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Friday, February 11, 2011

Do parents really discriminate against obese kids

Yahoo News, "Obese Kids Face Bias From Parents," reports on a study that shows parents tend to treat obese kids different than those of "normal" weight. And while I've seen this poll discussed on many TV Networks, not one that I'm aware of asked the question, "Is this interpretation of the poll accurate?

First allow me to quote the article, and then I'll provide another possible interpretation of this poll. According to the article:
Studies have shown parents are less likely to help overweight or obese offspring pay for college but researchers from the University of North Texas in Denton have also found parents may be less willing to help their overweight child buy a car.

"No one is going to be surprised that society discriminates against the overweight, but I think it is surprising that it can come from your parents," researcher Adriel Boals told Reuters Health.

"Similar to college tuition, purchasing a car during the college years is a major expense and investment that parents can choose to provide assistance with or not."

Boals and fellow researcher Amanda Kraha's study, published in the journal Obesity, noted that more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese and heavier people are known to face discrimination on the job, at school, and in relationships. They tend to earn less and are less likely to marry

There is evidence that negative psychological consequences associated with overweight and obesity, such as depression and low self-esteem, could be a consequence of this type of prejudice.
As I noted above, this is one possible interpretation of the poll. Yet as with most poll data, there is often more than one interpretation of the data.

After watching Matt Lauer discuss this poll with an expert on this topic, my wife said this: "Matt never once questioned the poll. He never once asked, 'Isn't it possible that children from families with less money tend to weight more? He never asked, Doesn't this poll just verify that the more money you have, the more money you spend on your children?"

That's my wife, though: constantly questioning, and constantly looking at the other side of the coin.

Yet she does make sense. There was a book read when I was in college called "Class" by Paul Fussell. You can link to it here. In the book Fussell describes the prototypical middle class person as slightly overweight with a tendency to gain weight as he ages. The more money people have, the thinner they are.

I don't know if he made this observation by reading a poll someone paid millions of dollars to conduct, or if he simply made it by common sense observation. Yet it tends to make sense.

The less money people the less education they have. Also the less money the harder they have to work, and the more time working, and this results in less time to read and to exercise. They also tend to have more stressful lives, and this results in overeating and possibly even drinking to let off stress.

The more money people have the less stressful their jobs tend to be, and the more time they have to educate themselves and their kids, and the more time they have to take care of their bodies.

So, based on Fussell's observation over 25 years ago, it only makes sense that parents of obese children would be allocated less money for college. It only makes sense.

I also remember during the Clinton Administration where there was this big concern that some impoverished kids in school were too thin and therefore not healthy. So Congress passed a law that would provide free food at school.

Of course now that they "fattened" up the kids, now Congressmen are trying to pass laws to make food in school healthier. In our local school they removed all the junk food and pop machines and replaced them with water, juice and healthy foods.

Yet it never occurs to these same folks that they were the same ones who fattened up our kids with their "fast food" in the cafeteria in the first place. Few in the media question these people, they just let them provide their "good intentions" and bloviate.

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great to have healthy food at schools, I just notice the irony when those in the media who are "creating" the news with their polls don't.

Now I could be way off here, yet since it is a possibility, isn't it the job of the media to question authority. Isn't it Matt Lauer's job to hit the experts with hard questions.

I don't mean to just pick on Matt here, it's just he was the interviewer in this case. I have also observed similar instances on many occasions. In fact, when the media interviews many politicians they tend to agree with, those politicians tend to get soft questions too. If people like Matt disagree with the politician, they hit them hard with great questions.

In a sense, these interviewers tend to simply provide a platform for the interviewee to bloviate. Or, perhaps there is a greater agenda. Perhaps it is to show society that obese people are discriminated against by, well, society. Or perhaps there is a deeper motive here.

I remember Al Gore was on the Jay Leno show back in 1993 when that show first started, and he took a glass ashtray and set it up on Jay's desk. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "The government wastes a lot of money studying things that we already know. What do you think will happen if we drop this glass ashtray, Jay?" he said? "That's right: it will break into many pieces.

"Well, the government recently did a study to see exactly how the glass would shatter. They wanted to make sure it would shatter outward instead of bounce up. They ended up spending a million dollars on the study to show us what we already know: that if you drop a glass ashtray it will shatter."

I think Al Gore had a valid point. Yet I would take it even further. The media gains attention when things go bad. Bad news generates viewership. When their is nothing juicy going on, the media grabs some poll so it can create a front page story. And they interpret it however they want. In this case, the "idea" that parents discriminate against obese kids is "evil," and makes a good cover story, or, in the case of the Today Show, a good interview.

It is true that obese kids might just be discriminated against by their parents. Yet this study doesn't show this any more than it just shows us what we already know, that the less money the parent's have, the less money they have to spend on their kids.

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