Your web-browser is very outdated, and as such, this website may not display properly. Please consider upgrading to a modern, faster and more secure browser. Click here to do so.
If you live in the U.S. you are absolutely bombarded with the idea that being overweight is bad for your health. This repetition leaves one with the idea that being overweight is the same thing as being unhealthy, something that is simply not true. In fact, people of all weights can be either healthy or unhealthy; overweight people (defined by BMI) may actually have a lower risk of premature death than “normal” weight people. Being fat is simply not the same thing as being unhealthy.
The Health At Every Size (HAES) movement attempts to interrupt the conflation of health and thinness by arguing that, instead of using one’s girth as an indicator of one’s health, we should be focusing on eating/exercising habits and more direct health measures (like blood pressure and cholesterol).
A recent study offered the HAES movement some interesting ammunition in this battle. The study recruited almost 12,000 people of varying BMIs and followed them for 170 months as they adopted healthier habits. Their conclusion? “ Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with a significant decrease in mortality regardless of baseline body mass index.”
Take a look. The “hazard ratio” refers to the risk of dying early, with 1 being the baseline. The “habits” along the bottom count how many healthy habits a person reported. The shaded bars represent people of different BMIs from “healthy weight” (18.5-24.9) to “overweight” (25-29.9), to “obese” (over 30).
The three bars on the far left show the relative risk of premature death for people with zero healthy habits. It suggests that being overweight increases that risk, and being obese much more so. The three bars on the far right show the relative risk for people with four healthy habits; the differential risk among them is essentially zero; for people with healthy habits, then, being fatter is not correlated with an increased relative risk of premature death. For everyone else in between, we more-or-less see the expected reduction in mortality risk given those two poles.
This data doesn’t refute the idea that fat matters. In fact, it shows clearly that thinness is protective if people are doing absolutely nothing to enhance their health. It also suggests, though, that healthy habits can make all the difference. Overweight and obese people can have the same mortality risk as “normal” weight people; therefore, we should reject the idea that fat people are “killing themselves” with their extra pounds. It’s simply not true.
So this morning I see that professional fat-hater Jamie Oliver has posted a petition which he’s asking people to sign in support of his “Food Revolution,” and in which he’s included the bullshit stat that “obesity in the US costs $10,273,973 per hour” (sure) and notes, in all-caps, “OBESITY IS PREVENTABLE.”
Celebrities who have signed the petition are posted in rotation: Jennifer Aniston, Eva Longoria, P. Diddy, Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest, Ellen Degeneres.
It’s always nice to see wealthy people with access to the best food, comprehensive healthcare, personal trainers, private chefs, and individual nutritional plans put their names to a petition admonishing the fatties that OBESITY IS PREVENTABLE.
When there are people for whom that is not true, people for whom obesity is not preventable, for myriad reasons, to bray about how their bodies (our bodies; ourselves) are “preventable” is to engage in eliminationist rhetoric.
I will never not be fat."
I’m creating an FAQ, so that I can direct common questions and comments to it, and not have to repeat myself a million times a day, and also to provide y’all with a database of information, facts, studies, and arguments should you ever need to argue with a fatphobe.
Anyway, please let me know what questions you’d like answered or topics addressed, especially if it’s an argument that’s used a lot or one that’s a bit tricky (I like a challenge).
WARNING: THIS IS VERY TRIGGERING.
If you were wondering about my stance on diets etc, you can read this: http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2009/08/open-letter-fat-positive.html
this whole thing reeks of classism and total disregard for science and is little more than a pile of fence-walking bullshit, but THIS is the thing that pissed me off the most:
“We do understand that fatness is a health concern — and we think it should be treated as such, as a public health issue.”
Being fat is NOT a public health issue. A lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables and the extremely skewed way that the government gives subsidies to farmers is a fucking public health issue. The pharmaceutical industry being based on money instead of on an actual investment in public health is a fucking public health issue. A lack of funding to schools to provide healthy meals is a fucking public health issue. People going without health care is a fucking public health issue. But being fat is NOT a public health issue because being FAT and being HEALTHY rarely have anything to do with each other.
We received a message about this from berry-go, and before I had the chance to read it and come up with a reply (silly real life, always getting in the way of my Very Important Bloggings) this had popped up on my dash. While I mostly agree with Alithea’s commentary, I do want to add a couple of things, especially with regard to weight as a health problem and weight loss as a solution to a health problem.
Weight gain CAN be a symptom of actual illness, and the current obesity crisis booga booga media hype encourages EVERYONE to TOTALLY IGNORE THAT. Maybe if, when I’d gone to my ob/gyn for a three-months-on-birth-control checkup and she’d said “Hey, you’ve gained five pounds. You’ve had mental health issues in the past. Is everything OK?” I wouldn’t have relapsed quite so epically as I did. Buuut she fat-shamed me instead. And there are far, far worse stories.
I think the same thing holds true at the population level. Our chemical environment has changed drastically over the past several decades, and it’s not unreasonable to think that maybe something we’re being exposed to is related to an increase in average weight. But whether that means anything else about our health is changing is anyone’s guess, because all the doctors and the media are focused on is how disgusting and lazy those disgusting, lazy fatties are. Never mind that if the media and those doctors weren’t so lazy, they’d see some pretty convincing precedent for the idea that fatness is heritable and mostly controlled at the cellular & molecular levels.
Beyond the “public health concern” thing, there is a lot going wrong in Greta Christina’s original post. She sets up & knocks down a lot of straw fat acceptance activists, which is beyond annoying. She oversimplifies and misrepresents a lot of FA arguments—for example, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone claim definitively that “fat poses zero health problems.” I have seen the argument that correlation does not equal causation and most studies only demonstrate correlation between things like fat and cardiovascular disease or fat and diabetes, so there’s no way to prove that fat causes cardiovascular disease or diabetes. There are a lot of underlying factors that could cause both fatness and the diseases with which it has come to be associated. There are also many reasons to be somewhat skeptical of scientific studies regarding obesity, since they’re often funded by pharmaceutical companies attempting to develop diet drugs, and they’re often conducted by people who have probably grown up in a world full of fat hatred. The unconscious biases of a scientist can play out in his or her results in pretty extreme ways.
She claims to rely on scientific research, but her understanding of that research seems to be coming directly from the popular press, which is sloppy; citations for studies regarding the failure rate of dieting can be found at the bottom of this post by Marilyn Wann, for example, and Junkfood Science is another great resource.
But I think at the heart of it, she feels alienated by the way some FA activists have responded to her decision to attempt to lose weight because of her knee problems. And in between all of the straw FA activists—seriously, the second half of that post is like a round of bowling—she actually makes a really good point about respecting the bodily choices and autonomy of others. I don’t think that we, as a movement, will be successful unless we can practice what we preach. This is tricky, but I think diet-shaming is really akin to slut-shaming in the sense that yeah, participating in voluntary, intentional weight loss does kiiiind of contribute to the diet culture, but she probably wouldn’t be dieting if she hadn’t been inundated with fat hatred her whole life. If she thinks that losing weight will really help with her knee problem, and she really thinks she can lose weight, I think that’s her prerogative.
(Although, I guess since I’m calling her out for a lot of stuff here, I might as well call attention to the ableism in the graphic reading “I’ve got a black belt in crazy.” Really, really not okay, especially considering how many fatties do have mental health issues. I guess she may be using it in a reclamatory way, but that’s not how it reads to me.)