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Weighing Kids to Make Sure They Lose 'Quarantine Pounds' Is a Terrible Idea

Jeremy Vine, host of the aptly named British Talk Show, “Jeremy Vine,” recently tweeted:

“Should schools weigh pupils to make sure they shift the pounds they’ve put on during the lockdown?

Health experts want two weigh-ins in September and then in the spring to keep kids on track. But could this just create a generation of calorie counters? #JeremyVine”

The backlash was swift and strong, with many sharing how this kind of treatment was at the root of their eating disorders, like Mighty contributor Laura Coward, who shared:

 “Summer before senior year, they made me get a drill team uniform that was a size too small. Had the summer to do whatever it took for it to fit so I could perform in the fall. I did whatever it took, beginning a 20+ year eating disorder journey. Schools shouldn’t weigh children.”

Outspoken body image activist Jameela Jamil also got personal, tweeting

“Hard pass. Being weighed at school was truly the minute my eating disorder started at 12. I can trace it back to that exact day. Understand that size is not an indicator of health and just teach children about nutrition, make exercise fun and stop serving them dogshit at lunch.”

But I think my favorite response may have come from Elie Mystal:

“WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU DO THIS TO CHILDREN?”

Short and to the point.

There was almost no support for the idea among the replies, which I think shows good progress in terms of the way that we talk about children’s weight and health (which are two separate things). But the fact that it was a topic in the first place indicates that the work is not yet done.

I’ll start by pointing out that Jeremy doesn’t actually identify any of these so-called “experts” in the tweet, but a little research uncovered that they are from an organization that is organized entirely around the idea that thin bodies are better than fat bodies. As luck would have it, I happen to have previously interviewed more than 20 actual experts about the concept of “weight management” for children, and they all agreed that attempts to control the weight of children are harmful. They can damage their relationships with food, movement and their bodies and, as many people on Twitter attested to in their personal stories, they can perpetuate eating disorders. For some, this damage is lifelong.

These types of programs hurt marginalized kids the most — kids who happen to be bigger, of color, queer, trans, non-binary, disabled (and especially a combination of those) are all harmed when we push a body ideal and concept of health that are rooted in thin, white, cis, het, able-bodiedness.

Research bears this out. A team at the University of Minnesota found that, “None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss [in a six year follow up]…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors.”

Weight fluctuations during childhood and adolescence are very normal. Weight fluctuations during childhood and adolescence in the midst of a global pandemic — with routines, school and lives in upheaval — are incredibly normal. Life is hard enough right now, making kids feel uncomfortable and self-conscious about eating, movement and their bodies is an appalling idea.

Living through a global pandemic is difficult, obsessing about your weight while you are doing it doesn’t make it any better, no matter what age you are.