Preventing Childhood Obesity Is Not Fat-Shaming

Paul Campos of Lawyers, Guns and Money argues that Michelle Obama's initiative to prevent childhood obesity by encouraging all children to eat well and exercise is an exercise in fat-shaming and fat eliminationism. Campos claims that Obama's Let's Move! program is a form of anti-fat bigotry that is on par with those odious "ex-gay" programs that purport to cure homosexuality:

This is precisely equivalent to a first lady making an assault on the “childhood homosexuality epidemic” her main public policy issue, with the goal of eliminating childhood homosexuality in a generation, and then having a bunch of right-thinking conservatives argue that this has nothing to do with gay bashing.

Preventing obesity (and diabetes, and high blood pressure, and a host of other health problems) is not equivalent to shaming anyone who is already obese (or diabetic, or hypertensive). Michelle Obama is not trying to eliminate childhood obesity by putting anyone on a diet or suggesting that fat adults slim down.

Let me suggest an alternative analogy: Short people, especially short men, face discrimination. This is unjust.

Yet, if large numbers of children were having their growth stunted by nutrient deficiencies, the government should step in, as it has done in the past. The goal would be to make sure that all children have the nutrients they need to reach their genetic potential for height. That doesn't mean the government wants everyone to be 6'2". We've all got different genetic potentials for tallness (and fatness) -- even assuming an optimal environment. If kids are ending up dramatically shorter, or fatter, than they were 20 years ago, that's an ominous sign that something about our environment has changed for the worse.

As a short person, I would not regard a nutritional supplement program to prevent growth stunting as short-shaming or short eliminationism. The program would be aimed at preventing short stature in those who are not yet short for their age. Nobody would suggest trying to make short adults taller. Like obesity, shortness is almost impossible to reverse outside of a critical developmental window -- and if you try, through drugs or surgery, the "treatment" would be worse than the "disease."

If the government acted to prevent unhealthy shortness, I wouldn't feel like the government was telling me that being short is inherently unhealthy or shameful. After all, I wasn't malnourished. I'm just short. Thankfully, people don't look at 5'2" me and assume I had a deprived childhood. Or, at least I hope they don't.

But just because I'm like this under optimal conditions doesn't negate the fact that an unhealthy environment can stunt other people's growth. It's too bad that there's a stigma to being short, but that's no reason not to act to prevent shortness when shortness is a symptom of an unhealthy environment.