The pop culture lie that’s poisoning our kids

I don’t know if you follow pop culture as closely as I do. But recently, a certain actress was starring in a movie. And it seems all the critics could talk about was how fat she is.

Now, this actress is known for being overweight and always has been—so that part wasn’t news. What was newsworthy was the vehement backlash against the critics who focused on her weight more than her performance.

And I can see the reasoning behind this outrage—really, I can. But I’m also feeling a little outrage of my own. Because in my opinion, both of these things—this actress’ performance and her obesity—should be recognized.

Yes, overweight and obese people are human beings—and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, the same as anybody else. But we simply can’t afford a “new normal” where obesity is considered an “alternative lifestyle.” In fact, this is a trend with potentially disastrous consequences for everyone. And it’s not just about looking good—it’s about health.

When 200 is the new 150, it will change the entire dynamic of health care. And according to some new research, we’re in very serious trouble where this growing acceptance of obesity is concerned.

Researchers recently analyzed data collected between 2005 and 2012 as part of the NHANES study. And they found that approximately 30 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 15 misperceive the status of their weight.

In other words, they’re fat… and they don’t even know it.

This new study reports that 81 percent of overweight boys and 71 percent of overweight girls think their weight is perfectly normal. And almost half of obese boys and more than a third of obese girls think their weight is just about right.

All told, this study estimated that just over 9 million kids and teens in the United States are completely off base about the status of their weight. And the problem is worse among younger children—between 8 and 11—than adolescents.

So what’s going on here? Well I’m going to take a guess and say these kids don’t know they’re fat because they have fat parents and fat peers.

I find this truly upsetting because childhood obesity is associated with a terrifyingly long list of health problems in adulthood. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, you name it. Children who know they’re fat are more likely to work to change it. But that can’t happen if they live in a world where everyone they know is overweight. And praising overweight and obese celebrities for being “big and beautiful” is only making the problem worse.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of too-thin models and actresses out there. And they set an equally dangerous standard.

All of these examples cut across so many layers of the American lack of self-awareness, it isn’t even funny. Sadly, the errors of our collective ways are being handed down to the next generation. And frankly, I don’t even think anyone cares.

But I do. And I’ll keep shouting it from the rooftops until something finally changes.


“Perception of Weight Status in U.S. Children and Adolescents Aged 8–15 Years, 2005–2012.” NCHS Data Brief 158. Published online July 23, 2014.