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Last week the New York Times ran a story about a Pennsylvania school that sends students home with their BMI scores. That's Body Mass Index, a measure of obesity. At the same time, the school was serving funnel cake at the cafeteria.
Commentator Ayelet Waldman has been thinking about this. she's a writer and mother. She says she not only wants her daughters to have a healthy self-image, she wants them to be healthy.
AYELET WALDMAN: I don't share many of my nine-year-old son's passions. I'm not into Gundams, the appeal of SpongeBob alludes me, and my attention span for Lego construction is about 11 minutes. But there's one thing I love as much or more than he does: fried dough. Donuts, doughboys, Hawaiian malasada, we love them all. So imagine our glee when we read in the New York Times that there's a school district where children start their day with funnel cake. Funnel cake for breakfast. It's enough to make us pack up and move to Tioga County, Pennsylvania.
This same school district conscientiously sends home with every child a state mandated Body Mass Index Report Card. It's easy to view this as the most perverse of bureaucratic hypocrisies. First, they stuff the children full of pie dough and then they pop them on the scale and react with horror when it turns out they're fat.
But I think something much more complicated is going on. We Americans are deeply ambivalent about food. On the one hand, we're disturbed about what's been described as the epidemic of childhood obesity. On the other, our school lunch programs feature pizza sticks, nachos and many corn dogs, anything that can be made with the surplus piece and dairy products, the government's commodities program buys up.
And in my house? I feed my children organic food, fresh local produce - but what we all really like are doughnuts. There's a more complicated ambivalence at work than just our alternating fear and love of fattening foods. That same New York Times article described the 6-year-old girls so traumatized by what she considered a failing grade on her BMI report card that she refused to eat anything at all.
As a mother of two daughters, this terrifies me. My girls are healthy and strong but they're also young. How long will it be before the ever-present images glorifying emaciated starlets start to have an impact on how they see themselves? My daughters are over-achievers, and if they're graded on how they look, I worry they might end up with eating disorders.
I'd much rather they showed the self-confidence of one of Tioga County's homecoming queen. She refuses to succumb to the tyranny of our society's obsession with weight. She's a size 20 and proud of it. She's also insulin resistant, on her way to developing diabetes like an increasing number of American teenagers. So what's a mother to do?
In Britain, there's a group of indignant moms, whose response to improvements in school lunch menus has been to shelve meat pies and French fries to their children to the bars of the square yard fence. Can we be far behind? If the USDA begins requiring that schools provide breakfasts of fruit and raisin bran, egg whites, almonds and turkey bacon, will some enterprising mom set up a funnel cake truck next to the entrance of her local elementary school?
Somehow we have to figure out a balance. Change, although slow and coming, may well be inevitable even in Tioga County. Kids can still get funnel cake for breakfast there, but the district has banned powered sugar. My son and I may not be packing up that moving van after all.
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BLOCK: Commentator Ayelet Waldman is the author of "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits." She lives in Berkley, California.
NORRIS: Sub-freezing temperatures are devastating the California citrus crop. That story and a review of the new album by American Idol, Tyler Hicks - that's next.
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