Mr Speaker, May I Respectfully Offer An Amendment …

A couple of years ago, outgoing HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that obesity, especially childhood obesity, was a bigger longterm problem than terrorism. And surely there are numbers to support that point—numbers from which there’s no place to hide.

To deal with this issue, a host of governmental, as well as private sector, programs have been launched with varying degrees of success here, there, and surely not yet everywhere.

Massachusetts is the latest to jump toward the bandwagon. The first page of the Boston Globe of 8 January led with this headline: “State Readies Campaign to Curb Obesity Epidemic.” Among other things, 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th graders will be sliced, diced, and weighed, and the results in the form of Body Mass Index will be the hallmark of a health Report Card that will be sent home to the parents of the heavyweights, along with guides to abet remedial action. There’s a lot more to the story, but the report card is the centerpiece.

In my own small way, I’ve been among those railing for years at the pronounced bias of our health system toward fixing things after they’re broken rather than obsessing on prevention; e.g., Wired recently reported that the National Cancer Institute spends only 8% of its research budget on early detection. Hence, I am a vociferous champion of any and all prevention-wellness programs such as Mike Bloomberg’s trans fat ban and the likes of the proposed Massachusetts program.

But there’s a hitch.

If there is a single trait of leaders which is of unchallenged importance, it’s the notion that the leader must exhibit in a very personal way the values he-she is attempting to inculcate in the organization. My colleague Jim Kouzes was, I believe, the first to use the powerful phrase “model the way.” And, of course, the Old Faithful from Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

In short, if you ain’t modeling it, fuggedaboutit.

Have I told you about my speech to MHHA/the Michigan Health and Hospital Association a couple of years ago? We discussed obesity, and I used a slide with the following three words: “Bust fat docs!” You could have heard that proverbial pin drop. In particular, I singled out pediatricians. There’s no group of docs I respect more, and that’s not hyperbole; but I nonetheless said, “A significantly overweight [we’re not talking 10 pounds, or maybe even 15] pediatrician is simply not credible lecturing young patients, or their parents, about obesity. In fact, the lecturing-hectoring will necessarily be self-defeating.”

You can probably see what’s coming.

I buy MA’s idea of the Body Mass Index report card. Which, of course—of course!—means that we have to follow the exact same ritual for teachers, and particularly principals.


There is no group of human beings, except maybe for those pediatricians, whom I respect more than our underappreciated teachers—again, no hyperbole. (And their likewise underappreciated principals.) They clearly deserve as much adulation and support as our soldiers and sailors and airmen in battle zones.

So this is not about respect or appreciation.
It’s about childhood obesity.

In short, a significantly overweight teacher-classroom leader [again, we’re not talking 10 pounds, or maybe even 15], or principal-school leader, lacks any semblance of credibility relative to this issue which is arguably “more important than terrorism”—childhood obesity.

Fire fat teachers? Of course not. Post their BMIs on the school bulletin board, or at least in the teachers’ room? It’s appealing, but I guess not; I’m a privacy freak.

But send the teacher-principal report card home in an envelope with District Office of BMI Report Cards as the sending address?
Semi-annual high BMI Teacher-Principal conference?
Semi-annual high BMI Principal-District Administrator conference?
Official annual letters-of-warning in the personnel jackets of offenders?
Deny superhigh BMI teachers tenure if they are not progressing relative to a sane weight-BMI reduction program?
Deny the high BMI-ers access to any of the increasingly popular bonus-incentive programs?

I believe my suggestions are rather Draconian. But there’s ample reason to believe that the terrorism analogy is not much over the top—so, Draconian measures are urgently called for. (I also acknowledge that the teachers unions would scream bloody murder—a pretty good sign that I’m onto something.)

Leaders lead to the extent that they are role models for the change they aim to make and the values they aim to instill.
Classroom teachers, and their principals, are the Ultimate Leaders when it comes to our nation’s future.

Bust fat pediatricians!
Bust fat teachers-principals!
Or lose the war before it’s launched on the terror of childhood obesity.

Mr Speaker, I offer the above, appropriately reformatted, as an Amendment to any obesity program passed into legislation in the great and glorious Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

NB: Alas, I’m one of the kids whose parents would have gotten the damn report card. And I could damn well afford to lose 20 pounds right now without fear of becoming emaciated. But I am neither pediatrician nor classroom teacher nor school principal. (Bust high BMI management gurus? Hmmmm, maybe not such a bad idea.)

Tom Peters posted this on January 9, 2009, in Healthcare.
Bookmark and Share