurse can contact parents.”

    Pretty simple really and doesn’t require a program to fund.

    Also, I wonder if that bmi info gets into a person’s school record, how accessible it will be to those making decisions about access to health care ala ACA or whatever comes behind it. Is that information protected by HIPAA? I would sure as hell want to know that if my kid was being assessed.

  7. My high school freshman son has had this fitnessgram test, what I didn’t know was the weight/height part or maybe our school don’t do that part. I would hate to have them list him as overweight, because he is far from it.

    There is information protection with school records call FRPA ( think that is how it is spelled). Mr. 70 is a School Resoure Police Officer (SRO) and has talked a lot about FRPA.

  8. One of my points is that one thing has nothing to do with the other – precisely because of funding. Of the 23.8 Billion dollar operating budget, NYC pays 55% while the state and federal government pay the rest. That’s 13 billion a year – the largest school system in the world.

    NYC spends $ about $ 20,000 per year per student – almost twice as much as the national average. No other school district spends as much per student.

    A good portion of those actual dollars are used for enrichment programs in exactly those districts that have a high population of minority and low income students – the “segregated” schools because the hard fact is, those are the lowest performing districts. Whatever funding stream is funding the health initiative is not taking money away from educational programs. For all we know, it could be the school nurse who performs it, or it could be a joint initiative with the Department of Health. What else did they look at besides BMI and lice ( I’m sure about the lice)? Did they take blood pressure, pulse? did they give a cardio test? Did they give eye tests? Hearing tests? Who knows? What’s so terrible about the school system getting involved in another layer of preventative health? If the assessment was performed by a health practitioner, then the information should be subject to HIPAA and anyway, under what circumstances are school records used to make decisions on access to health care? How would that happen unless by consent?

    Clinical Obesity is disability. It’s a health concern. The DOE was trying to address a health concern. Yes, it was a royal fuck-up to send information home with the students -although it won’t be easy finding another way to transmit individual reports to the parents of 1.1. millions students – but that’s where the criticism of DOE in this instance ends in my opinion. But what parent wouldn’t want to know if their child was in some sort of danger zone?
    Honestly, I have more of a problem with the reporter who puffed up a headline, and the hysterical mothers of ” the gymnast” and the 1 lb over girl.

  9. @Katie70 Close. It’s FERPA, The Family Educational Rights Protection Act and it gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s school records, while also protecting disclosure of the records without consent, except under specific circumstance. But HIPAA also applies with respect to medical records.

  10. I hope that there was more to this fitness test than age/height/weight correlations or it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Muscle mass weighs more than fat cells; healthy human beings come in different shapes and sizes.

  11. Perry,

    you wrote: “But I also don’t see how these fitness assessments would lead to a culture where school officials find overweight students lacking?”

    Yes, it sounds completely absurd. But prejudice because of weight or given names or other rediculous reasons exist nevertheless.

    A few years ago there was a study in Germany about student’s names and the effect these names had on their teachers opinion about their intelligence. The children who’s names seemed to show they came from a lower social class were considered to be less intelligent and less capable when in fact their performance was a good as that of their classmates.

    Another study with adults proved that fat or obese (that’s not the same) people have more trouble to get a job.

    Age discriminination is in the same category.

    No, all of this shouldn’t matter.
    But it does.

  12. Hedgehogess is correct, and not just for Germany. There are numerous articles on why being ‘fat’ could even lead to lower salaries.
    The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has a page on this issue:
    This includes the following quote
    ‘In education, stereotypes and prejudice based on weight are also prevalent, with teachers and other students making life a lot tougher for large kids, beginning in preschool. Teachers have lower expectations for overweight students, according to several studies, and other kids see them as ugly, lazy, and stupid — three out of five of the heaviest kids report such teasing. It becomes harder for kids who are victimized in this way to succeed academically, and when they do, weight bias remains a barrier. Apparently, college admissions officers don’t like overweight kids either, or don’t consider them likely to succeed in academia. Obese students are much less likely to be accepted for admission to college, despite academic performance equivalent to their thinner peers.’
    i think that sounds like official recognition of an issue to me.
    Other articles speak of the way that discrimination against those deemed ‘fat’ actually leads to self-destructive behaviours.

  13. Perry,

    I don’t know about the particulars of the NYC school district budget, but you seem to be making my point better than I did. The district is not effective in dealing with segregation nor academics to the degree they should. Despite that, they’re going to wade into the obesity issue with this ham fisted approach. Probably not a good idea.

  14. Wow, Cill. that was enlightening.

  15. I would just like to clarify that in both my comments I’m responding also to this statement from perry:
    ‘But I also don’t see how these fitness assessments would lead to a culture where school officials find overweight students lacking?’

    Also from the American Psychological Organization, http://www.apa.org/monitor/jan04/size.aspx on low self-esteem and self-destructive behaviors and bias against overweight children.

    An additional issue for me is that there are huge differences in the risk factors for overweight and obese or morbidly obese, for active and inactive. It was pointed out on one of the many articles I read that by BMI alone, the entire British national rugby team is ‘overweight’. (Let’s not get into the fact that BMI is unscientific and was calculated by a Belgian mathematician 200 years ago in order to give the government of Belgium a quick and dirty way to calculate ‘health’ in the population).

  16. Cill, my son would be considered obese according to the BMI. I think you’ve seen his picture and know he’s active.

  17. I have, RA.

    I suppose one of the reasons I reacted very strongly to this is because I recall NYC as potentially one of the most toxic environments in which to be deemed ‘overweight’. It seems to equated with class (in the American and specifically NYC sense of the term, where ‘class’ = old money or people of a certain background). My experiences were with university-educated people, especially graduate students and professors. The men seemed to uniformly be chubby or have a little paunch; the women uniformly thinner than the men, to near-anorexic. I remember in particular a party where the extremely thin hostess didn’t offer food to some of the women although she did to all of the men. In fact, every time she came to one of heavier women (a visiting curator) with a tray of food, she actually turned her back so the woman couldn’t get an appetizer.
    I can’t imagine what it would be like to be labelled ‘overweight’ let alone ‘fat’ or ‘obese’ in such an environment.

  18. @Cill. I don’t disagree with you about your comments re: thin and NYC ( and probably other places, but you’re talking about NYC and I agree with you there.) although I don’t necessarily think the university crowd typifies class or wealth in NYC . In fact, they’re a scruffier bunch, in my experience and not typical of “old money” which is now a very small group in the NYC social structure. In fact, the whole description is stereotypical and inaccurate – BUT, I agree that in NYC, in certain groups, thin, or rather, not looking overweight, is just what desired. Nobody cares about your BMI. I think in a conversation such as we’re having, one incident, one recollection of a party, which does sound a little bizarre, is representative of nothing.
    NYC is like other places – thin is considered better than not thin – some social groups of women ( and men) are body-conscious to a fault, fat-shaming happens. Men get away with being paunchy ( but many men are as body conscious as women) I would say that most sophisticated, cosmopolitan cities are similar. I know LA is, I’m pretty sure Paris, Madrid and Rome are.

    But the specific issue I addressed was whether giving the fitness test and recording the BMI and other information would likely result in a culture by school officials of, more or less fat-shaming. How would it even happen?

  19. I don’t know how it would happen. I just posted a question about it. But negative labels would certainly not thwart it.

  20. The words “inalienable rights” keep coming back to me over and over. How did this happen? Why did it happen? Who came up with this brilliant idea? If schools can decide who is “fat”, what does that mean? The students deemed “fat” are stupid? They are lazy? They “must” go on a diet? If they don’t get unfat, what are the consequences? Are they denied entrance to college? Kicked out of school? For the life of me, I can’t imagine this being a good thing. Good enough reason to home-school or check out private schools. Inalienable rights…parents used to have them.

  21. @The Queen. The schools didn’t determine who’s fat. They provided an indicator based on a statistics – which indicator (BMI) we all here seem to have a problem with. Assuming Arguendo the legitimacy of the BMI, which we all doubt, it’s simply an indicator to put parents on an alert – and if they’re child is atypical for other reasons, such as high muscle mass, then they have nothing to be concerned about. Inalienable rights? Where does that fit in. What inalienable right are you referring to?
    I don’t know exactly where you live, Queen, but private schools in NYC cost $ 40,000 a year and home schooling is certainly not an option for the majority of NYC’s school children, since so many are low income where parents work or are not, themselves, educated enough to teach children.

    @in general – What is the gripe here? That the fitness test was conducted or the way the info was transmitted? Are you all saying that schools should not play any role in educating students or assessing the health of students? Then why bother with healthful lunches? Did you see this? https://twitter.com/nytimes/status/472131447827210240. The notion that school districts willing to spend the money on student health initiatives should not, because makes no sense to me. Or are health initiatives OK as long as health risks associated with weight are not involved?

  22. @Perry:
    I think you’re misunderstanding what I said about my experiences a little bit, but perhaps I wasn’t clear. I will clarify. I have had to do a lot of research in museums and universities and make a lot trips to NYC. As an academic I would never base anything I said on one incident; I based my opinion on those many trips and interactions with people in different social settings, such as museum and university functions, private parties and social gatherings. That party was just the one thing that stuck in my head because of the hostess’s behaviour.
    I do not equate university faculty and students with ‘old money’, although I did meet the latter at museum functions. The equation of class with old money is not an uniquely NYC phenomenon.

  23. what can i say, Cill. It sounds like we’ve had experience in the same circles, and although I didn’t research in museums and universities, some of them were my clients. and although I completely agree with and am at one with you about the thinness thing in NY, then we agree that the hostess you described ( what a bitch!) was aberrational n the rudeness to her guest.

  24. My apologies for being absent. I was not ignoring you all. I’ve just been slammed with work — 16 hours today. phew.


    I will be very candid and tell you I have lots of thoughts about the public schools in this country. Way too many to wade into in this thread, but the short of them is I am underwhelmed with how public schools generally function. That opinion is based on years and years of involvement with public schools as not only a parent, but also someone who was involved at the funding level and policy level. It gave me lots of exposure to the bureaucratic bullshit that goes on, and I’m sure my reaction to this incident was colored by those experiences.

    My first thought when I read the article is somehow, some way, the NYC school district is gaining financially by running these health assessments and maybe there are two people in the district who are involved with the program who actually give a shit that more kids are overweight than ever before. The rest just see dollar signs. Either that, or it’s something politically correct to do OR, (and this seems the most plausible) someone from the Cooper Institute, or whoever sells the fitnessgram, knew the right person in the NYC schools and got a boondoggle.

    I wish I had a better opinion, and I am willing to form one. But today, it’s not good.

  25. I could see any one of those scenarios. It reminds me a bit of the news item about the school in the UK that eliminated some classic English children’s books to win a diversity award (or so the news reports implied). The diet and fitness industry is worth billions, and it is hand in glove with the insurance industry, which benefits from being able to find reasons not to pay out.

  26. Cill, I really wish I didn’t have such a negative view of public schools. That is not to say I have a negative view of public school teachers. I have many friends who are public school teachers, and I’ve observed public school teachers many, many, many times in action. They have a tough job and especially with the (sorry to sound like a broken record) bureaucratic bullshit that goes on. Frankly, I don’t know how the hell they get their jobs done. A wing and a prayer? ’cause it’s usually not the administration of these schools that helps them — especially with crap like this health assessment being done in a lame manner.

    I’m not sure I could make my feelings any plainer, and I wonder if I should even share all of that, but that is really how I feel. Again, I wish I didn’t, and I am always hopeful that I am wrong. Always hopeful. But seeing a story like this one when the NYC public schools have a much less than stellar track record on academics? Yeah, it’s hard not to say it’s silly.

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