26 April 2023

If Bluey got it wrong, how should we talk to kids about healthy weight?

| Zoya Patel
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Bluey's dad holding his belly

Bluey’s caused concern for parents about how body issues are addressed on a children’s show. Image: Screenshot.

Bluey is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most loved kids’ shows and one of our most successful cultural exports. The little cattle dog, and her family and friends, have been celebrated for engaging content that is refreshingly uncomplicated and that provides something for adult and child audiences alike.

But a recent episode has been criticised for missing the mark when it comes to discussing weight loss, exercise and health.

In the episode, Bluey’s parents both reflect that they are unhappy with their weight – including after stepping onto a scale and grabbing at the fat on their cartoon bellies.

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Bandit, Bluey’s dad, when asked what’s wrong, says, “I just need to do some exercise”. The rest of the episode concerns activity and health, but these opening scenes have dismayed some parents.

The criticism is that the focus on weight and dissatisfaction with appearance reinforces negative body image and connects health and wellbeing to our physical appearance in a way that isn’t productive for kids. So how should we talk to kids about health and wellbeing, and should body weight form part of the conversation?

I grew up being told directly by adults, always in front of other people, that I was fat or, conversely, being congratulated if I had lost weight. This was the case from when I was a child – my aunts and cousins would visit us from overseas or interstate, and the first thing they would say would be, “Wow, you’ve gotten so fat”, or “You’ve lost weight, you look beautiful”.

I knew from before I really had any sense of my own feelings about my body that I should feel ashamed or elated depending on what this regular external feedback told me. At no point did anyone suggest that I should exercise to be healthy and strong and capable – but I was encouraged to go for walks if the consensus was that I was chubby. Equally, when I was deemed too slim, I was told to stop exercising. It was confusing and has fostered a conflicted and negative relationship with my body for my whole life.

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My experience was heavily influenced by my culture (in which the communal nature of family is often considered license for criticism) – but it’s not that different from what many of my non-Indian friends and networks experienced. Indeed, a widespread understanding of the harmful impacts of body shaming and fatphobia has only really occurred in recent years.

We know now that when talking to kids about fitness, it’s important to focus on the positive impacts of taking care of our health through exercise and nutrition. Teaching kids about the good outcomes that come from good health, as opposed to creating a negative trigger (exercise so that you are healthy, not exercise so that you’re not fat), is vital. And addressing poor health should be done in a way that is targeted to the individual, that is respectful and that considers their age and circumstances.

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I don’t think there is a need to talk about weight specifically or reference weight when talking about health with a child or young person (and arguably, for adults too). Where weight is a factor, I feel like that’s a conversation for people to have with their healthcare professionals if needed, and it really shouldn’t be part of our public discourse on health and wellbeing, especially for children.

I don’t think it should be difficult to achieve this shift in public conversation. Our collective imaginations have already stretched to taking parenting insights from animated cattle dogs; pushing that conversation to a more body-positive space is not an extravagant ask. Undoubtedly, there will be those who think this is wokeness gone mad, but I just don’t see how trying to avoid creating negative self-image in kids could ever be a bad thing.

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There needs to be a sugar tax introduced as well as an increase to the Medicare levy for people over a certain BMI. Introduce financial penalties for being unhealthy and watch people melt away the kgs.

The problem with the current system is it is all carrot and no stick. Have an over generous NDIS and we get what it is now; a complete rort. A whole industry living on government money by over billing and quoting exorbitant fees from the disabled and vulnerable.

@Sam Oak
“… an increase to the Medicare levy …” Interesting perspective from a serial avoider of paying tax.

Sam Oak, wrote, “an increase to the Medicare levy for people over a certain BMI. Introduce financial penalties for being unhealthy and watch people melt away the kgs.”
I sort of agree with that, increase the Medicare levy for those with an increased risk due to their lifestyle (such as smoking and being over a certain BMI) but I’m not sure how that could be checked. Also, some people with lots of muscle can seem to have a high BMI, which complicates the matter. This would need to be carefully implemented, so those with a genuine health issue they can’t help, are not affected. There are also other things that can increase an individual’s risk. Good idea, but could get complicated defining which increased risk causes an increase in the person’s Medicare levy.

Maya, the government has all your medical info through MyGov. If you are over the BMI threshold but have never sought tax-payer subsidised medical treatment you would not need to go after these people. However if you have used the public health system it would have you on file and trigger the surcharge until you can demonstrate you are below the threshold.

JS, nice try but I pay my fair share of tax. I’m a net positive contributor to the taxation system paying corporations tax, personal income as well as capital taxes. However the same can’t be said for those that are a net detractor from the taxation system – i.e. those on welfare and rely on the public health system.

And by the way the BMI range for obese is already quite generous. I seriously doubt a realistic proportion of the population would be at risk of falling into that bracket whilst being physically fit due to pure muscle mass. I’m sure medical exemptions can be made for elite rugby and nfl linesman but if you think you fall into that small category, you more than likely have a serious reality check coming for you later in life.

The problem with using BMI exclusively is that it does not tell the whole story. As others have suggested, a person who has a high BMI but a lot of muscle has a very different risk profile than someone who has a high BMI and lots of fat. It’s an idea that looks good on paper but you really need to match it with other factors to get the full story. The practicalities of that would make it far harder to manage than it would initially appear.

@Sam Oak
You object to your taxes going towards Medicare and NDIS to support people who are legally accessing these government funded services.
Well, Sam, I object to my taxes going towards subsidising, via tax relief, your investment property mortgages and other tax minimalisation antics.
If you stop sucking on the public ATO teat, I might be prepared to take seriously your concerns over people accessing Medicare and NDIS.

HiddenDragon7:42 pm 27 Apr 23

Clearly what is needed is an episode of Bluey in which everything less than ideal in life is medicalised and, if at all possible, turned into a problem for the NDIS to solve.

Being overweight is not something to be celebrated. There is almost perfect correlation with heart disease, cancers and a whole host of other physical and mental maladies. The idea certain people are born different or have different genetics is also ridiculous. Caloric intake is entirely dependent on your gender, height and muscle mass. The urge to overeat is entirely a result of an evolutionary adaptation to survive famines by making hay while the sun shines. Just like we shouldn’t celebrate bullying, domestic violence and crime, obesity has similar negative social impacts putting severe strain on an already stretched health system.

Well said Maya

I agree with you wholeheartedly, we’ll said

The internet is to blame for this attitude that being overweight is a problem. Mention it isn’t healthy and you get jumped on. There is likely no way that Bluey could have mentioned the problem without a segment of society getting overly offended and seeing it as a personal attack on THEM. They are in denial about the health consequences of the obesity epidemic. Being obese is now being pushed as beautiful and normal. It’s really sad.
If someone attempts to discuss weight in internet forums you get jumped on. I’ve seen even people working professionally with overweight people get jumped on for offering any advice. It’s a no no. I can almost guarantee that those doing the jumping on are overweight and in denial about their weight and the associated health issues. It’s worse than that. It’s become fashionable to be obese. Obese models to portray the ‘normal’ woman (I have yet to see an obese male model); obese women in such revealing clothes that even many slim women wouldn’t wear. Pushed, you can be obese, healthy and beautiful! How sick has society come to push these lines, and have this many people really given up, so much that they make up these lies and live in such denial. Genetics is another. They can’t help it; it’s genetics. (Look at old photographs from the past, with all the slim people. Are they sayings that these genetics are new mutations?) Now an obese model has a partition going that obese people should be given for free as many extra seats as they need on planes. No mention that she should try to fit them, but that all airlines should fit her.
This lack of control or caring, increases the cost of healthcare for all of us.
I became overweight. My blood pressure increased. Then later I got high cholesterol. According to what is being spread by some on the internet, you can be heathy and fat, so therefore I shouldn’t have developed these conditions, or would have anyway.
However, it is possible to take control again. Getting high cholesterol was the trigger for me to do something. Over a few months I lost the weight, and it was a lot easier to do than I had been told it would be to do. Just cut out the carbohydrates. That makes it easier, and by the end of the diet I had to force myself to eat more again, as it became so easy to eat little. Then guess what, my cholesterol is now normal and my blood pressure dropped. I have not put the weight back on again and refuse to. It’s a health issue. How do these people pushing fat is the norm (which actually sadly it is) and that you can be overweight and healthy explain this.
Now I will likely be ‘jumped’ on for what must never be spoken of. Good on bluey for mentioning the subject.

Top comment, 10 out of 10!

Well said Maya

here here Maya 123. Our family watched the show and it was an innocuous funny episode highlighting a topical issue which is that our sedentary and consumer lifestyles have caused an explosion in overweight and obesity health problems. This is having severe impacts on our health system. We need to tackle the problem. And denial aint gonna do it. The episode dealt with the issue in a realistic and humorous way – how anyone could be offended in this defies rationality.

Capital Retro10:51 am 27 Apr 23

I haven’t seen this Bluey cartoon series and I am not sure where to watch it but reading your comments confirms it must be an ABC production.

Geez, you’re gonna be upset when you hear about Play School, Bananas in Pyjamas, the Wiggles and probably others amongst our most popular shows ever.

Capital Retro2:47 pm 27 Apr 23

I remember the Bananas in Pyjamas (B1 and B2 ?) and at the insistence of my children we all saw them at the ABC in Dickson. I remember that day well because there was a festive atmosphere which sadly ruined by the presence of local “Friends of the ABC” handing out how to vote Labor pamphlets as there was a Federal election the following weekend.

The belief that you can be massively overweight and still healthy is not something based in reality. However its something that’s currently promoted.

Like many things there is money behind pushing overweight is ok. Sell more food, sell more weightloss programs. Large insecure people tend to buy more as they live more sedentary lives.

Once you get to a certain point, it is not unreasonable to say that it isn’t healthy. But the point is, which I think the article was trying to make, that some ways of addressing that that simply aren’t helpful and oversimplify the issue.

Anyone who was ever a smoker will tell you that nagging someone to quit is rarely effective. Similarly, “fat shaming” is also rarely effective.

Most people know that obesity isn’t healthy. But there are many reasons why someone might go down that path. Any solution has to address more than simply “eat less, move more”. It has to be more than simply nagging, and more than implying a person is a failure because of a number on a scale. It has to deal with whatever circumstances caused a person to go down that path and address that, as well as change lasting behavioural change to prevent it happening again.

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