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42 Responses

  1. Sally
    Sally May 20, 2007 at 11:06 am |

    Oh, let’s just ignore the fact that women have always worked outside the home, shall we?

    Yes, but you see, they didn’t used to earn very much, which meant that their children were often protected from obesity by the awesome powers of malnutrition. My grandfather’s mom worked outside the home, and so did his oldest sister from the time she was ten or so, but he wasn’t fat, because they couldn’t afford to feed him very much. Oh, for the good old days when children were roller skate skinny! (Except that they couldn’t afford roller skates.)

  2. Mostly Normal
    Mostly Normal May 20, 2007 at 11:07 am |

    ROBERTS: Just who is pointing the finger at working moms for America’s surge of chubby children?

    Was this really the end of the segment? God, it wasn’t even artfully disguised.

    Nice of them to drop in the obligatory “and I suppose it’s a father’s responsibility too” halfway through, then abandon that idea.

    I’m sure the explosive proliferation of McDonald’s and other fast food in the 1980’s, with little warning of the health consequences from eating such food, had absolutely nothing to do with kids getting fatter.

  3. Mostly Normal
    Mostly Normal May 20, 2007 at 11:17 am |

    Whoops, pressed submit before I meant to.

    One final irritated comment in response to this:

    UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don’t have the traditional approach of a woman being at home, cooking dinner, taking care of the kids, getting the kids outside, getting the kids exercise.

    Now, since when in the “traditional approach” have women been in charge of children’s athletic development? Weren’t the old-fashioned dads (playing catch with their boys) supposed to take care of this? I guess when they fail, it’s still our fault somehow.

    It is the case, I believe, that poverty now is tied to obesity because healthy food is so much more expensive than unhealthy food, and because in poor areas there are few places for kids to exercise safely. Only in that sense is child obesity a woman’s issue, I think, since when women are single moms they’re often economically disadvantaged moms.

  4. Fr Chris
    Fr Chris May 20, 2007 at 12:02 pm |

    I’m glad you caught this and blogged about it, zuzu. I saw it on CNN as I was flying to O’Hare on Friday and was horrified — fat-shaming and misogyny all in one step! Ugh.

  5. Heraclitus (Jeff)
    Heraclitus (Jeff) May 20, 2007 at 12:46 pm |


    Robert Wood Johnson? Seriously? Shouldn’t his first name have been Richard?

  6. Lindsay
    Lindsay May 20, 2007 at 12:57 pm |

    Oh I saw this on TV and about went ape shit! If it’s sooo fucking easy for a woman to stay home, it’s just as fucking easy for her husband. Maybe McDonalds and all these advertisers can stop making kids scream bloody hell at their parents for their fatty foods! Maybe dad can take up some of the cooking duties! But oooh nooo, it’s so much easier to just blame a woman. Assholes. I have most certainly lost respect for CNN as of late. I blame them for this sexist report. Maybe they should do a story on how women’s self worth and happiness has increased ever since they got into the work force, but then again it’s only about the children. Damn parasites.

  7. blucas!
    blucas! May 20, 2007 at 1:02 pm |

    I think people would be shocked how much the childhood obesity rates would go down just by the simple step of banning soda and candy machines in public schools.

  8. Alex
    Alex May 20, 2007 at 1:32 pm |

    GUPTA (voice over): Working 9 to 5 was a movie and a mantra in the 1980s, as American women entered the workforce en masse. That’s about the same time that American kids started packing on the pounds.

    President Carter initiated a grain embargo against the USSR with the support of the European Commision starting in the 1980s. That’s about the same time that American kids started packing on the pounds.

    Yugoslav President Tito died in 1980. That’s about the same time that American kids started packing on the pounds.

    In 1980, Quebec voters rejected a proposal to seek independence form Canada by a 60% majority. That’s about the same time that American kids started packing on the pounds.

    Don’t study a whole lot informal logic in med school, do they Sanjay?

  9. Craig
    Craig May 20, 2007 at 2:05 pm |

    TERRY MASON, CHICAGO PUBLIC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We saw that started to happen and you could track childhood obesity and there was a direct correlation.

    Since when does correlation preclude causation? I did not get to read the transcript yet, so maybe Doctor Sanjay G already brought this up, I just felt the need to ask a semi-rhetorical question.

  10. Isabel
    Isabel May 20, 2007 at 2:38 pm |

    As both Echidne and Lindsay ask, why isn’t any of the blame placed on fathers for not stepping up to the plate, so to speak, and preparing those healthy meals when mothers have to stay late at work?

    Word. Seriously, whenever I hear one of these “feminism is to blame for [insert health problem here]” I want to say, it’s not FEMINISM, it’s women adopting feminist principles (whether they call them that or no) and men stubbornly refusing to do the same.

    [insert disclaimer for my vast overgeneralization here]

  11. ks
    ks May 20, 2007 at 3:54 pm |

    I think people would be shocked how much the childhood obesity rates would go down just by the simple step of banning soda and candy machines in public schools.

    This is true, the kids eat horrible stuff in school. Even without the candy and pop machines, the food actually served in the cafeterias is awful. Sure, there are salads available (in fact, that’s the only healthy choice on most days), but the lettuce and other vegetables are almost always just this side of still edible, and most of other stuff available is along the lines of pizza, “chicken” nuggets, fries, etc. And that’s the stuff the kids usually eat.

    However, the reason for the candy and pop machines is that school funding has been cut so much in the last several years that schools can only really afford anything more than the absolute basic stuff (and sometimes they can’t even afford that) without the Pepsi contracts, etc. And even if they did get rid of the machines, healthy food that actually tastes good is more expensive and more labor intensive to make than crap and the schools can’t usually afford the money or the labor to make it. So the kids get screwed all the way around.

  12. htotheb
    htotheb May 20, 2007 at 4:00 pm |

    Ah, yes. I saw this on the “news” the other day and was wondering when someone would get to it.
    No word about Coca Cola and Frito Lay buying contracts to put vending machines in the schools or anything. Of course not.

  13. htotheb
    htotheb May 20, 2007 at 4:16 pm |

    or the fact that high fructose corn syrup is in almost EVERY damn food item now and the number of grams of sugar in most breakfast cereals have doubled since 1978. Giving info like that though might piss off the corporate sponsors, so it’s best to just scapegoat working and single moms.

  14. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow May 20, 2007 at 4:25 pm |

    Try this on for size:
    I live in a suburb where there is still a neighborhood school.
    At most the kids might have to walk a mile. Mine have to go 3/4 of a mile.

    Every day, there’s this HUGE line of cars, blocking the street in both directions as mothers (almost always mothers) come to pick the kids up. (our neighborhood does not approve of “working mothers”)

    The bike-racks might have 3-5 bikes (3 more when my kids all have tires, Dollface has a flat and if one is afoot, they’re all afoot). Only about a dozen or so kids from each grade walk home.

    Maybe this is why 3 of my 4 are rail thin, and the fourth is stocky instead of obese.

  15. htotheb
    htotheb May 20, 2007 at 4:38 pm |

    Oh, that’s another thing! Parents are afraid to let their kids outside to play or walk to and from school because of all the horror stories on the news about kids being abducted by psychos.

  16. punkrockhockeymom
    punkrockhockeymom May 20, 2007 at 4:52 pm |

    And you know, this should go without saying, but it’s really counter-intuitive even on their own terms. Frankly, MOM staying home to cook dinner isn’t necessarily going to mean she is going to cook anything healthy. I’m a single working mom and my 12 year old and I eat very healthy (albeit frozen, pre-cooked and spiced and etc), generally low-cal, low-fat organic, lots of vegetables included meals from, mostly, Trader Joe’s. Or else we get sushi.

    In contrast, my mom’s in town right now helping out because I have a big trial coming up, and the first thing she did was go to the grocery store and buy a crate of soda (which I don’t keep as a freakin’ staple), oreos, baking supplies, etc., and started fattening us up for the slaughter. Just like when I was a kid. When she was putting away her stash I actually wailed, “Mom, didn’t you get anything green??”

    I work about 60 hours a week on average, and my son and I have loads of big salads for dinner, lean meats, veggies and brown rice. It’s all instant or take-out, but it’s still better than the stuff my mother’s been cooking for dinner every day. And the cookies. Whatever. My kid eats healthier because I DON’T have time to cook.

  17. elyzabethe
    elyzabethe May 20, 2007 at 5:49 pm |

    i love that more women went to work in the 80s and children started gaining weight in the 80s, so they MUST be related? And it Must be causal?

  18. Anne
    Anne May 20, 2007 at 6:08 pm |

    This reminds me of something that happened years ago when I was in 8th grade. My mom had been a SAHM for my entire life until that point in order to take care of her 6 kids, but she needed to get away from my abusive father. She got a job working for a medical ethicist who was constantly being interviewed by the media for right-to-die cases. She got to know quite a few of the local news personalities since they were around all the time and when they decided to do a peice on this very topic they called all the women in my mom’s office. When my mom said we probably eat fatty foods all day they said “Good, that’s what we’re looking for!” The women who bought only healthy food, had house husbands or sitters, or had premade healthy lunches for their children were rejected. I’m sure the opposite happened when they were screening the stay-at-home moms. I remember being mad then because they were purposely fixing it to make working moms look bad. I’m betting this CNN crap is exactly the same as the news story from when I was a kid. It’s all fixed to create wars between women and to guilt them into staying at home.

  19. Alex
    Alex May 20, 2007 at 6:25 pm |

    or the fact that high fructose corn syrup is in almost EVERY damn food item now

    The corn syrup is an American thing. Up here in the frozen north, we’re content to just put sugar in our drinks. The first (and last) time I bought an Minute Made lemonade in the States I almost gagged on it. Seriously, isn’t lemonade supposed to be at least a little bit sour?

    Oh, that’s another thing! Parents are afraid to let their kids outside to play or walk to and from school because of all the horror stories on the news about kids being abducted by psychos.

    Absolute bollocks, by the way. The kids are far more likely to be killed in a car wreck driving than they are to get abducted by strangers. Come to think of it, they’re probably marginally more likely to be struck by lighting. Abduction of children by strangers, despite the insistence of the media, is extremely rare.

  20. Karen
    Karen May 20, 2007 at 6:35 pm |

    Let’s have so more fun listing completely random things from 1980. In 1980 most car makers began making power windows standard on all but the lowest-end models. Can we blame childhood obesity on that? Or not going to the Olympics in Moscow that year? Or maybe the guy who shot John Lennon? I graduated from high school in 1981. Did that contribute?

    Seriously, there’s just a whole lot less physical activity in the last 25 years and we haven’t been able to compensate. Humans are hard-wired to like fat, salt, and sweet because those nutrients aren’t easy to get in wild foods. It’s just that since the industrial revolution we don’t move as much and we still want to eat yummy things. Since I’m neither stupid nor masochistic, I’m not going to advocate giving up fats, sweets, and salt. Life without ice cream is too grim to contemplate. We can, instead, do what’s necessary to make kids be active. That, of course, doesn’t make women feel guilty, so CNN won’t discuss it.

  21. Emily H.
    Emily H. May 20, 2007 at 9:20 pm |

    When you think of the stereotypical 1950s… you think of lots of casseroles, lots of meat, lots of white bread, Kool-Aid, elaborate desserts several times a week… okay, I recognize that it’s a stereotype. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Modern Yuppie Mom who stops at Whole Foods on her way home from work serves healthier suppers.

  22. fatfu
    fatfu May 20, 2007 at 9:23 pm |

    Thanks for posting this, I blogged about it. In my blog I list about 50 things that have been blamed for the “obesity epidemic” in the past two months. Given that list I think it’s fairly telling that Sanjay picked out working mothers to do a segment on.

  23. gaia
    gaia May 20, 2007 at 9:42 pm |

    I graduated in 1991, so I was in school during the 1980s (and my mom went to work out of the home then).

    What I saw changed was that we got vending machines in the school (about 1986). We needed to have more credits to graduate, so they increased the time in school (start from 8:30 to 7:55) and reduced lunch (from 35 minutes to 25 minutes) to get an extra class in (1986-1988). Because we had to have so many more credits students either had to pick one sport rather than two or the coaches had to reduce practice time. My school was tiny so they needed every player they could, so instead of 1-2 hours of practice in each sport each day, it was cut down to no more than 1 hour per day.

    Elementary schools had 3 recess periods PLUS a gym period. Because they had to have better scores and therefore needed more class time, they cut out all but the lunch recess and reduced gym to 3 times per week (1989-2000 – it was gradual).

    Jobs WERE 9-5. Mothers and/or fathers could be there to make sure their kids got off to school on time and had time to walk (even if the mother didn’t walk with them). Now jobs start at 8:00, so we find ourselves pressed to get the kids to school and ourselves to work on time. More parents drive because that’s the way they can get them there and be sure everyone arrives at the right time and safely.

    As someone mentioned above, parents became afraid of child abductions. Stranger danger. This was promoted by the media heavily during the late 80s and early 90s. I remember as a 5yo walking to school with a group of other kids with the oldest child in the group being 12 (and sometimes 9). Not 4 years later, parents were afraid to let their kids walk. This was in a small town, everyone knew everyone else. Nothing happened except we got cable and could watch more news.

    Which is another thing – cable became much more common in the 80s. Going into the 80s we got 5 channels on a good day (PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS and a channel that was an amalgam). In the early 80s cable came to our town. Suddenly we had cartoons more than just a little while in the afternoon and Sunday afternoons. After cable came VCRs. Kids had more sedentary activities to keep them in the house and quiet. Exasperated parents no longer yelled “go outside and play” to get peace and quiet, the kids were quiet. TVs became cheap enough that almost any family could have 2 or more. We had Atari in 1977 (?) but in the 70s TVs were still expensive enough that the game system was hooked up to the main TV and play time was limited by parents wanting to watch their shows.

    When I was in school, school cafeterias still cooked the food they served. It was gross, but nutritious. And being gross, no one really overate. Now kids get pizza pockets, chicken nuggets, macho nachos, enchiladas, croissant sandwiches and other things that are not really cooked, but just reheated. Chocolate or strawberry milk in school? In the 80s it was only if you or a friend brought Quik from home, now it’s an option in the cafeteria.

    And that ignores high fructose corn syrup and more sugar cereals and other sugary snacks (gogurts anyone?).

  24. Sniper
    Sniper May 20, 2007 at 11:07 pm |

    I think people would be shocked how much the childhood obesity rates would go down just by the simple step of banning soda and candy machines in public schools.

    Also, improving funding so school cafeterias can serve nutritious food instead of empty carbs. Our school serves a white pretzel with “cheese” sauce and jello as a lunch. Swear to dog.

    And I don’t know how this can be accomplished, but lower income people need better access to food in general. In most cities I’ve lived in corner markets are insanely expensive and supermarkets are a long bus ride from where most people live.

  25. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 21, 2007 at 12:14 am |

    I always love the class construction of these stories: “Women who work are damaging their kids! … unless they’re poor, in which case they should work 50 hours a week at two low-wage jobs.”

    Yes, having a stay-at-home wife has always been a symbol of one’s upper-class status, but I don’t remember it being quite so naked before welfare “reform.”

    And I don’t know how this can be accomplished, but lower income people need better access to food in general. In most cities I’ve lived in corner markets are insanely expensive and supermarkets are a long bus ride from where most people live.

    They got a nice Ralphs market in south central Los Angeles after the riots in 1992 (and by “they” I mean “we” because it was built close enough to the USC campus that students use it, too). But that was back when we elected a president who actually pretended to care about regular people in this country, so I wouldn’t recommend the same course of action today.

  26. j swift
    j swift May 21, 2007 at 1:09 am |

    Personally I blame Elvis. First, he was the King of Rock and Roll and Rock and Roll was a pervasive and subversive force in of itself in the 50’s and 60’s. Second, Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches. He loved them and that made it okay to eat poorly, pop pills and die on the can. His example has obvious been followed by the other rockers and fans, and their children and grandchildren, making us a fat nation. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll. Please! How pedestrian. Fatty Foods and Rock and Roll, that is the real menace facing today’s kids. Oh and Fluoride in the water – just makes you more hungry.

  27. Vanessa
    Vanessa May 21, 2007 at 1:17 am |

    Didn’t President “Ketchup-is-a-vegetable” Regan cut funding for school lunch programs in the 80s? Didn’t that lead to schools turning to Coke and Pepsi to fund their school lunches? (Seriously, at my school we had burritos from Taco Bell trucked in). Wouldn’t that have a larger effect on childhood obesity?

    But no, easier to blame it on the mothers.

    Mothers, I think, win the Oppression Olympics.

  28. Lauredhel
    Lauredhel May 21, 2007 at 5:44 am |

    Karen: “Let’s have so more fun listing completely random things from 1980. In 1980 most car makers began making power windows standard on all but the lowest-end models. Can we blame childhood obesity on that?”

    I blame “Xanadu”.

  29. Shinobi
    Shinobi May 21, 2007 at 8:53 am |

    Y’know I’m from an upper class family and I had a stay at home mom, and I’m obese.

    If only it were such a quick fix solution “have a stay at home mom and your kids will be thin.”

    The problem is americans on average just don’t know how to eat.

  30. Wishy Washy
    Wishy Washy May 21, 2007 at 10:02 am |

    For a shining example of superior nutrition provided by a God-fearing at-home wife and mother, look no farther than the “favorite recipes” page on the Duggar family website and observe “Tater-Tot Casserole.” Sheesh I hate to drag them into this again, as I’ve started to feel rather sorry for Michelle Duggar and the kids, but they put their freeking recipes on the internet for all to see.

    I live in NYC, and have recently observed that they have put a McDonald’s *on the children’s clothing floor at Macy’s*. Good grief, talk about your uphill battles that parents face. The business culture is actively working to make kids overweight and unhealthy. Needless to say I experienced the crappitude that was public school lunches as well. Though in my day the snack machines were turned *off* until an hour after school let out. The idea being, I guess, that only kids staying after to participate in extracurriculars ought to use them since the cafeteria was closed.

  31. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 21, 2007 at 10:16 am |

    I blame “Xanadu”.

    Because the extreme crappitude of the movie made kids turn against healthy roller-skating?


  32. Frumious B
    Frumious B May 21, 2007 at 11:07 am |

    I think people would be shocked how much the childhood obesity rates would go down just by the simple step of banning soda and candy machines in public schools.

    This has been done in a few places. Does anyone know if there’s been an impact on students’ weight in those school districts?

    Re: walking/biking to school

    You know, as a kid I walked to school starting in kindergarten and right up all the way through high school. In kindergarten I walked with my older sibs. By 5th grade they had moved on to a different school and I walked by myself. I also took the bus by myself to orthodontist appts and such. Having been through the experience of being a young girl and having creepy men tell me how pretty I am at the bus stop or yell obscene invitations out their car windows, I can’t fault parents too much for driving their kids instead of letting them walk. I may never have been abducted, but I wouldn’t say my commutes were safe. I wouldn’t want my young daughters commuting alone.

    One common option at my schools was some parents were professional drivers. For a nominal fee, they acted as a school bus. Not that shared transportation options are harassment free, but you have more control over a situation in a car of 5 kids than you do over strangers on the street or at the bus stop. You know the parties involved, you can vet the driver, you can talk to an offending driver, and you can contact the parents of offending children. None of this guarantees resolution, but they are options which are not available in walking or bussing situations.

  33. Rashida
    Rashida May 21, 2007 at 12:25 pm |

    Wish I could remember the source of this snippet of information, but I heard that one problem with cafeteria lunches is that they’re required to provide a rather large number of calories in lunches; a regulation left over from the days when undernourishment, not obesity was the primary problem. Getting that overturned is the first step to getting healthier school lunches.

    As much as some people might wish it so, trying to return to an idealized, “perfect” vision of the past does not solve current problems. I’m so tired of the blame game. All it does is shroud the real source of problems in an useless debate.

  34. shfree
    shfree May 21, 2007 at 1:25 pm |

    I worked in a cafeteria in a middle school, and the meals there are still built around a four food groups model as opposed to the food pyramid model. In 2004. And they really aren’t made with an eye to reducing fat intake, even though the proteins that they use tend to be turkey or chicken, as opposed to beef or pork. My daughter gets school lunches on occasion, but being vegetarian it fortunately isn’t an every day thing, but a treat. Now, there is a free lunch program here, which means that kids from lower income families do eat this EVERY DAY. At least in the elementary schools they don’t have vending machines, or the ala carte crap options they have in the middle schools.

  35. Kristen
    Kristen May 21, 2007 at 1:58 pm |

    Y’know I’m from an upper class family and I had a stay at home mom, and I’m obese.

    If only it were such a quick fix solution “have a stay at home mom and your kids will be thin.”

    My mom was a stay at home mom too. I was rail thin until puberty. Then I discovered Doritos were an effective way to hide my breasts…..It was all downhill from there. So I blame Doritos.

    P.S., I’ve been Doritos free for 5 years….*sob*.

  36. BStu
    BStu May 21, 2007 at 3:48 pm |

    When you combine all the breathless pronouncements, it seems everyone is to blame for fat people. I’m sure its totally coincidental that the blame often seems to overlap with the pre-existing villains in the political ideology of the person assigning blame. Everyone feels to need to blame someone for fat people, and everyone manages to blame someone else.

    Conservative: Working moms make us fat!
    Liberal: Corporations make us fat!
    Conservative: Its lesbians! Or the ethnics!
    Liberal: Its the auto companies! Or the oil companies!
    Conservative: Personal Responsibility!
    Liberal: Aggricultural subsidies!
    Conservatives: Clinton!
    Liberal: Reagan!

    Everyone is singing the same song. Just with different words.

  37. Feministe » Because respecting women means making all their decisions for them

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  38. ginmar
    ginmar May 22, 2007 at 11:42 am |

    BSTu, you’re ignoring the fact that conservatives pull stuff out of their ass, while liberals actually do some research. Nice try, though.

  39. Alexandra Lynch
    Alexandra Lynch May 22, 2007 at 12:07 pm |

    My husband and I both spent tons of time outside as kids. I had an acre and a half of land we owned to play on, and I wasn’t to go off my property without telling my parents, and not across the stream. (Not that I wanted to, as there were blackberry brambles the other side of the creek. Ouch.) But, yeah, a couple hours after school, all day on weekends, just coming in for lunch and bedtime or if we had to go run errands.

    My husband grew up in town, but he was allowed a fair amount of range; if his father stepped out the back door and blew the horn, he was supposed to be home in about ten minutes. If he couldn’t hear the horn, he had gone too far. He says all the neighbors cooperated. “Hey, Bill, I just heard your dad blow the horn, better get on home for supper.” He had a bike and rode all over town as a preteen and teenager. When he got a car at sixteen, he also went and found work and has pretty much always been working since.

    I don’t live in an area where I’m comfortable just putting my kids outside and saying. “Come back for dinner.” I don’t have land enough to do what my parents did with me, either. So they’re in some organized sports, and they help with yardwork and such as needed, although it’s not the workout I grew up with. But yeah, I’m heavy, he’s heavy, and they’re heavy, and I will admit that the peace found by a child playing a video game is seconded only by a child reading a book. I encourage books.

  40. Dana
    Dana May 22, 2007 at 12:15 pm |

    OK, the breastfeeding thing is totally hands-off. I don’t understand why we get mad at the patriarchy for things like blaming working mamas for kids being fat, but we don’t also get mad at the patriarchy for not making it more feasible for working mamas to breastfeed their kids. Formula is expensive, does not come near approximating breastmilk, and DOES contribute to childhood obesity both because of its ingredients and because the feeding method is very, very different from nursing. Bottlefeeding on a regular basis also means the child’s jaws will be underdeveloped because it’s harder to nurse than to use an artificial nipple.

    It’s bad enough the patriarchy sets moms against children as it is; we don’t need to help them. There isn’t anything unfeminist about wanting to do what’s best for your kids, even if that means we have to work harder at some aspects of our lives, AS LONG AS we look at the data for ourselves and can make an informed opinion about what’s truly best for children.

    They don’t ask to be here. They depend on us to make sure they grow up OK. If their fathers aren’t stepping up to the plate, does that mean we abandon them? No, we go saw the fathers off at the knees, but we should still BE THERE for our kids.

    And for the record I don’t agree with Gupta’s findings. It’s no coincidence that processed food became exponentially cheaper and more available during the time period he’s talking about, and of course the myopic idiot didn’t control for that at all. Far easier to blame women, of course.

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