It is one of the boldest and most controversial tactics in the battle against childhood obesity: A growing number of schools are monitoring their students’ weight and sending updates home, much like report cards.Fighting fat with information is just the latest version of a fallacy that goes back to ancient Greek philosophy, that people will never knowingly do themselves harm. Ancient philosophers always held that doing wrong was at least as harmful to the doer as to the wronged, so the way to improve behavior was just to explain to people how and why this was so. I found this idea baffling as a student, and I still do.
Nine states require schools to send such notifications, sometimes called “B.M.I. letters,” or less charitably “fat letters.” But a new study of the first state to adopt the practice shows that the letters have had almost no effect, at least on older teenagers.
The disappointing results not only raise questions about the efficacy of the letters but highlight the challenges schools face more generally in addressing adolescent obesity.
People do not act rationally. People -- and all other mammals, so far as we can tell -- are driven mainly by emotions. Americans overeat to cope with stress, depression, boredom, anxiety, and our other manifold mental ills. In my experience skinny people are mainly the ones whose anxieties make them unable to eat, as opposed to people like me whose anxieties make them crave cookies. Plus, eating is fun, and few of us get enough fun.
The whole apparatus of "getting out the facts" about calories and nutrition is as baffling to me as Stoic ethics.
There was some news recently that said Americans have actually begun consuming fewer calories over the past decade or so, and that the steady rise in our weights has leveled off. So perhaps over the long run the whole blizzard of alarms about fat and health has had some effect. But to think that just posting facts will change behavior is dumb.