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A poor choice for student body precedent

I am all in favor of government efforts to reduce waste. But does any legislative body need to take an active role in reducing waistlines?

For school kids in Arkansas, this is not a question to be taken lightly. Alarmed by reports that large numbers of children in the state are too hefty, lawmakers passed a bill last year that requires schools to measure the height and weight of their students. The numbers are used to calculate a ratio called the body-mass index, which is used to determine how much fat the young folks are carrying to class each day.

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The measuring is now under way in many districts. Not surprisingly, a lot of Arkansas students would like to see the power of their elected officials scaled back in this case.

I know exactly how they feel.

Yes, I was a big-pants boy. School pictures from those early years show a little person who appears to be descended from the Michelin Man. It was a great time to be growing up in the suburbs, because America was enjoying a bounty of consumer goods in the boom years after World War II, and my lust for life focused heavily on Hostess snack cakes.

I derived a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from simply holding a package of Sno Balls, gently squeezing the cellophane wrapper to feel the remarkable elasticity of the marshmallow coating, and wondering whether I should eat the pink one or the white one first.

My other gustatory passion was Cracker Jack. The fact that it contained popcorn and peanuts implied real nutritional value (compared with Sno Balls, anyway). The box was also larger back then, so the consumption phase could be extended over long stretches that seemed almost hedonistic.

Fortunately, my social circle in the primary grades didn't torment me about body mass, and I can recall two specific benefits of having a large girth.

At Boy Scout camp, anyone who wanted to use the swimming area had to pass a safety test, and part of the exam required me to lie face-up in the water for 30 seconds without sinking. My buoyancy made it easy. The lifeguard who was supervising my test turned to his buddy and said, "These fat kids float like balloons." I took it as a compliment.

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I also liked to spend time reading comic books while relaxing in a hot bath. In this situation, my rotund midsection was like a small island, providing a convenient dry spot upon which to prop the latest issue of Superman, The Flash, or Green Lantern.

The flab finally faded away in high school. Growing helped, and so did sports, but I can't pinpoint any one factor that tipped the scales in my favor. Slimming down from a chubby childhood is something most kids end up handling in their own way.

My battle of the bulge was personal. I'm not exactly sure how I won. And I'm definitely glad the government didn't weigh in on my behalf.