Junkfood Science: "Fattening" shoes at school to be banned?

September 26, 2007

"Fattening" shoes at school to be banned?

It’s not enough that anti-obesity programs mandate what children can and cannot or should not eat, and the amounts and types of physical activity they must do, initiatives are increasingly deciding how our children must dress. You remember the story a few months ago when British researchers proposed that girls be compelled to wear to school clothes that were “suitable for active play, like sweatshirts, trousers and trainers.” Today, a Chicago Tribune journalist proposed banning children’s shoes that don’t encourage them to run as much as they should: crocs.

In an article called called “Kid must run, not clop along in crocs,” he quoted a coach as saying: “Crocs? Kids can't run in them. You can't play soccer in Crocs. And if you can't run, guess what happens? You get fat.” The journalist's supportive evidence that crocs contribute to obesity? There’s an epidemic of crocs being sold! He doesn’t like those roller shoes, either, for the same reason, even hinting they’re also part of the obesogenic environment leading to diabetes. "I have seen 9-year-olds with type 2 diabetes," [Dr. Sandra Hassink of the American Academy of Pediatrics' obesity task force ] said. "Obesity is an indicator. It tells us about our environment, about our culture. It is the canary in the mine."

Whether this column was serious is hard to tell given the source, but it’s actually surprising that proposals for shoe mandates in the name of childhood obesity have taken this long to surface. Athletic shoe companies have been among the most active corporations working to convince the public that today’s kids aren’t physically active. And they appear to be being incredibly effective, as few people would guess they’ve been sold.

Nike, Inc. has been a long-time sponsor of public awareness campaigns to convince lawmakers and consumers of a “childhood inactivity crisis.” NikeGo co-founded Shaping America’s Youth back in 2003 to coordinate the government’s childhood obesity goals, develop a national action plan and its clinical guidelines. As reviewed earlier this year, SAY is partnered with the American Obesity Association, the Office of the Surgeon General, HHS, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Diabetes Association, American College of Sports Medicine, University of California Davis, and the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, SAY’s town meetings continue across the country to discuss the “alarming issue of childhood obesity” and solutions. NikeGo contributed more than $10.5 million in 2003 alone towards these efforts. It’s also been a high-profile lobbyist in Congress, such as for the Childhood Obesity Reduction Act in 2004, when Gary DeStafano, president of the U.S. division of Nike, addressed the Senate making claims that will be familiar to everyone today.

And New Balance Shoes, Inc. has been an enormous sponsor of many childhood obesity initiatives including, for example, a ten-year grant to Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy for its "Children in Balance: A Childhood Obesity Initiative." Junkfood Science readers will be familiar with one of those Children in Balance initiatives: Shape Up Somerville. Thanks to New Balance, this program will be continued for the next ten years. Along with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, New Balance also sponsored the infamous Time [Magazine]/ABC News Summit on Obesity in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2005 to bring national attention to the ‘obesity problem.’ To set the theme for the event, the organizers had used a quote from U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona saying obesity “is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within.” Time Magazine’s president Eileen Naughton, went on to talk about the shared sense of urgency and a string of speakers gave all of the most repeated campaign slogans. It was at this event that the keynote speaker, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said “America is just too darned fat...”

For our children, having their crocs and roller shoes banned and being made to wear athletic shoes to school in order to encourage them to be more active would reinforce the messages they’ve been hearing: that their entire generation is fat and lazy and must be continually physically active at all costs.

© 2007 Sandy Szwarc

With the popularity of cute crocs growing, the success of these shoes could be cutting into the profits of other casual shoe makers, such as high-dollar athletic shoes. Crocs are certified by the U.S. Ergonomics Council and the American Podiatric Medical Association and they’re designed to help with certain foot and circulation problems. Will anti-obesity initiatives be coming after nurses, elderly, cashiers, gardeners, diabetics, and those with foot problems next?

Bookmark and Share