NJ Health Commissioner: “Adults almost always gain back any weight they lose – and then some.”

commiss_speech_2001.jpgWell, ok, he did say it, but that’s not how any newspaper in the country headlined this story.  The real headlines were more like: NJ starting agency to battle obesity.  But a fattie can dream.  

Yes, New Jersey has apparently created the first government agency devoted to fighting obesity.  I know what you’re thinking. A government agency dedicated to fighting my body shape? Where can I sign up to help? (Seriously. I wish I lived in New Jersey so I could apply for a job with them just to see the reaction).

But here’s the headliner for all you long-suffering fat rights activists.  A public health official has finally copped to the Big Lie –  admitting that diets and weight loss strategies don’t work, and in fact, they make you fatter. Savor it:

Dr. Fred M. Jacobs, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said young people are a crucial target for the new agency because it’s easier to instill good diet and exercise habits to prevent obesity in young people than it is to reverse weight problems in adults; adults almost always gain back any weight they lose — and then some.

Where are the qualifications and the hedging? Where are the exhortations to keep trying? Where are the snide remarks about how ingrained our bad habits must be? Oh, ok, I guess that’s buried in there in the part about instilling good habits early. But still. It’s almost…honest.

Because Preventive Wars are Such Good Ideas 

For all of us waiting for a little honesty about weight loss, it’s kind of a letdown, though. It’s kind of like Bush quietly admitting that Iraq was a failure while announcing that the bombs are flying in Iran. 

Because this article isn’t about the decades-long disaster that has defined our national obsession with weight loss. This is about the War on Obesity Version 2.0: The new and improved war on fat. This time it’s a preventive war on our children’s fat.

A preventive war?  What could possibly go wrong?

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Taking Care of Our Healthcare

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This is an article from January, but it’s well-worth reflecting on. Apparently fat women are more likely to be undertreated with chemotherapy for breast cancer For reasons that aren’t totally clear, doctors are more likely to give fat women (and poor women as well) doses of chemotherapy below what the guidelines say they should.

I want to pause on one sentence in particular:  

Obesity is controversial as a risk factor for breast cancer; studies haven’t shown that obesity causes breast cancer, but obese women are at increased risk of dying from the disease.

This raises the ominous (if unsurprising) possibility that whatever “excess risk” fat holds, may at least in part be due not to its effect on our bodies, but to its effect on our doctor’s brain.

We’re continuously being told of the health risks of weight, but one of those risks is a function of what happens when you show up in your doctor’s office. Fat people need to be aware of and proactive about the attitudes that healthcare professionals may hold towards us because of our weight, and how that can affect our care.  

To put some numbers on the problem, look at this 2003 survey on physician attitudes towards “obese” patients. There are a number of interesting findings in it, and I encourage everyone to look at it directly, but here are some takeaway messages:  

  • About half (49.5%) of doctors rated fat patients as “noncompliant” About a third rated us as “sloppy” and “lazy.” 44% rated us as “weak-willed.” And 44.5% thought that psychological problems were “very important” or “extremely important” causes of “obesity.”

Translation: Almost half of your doctors will think that your weight is an indicator of your character and mental health.

  • 34.5% of doctors said they have “negative reactions towards the appearance of obese patients.”  9.1% said they felt uncomfortable when examining an obese patient. 7.5% said it was difficult for them to “feel empathy” for fat patients.

Translation: Your doctor may be uncomfortable with your body, and this could affect how thorough they are in examining you. A small but significant percentage won’t be able to empathize with you because of your weight.

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The Fatosphere: The Next Generation

Just wanted to say welcome to our two youngest bloggers in the fatosphere:  XXLA is a new blog by an 18-year-old high school senior exploring her thoughts on fat acceptance, and also making her the youngest blogger in the fatosphere (that I know of). fat feminism is written by a freshman at Amherst College, which, I assume, makes her the second youngest. Stop by their blogs and say hi!

In the F-Word.org, in a short essay I love, Rachel wonders what it would be like to go back in time and tell her younger self, “You’re beautiful – exactly as you are.” The sense of waste and lost time in her story makes me all the more pleased to know that at least two young women may not have to spend the years at war with their bodies that so many of us have.  

In other news in the fatosphere:

It’s MeMe Roth and more MeMe Roth.  She’s rapidly becoming the Ann Coulter of fat prejudice. She may even be crazier. I’d elaborate, but you can get updates on her condition all over the fatosphere today. From Red No. 3 to Big Fat Blog to The Rotund to Big Fat Deal to -hey! - fat feminism.

Fat in Politics

huckabee.jpgFat is looking like a big issue in the upcoming presidential election. One of the candidates – Mike Huckabee – lost 100 lbs and is making the “war on obesity” a major part of his campaign. Al Gore’s weight is being viewed as barometer of both his electability and his desire to run. In a recent NPR interview, it was speculated that Bill Richardson is not being taken seriously as a candidate because of his weight. As a breath of fresh air,  last week Richard Cohen wrote an editorial in the Washington Post, Politics by the Pound, condemning weight as a measure of presidential ability, but acknowledging its importance in this election.

And just today, the current president announced his nominee for Surgeon General, declaring that his main focus will be “efforts on educating parents and children about childhood obesity.” And not to be outdone, Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger recently teamed up to “fight obesity. “

Politicians are now seeing fat as an opportunity to advance their careers (or for others, as an insurmountable liability), and this is more than a little unsettling. As politician after politician sets their sights on this single nail, I worry they’ll start thinking everything looks like a hammer. After all, there’s only so many soda machines you can remove from the schools. There’s only so many speeches you can make warning about fat heralding the downfall of civilization. And nobody really knows what the cause of the “obesity epidemic” is, but there sure have been a lot of suggestions. And each of those proliferating hypothetical “causes” can lead to any number of half-baked political “solutions.”

Of most concern, I wonder at what point will political oneupmanship start tempting these politicians — now committed to “solving the crisis” — to turn towards the draconian policies we’ve recently seen advocated by our more zealous anti-obesity crusaders: the promotion of discrimination in the workplace; taxes and health insurance penalties for the fat; or classifying parents of fat children as “child abusers.”  

So what do you think – do you think that a fat candidate could be electable? Do you think politicians jumping on the obesity bandwagon is a real issue, or is it just so much political hot air?

New Article on Alternet

Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body has written an article on AlterNet Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity.  It’s worth checking out. She asks: “Can the diet industry be prosecuted into warning labels and public education efforts the way the tobacco industry has been?”

As of now, there are no reader comments, but I’m curious what the reaction on Alternet is going to be. Particularly since about a month ago an article on a fat camp in Israel was met with a decidedly hostile reaction there, with many readers voicing fat-phobic attitudes which are depressingly common and tolerated in left-wing circles; and others simply regarding the issue of fat as too “trivial” for progressives to bother themselves with.

For Your Listening and Viewing Pleasure

1. Two Interviews with Gina Kolata on Rethinking Thin

Wisconsin Public Radio (Realplayer audio)
WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show (MP3)      

2. Skorch Magazine Makeovers

Working Mothers Cause Obesity!

or: Why I still Can’t Believe Sanjay Gupta was a Brain Surgeon.


Feministe on how CNN’s Sanjay Gupta is selling two moral panics for the price of one. Apparently Sanjay felt the burning need to do a segment on why: some people believe that working mothers may actually be contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic.”Zuzu asks, reasonably, why aren’t fathers also being blamed? An excellent question, but who says they’re not? Here’s an article from earlier this month blaming “permissive” fathers.

Actually, I’m hard pressed to think of an aspect of modernity that hasn’t been blamed for the “obesity epidemic.” Here’s a partial list of malefactors just from the past two months’ of headlines:

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