Jewish World Review July 7, 2006/ 10 Tamuz, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

The Dreaded O Word | There is a debate going on over whether to change the politically correct gentle language used by the U.S. government with the painful truth — telling kids if they're obese or overweight. According to Dr. Reginald Washington, a Denver pediatrician and co-chair of an American Academy of Pediatrics obesity task force, calling a child obese might "run the risk of making them angry, making the family angry," but it addresses a serious issue head-on.

"If that same person came into your office and had cancer, or was anemic, or had an ear infection, would we be having the same conversation?" Dr. Washington asks. "There are a thousand reasons why this obesity epidemic is so out of control, and one of them is no one wants to talk about it."

The doctor's right, of course. The way things are done now is tantamount to living in denial. Officials are so afraid of hurting the feelings of kids that they refuse to call their problem by its correct name — obesity. The overly delicate approach adopted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and used by many doctors) avoids the word "obese" because of the stigma. So a kid who really is obese is simply called "overweight" by the CDC. A kid who is really overweight is called "at risk of overweight." Don't want to hurt the sensibilities of the little butterballs.

A new proposal being considered by a committee of the American Medical Association, the CDC and others, would require that fat children would get the same labels as adults — "overweight" or "obese." Tim Cole, a professor of medical stats at the University College London's Institute of Child Health says the change makes sense because "It would bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world." Cole goes on to say that the current categories are convoluted and have an element of political correctness. That's putting it mildly.

Many children and teenagers polled say calling someone "obese" sounds mean and in lots of instances their parents agree. Paola Fernandez Rana of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has a 9-year old daughter who at 40 pounds overweight is considered obese. Rana said doctors "refer to it as the 'o-word'" in front of her daughter "in an effort not to upset her."

The latest statistics show that about 17 percent of U.S. children are in the highest category, which should be labeled "obese," and that almost 34 percent are in the second-highest category, which should be labeled "overweight." The percentiles are based on growth charts from the 1960s and 1970s, when far fewer kids were too fat.

Gee, things sure have changed since I was a kid — back in the good old days they just called you fat. And guess what? We dealt with it. I was a fat kid and I knew I was fat. No one walked on eggshells with me. I wasn't "at risk for overweight" I was overweight, period. So I tried to watch my diet and do more exercise. I still have the tendency to gain weight, it is a constant battle but it's something I know I have to do in order to keep under control. I have dealing with it for most of my life.

How can a fat kid begin to deal with his problem if he is never told outright that he has a problem? Using stupid euphemism's like "at risk" or "pleasantly plump," or "husky" is just not going to cut it. Another good one is "big boned." Some kids are so "big boned" today that they can barely fit into their school chairs. Just call it what it is, okay? FAT. FATTY. FATSO.

Remember all those cute hated-filled little rhymes that the skinny kids would chant to the fat ones: "Fat, fat, the water rat." "Fat and skinny had a race; fat fell down and broke his face." "Fat and skinny were lying in bed; fat rolled over and skinny was dead." Somehow or other none of us were seriously traumatized by the chants. We all got over it. The trouble is that today no one is supposed to ever say anything that might hurt children's feelings — even if it is for their own good. By all means, let's protect the little porkers in every way we can.

This is yet another example of political correctness run amok. "Gentle" labels for things so the thing one is referring to won't sound so bad. Well, sometimes it is just better for bad things to actually sound "bad." Some people want to take out the "stigma" of being fat, but it is that very same stigma that will get a person to attempt to make a change. Being fat is not a good thing and the sooner kids start to get that idea, the better off they will become. I've said it before, but I'll say it again — Let's not be afraid to call things by their proper names.

Now I don't suggest that the family doctor or mom and dad should start calling junior "a big fat slob," but saying "overweight" shouldn't send a 12 year-old into instant trauma, either. If you weigh more than you should, then by definition you are "overweight." And if you are really, really overweight, then you are "obese." C'mon fat kids, put down the Doritos, get off the computers, and go outside and play!

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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