Pull Your Own Weight: Entrenched bureaucrats, BMI, and childhood obesity prevention

**The Edvocate is pleased to publish guest posts as way to fuel important conversations surrounding P-20 education in America. The opinions contained within guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of The Edvocate or Dr. Matthew Lynch.**

A column by Rick Osbourne

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) was founded in 1946 and currently it employs over 15,000 people from 170 different professions. According to the official website “The CDC is our nation’s health protection agency with scientists and disease detectives who work around the world to track diseases, research outbreaks, and to respond to emergencies of all kinds.” In other words, the CDC is a large, multilayered, hierarchical bureaucracy with a broad range of responsibilities upon which over 15,000 people depend for their livelihoods.

Since it’s the mother-load of all epidemics (impacting over 9,000,000 American kids per the Institute of Medicine) childhood obesity is at least one of the CDC’s top priorities. Furthermore, since the CDC is the primary funding source for efforts attempting to beat this dread disease, this government agency is at the epicenter of all things related to resolving childhood obesity, (a.k.a. The Rubiks Cube of health care). In some circles this kind of control is known as The Golden Rule…”Those with the gold (the CDC in this case), rule.”

The Dilemma
So here’s the dilemma. When the CDC distributes billions in grant funds in order to support interventions, it inevitably requires results to be expressed in terms of BMI (Body Mass Index). The problem is that BMI yields next to nothing of value when it comes to body composition changes, which is the ONLY thing that counts when fighting obesity.

But this is old news. There’s a chorus of voices across the nation spotlighting the flaws inherent in BMI. It’s like trying to play the Super Bowl with deflated footballs, no yard markers, a game clock that’s broken, and refs that don’t know the rules. Under such conditions there’s no way to distinguish winning interventions from losing interventions. Progress is impossible!

Want Proof?
Do you want proof? After two decades of scientists researching high and low for a solution, the ONLY thing they can say with any certainty is that kids must eat better and exercise more. JFK could have told us that much back in 1960! On the other hand, THEY STILL HAVE NO IDEA how to systematically motivate kids to eat better and exercise more.

They run public service ads on TV. They promote catchy slogans. They hand out colorful brochures at local health fairs. And they spend billions in the process. But after two decades the only thing anyone can say with any certainty at this point is, WHAT EVER THEY’VE DONE…HASN’T WORKED! IT HAS FAILED MISERABLY!!

The Big Question
So the big question for some of us renegades out on the fringe is, “Why does the CDC continue to endorse a fatally flawed measuring stick that only compounds an already confusing situation?” And accuracy problems are only the tip of the iceberg. Worse yet, BMI inspires almost nobody to do anything other than talk. This in turn enables those who profit from a continuing epidemic to expand their bottom lines. Yes, just one more example of “the golden rule” at work.

There are a variety of answers to this question. But they all revolve around money and maintaining the status quo. To reiterate, there are 15,000 CDC employees, all of whom pay their mortgages and feed their families with salaries/wages generated from saluting the company line whether it’s true or not. In other words, there are 15,000 employees who can ill afford to stand up and scream “The emperor’s wearing no clothes!” They’re paid to avoid conflict. But there’s lots more if you keep on digging.

Venture Beyond the CDC…
Venture beyond the CDC and you’ll find the American Medical Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, all of whom echo the same inane mantra that’s flowing out of the CDC. Add to this list the Physical Educators’ association (AAHPERD), the Cooper Clinic (authors the Fitness Gram which is used nationwide to assess student fitness levels), the National PTA, the YMCA, Michelle Obama/Let’s Move and Bill Clinton/Alliance for a Healthier Generation), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (they recently threw a billion dollars at obesity) all of whom continue to endorse BMI.

A Conflict of Interest?
Coincidentally, they’re all funded primarily because of, and thus benefit financially from a continuing epidemic. Suddenly it becomes clear why BMI reigns supreme while millions of kids are needlessly flushed down the toilet annually in order to protect the emperor’s backside.

With that said, I hereby challenge CDC members to dig deep and find a little courage. I challenge members of the AMA, the ACSM, and the AAP who know better to stand up and make their voices heard. I challenge members of the PE profession, the YMCA, Michelle and Bill, and the RWJ Foundation to end the charade that’s undermined progress for so long. Can anyone say whistle blower?

It’s No Rubik’s Cube
To be honest, the obesity problem is not nearly as complicated as the so called experts have made it out to be. It’s certainly no Rubik’s Cube. It’s not even expensive to resolve if you’re willing to open your eyes to the obvious. And once the obvious has been witnessed, that vision must be translated into systematic action that produces real, live, documented results.

I suggest the most appropriate first step is to eliminate BMI and replace it with a functional tool that actually works. With that first step in hand we’ll be able to distinguish winning interventions from losing interventions. We’ll systematically turn the tide. And we’ll win the war (in one decade or less) that we’ve been talking to death for so long now. Isn’t it about time?


Rick Osbourne is a former physical educator and a pioneer in the field of functional childhood obesity prevention. He currently serves as President of the Pull Your Own Weight Foundation which is an Illinois based, 501c3, not for profit organization whose focus is functional childhood obesity prevention. He’s written and published three books in this field, the latest of which is entitled Beating Childhood Obesity Now: A Simple Solution for Parents and Educators. He’s the Examiner’s national childhood obesity prevention correspondent. He writes an online column for The Edvocate. And you can connect with Rick via Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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