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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

Lazy Sunday Reading

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  • Today’s New York Times has a fabulous article on people who are trying to break the fat ceiling in professional dance.
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  • On her blog On the Whole, Peggy Elam writes about the latest Orwellian anti-fat strategy: converting “obese” workers’ desks into treadmills. This is not a joke. This is not a test. This is – gah! – for real.
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  • Against stupidity the gods may contend in vain, but that doesn’t stop us from pointing and laughing at it. Body impolitic is running a “stupidest fat comment” contest. You have until the end of the month to send in your nominations.
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  • Jeffrey Friedman is trying to “cure obesity” through better chemistry. The more’s the pity if that stops fat activists from reading stuff like this: his 2005 interview with Ira Flatow on “War on Obesity, Not the Obese.” It’s twenty-six pages, but a fascinating and accessible introduction to the science which systematically picks off myths about fat and the “obesity epidemic. ” 
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  • Joy Nash (of Youtube’s Fat Rant fame) has posted a college termpaper she wrote on Fat and Oppression on her Myspace page.  
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  • And if you haven’t already read them, take a gander at this week’s must-read editorials: Paul Campos’ The Weight of the Evidence, and Richard Cohen’s Politics by the Pound.

Fat and Rape…yet again.

According to a London newspaper a lawyer defending three boys accused of raping two teenagers argued that one of the victims was likely grateful for the “attention” because she was fat.

 The lawyer is quoted as saying:

She was 12st 6lb – not quite the swan she may turn into. She may well have been glad of the attention. 

This disgusting piece of news is, of course, reminiscent of what happened earlier this week.  When the Shakesville blog was invaded by trolls slinging a repulsive blend of rape imagery and fat hatred in an attempt to terrorize and humiliate a blogger who criticized the Opie and Anthony show.

The only difference is in how graphic the trolls were, but the message is pretty much the same: fat women should be grateful for any attention they get: even if it’s rape. Even if it’s death threats.

It seems to me that this is the flip side of the Catch-22 for rape victims: if you’re seen as “attractive” or dress “provocatively” then you can’t have been raped because you were asking for it. If you’re seen as unattractive or fat, then you can’t have been raped because you were obviously desperate for it.

Stuff

dsmiv3.jpgOr maybe not.

This week’s podcast for This American Life is the story of how homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, and what it took to get it out of the DSM. It’s 60 minutes, but it’s a good listen for anyone interested.  

It felt apropos since psychiatrists are now talking about adding “obesity” to the DSM as a “brain disorder.”  (That’s right, classifying fat as a mental illness. No, not binge eating disorder, not compulsive eating, just being fat.)

And its also a good reminder how very bigoted and oppressive the “vast medical consensus” can be, and how important activism is to keep it honest.

Richard Cohen’s Washington Post Editorial

I think I spent enough time peering into the dark and twisted cave of hate and ignorance. So I’m going to move up into the light of reason. It’s easier to breathe up here.

Richard Cohen wrote a great editorial in the Washington Post. (Pointed out by a reader of the Big Fat Blog forums). Cohen’s editorial discusses Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin; the “war on obesity” as a moral panic; and fat in presidential politics:

The incessant message is that you are overweight because you lack willpower. Willpower is, of course, right up there with morality — the two being almost synonymous in the minds of many people….This explains why a presidential candidate must be trim. To be overweight, even pleasantly so, suggests a lack of self-discipline. That, of course, is utter nonsense.

He also notes how Bush’s persistent leanness has had no apparent impact on his ability to think:

Not only does he subscribe to silly nostrums — celibacy instead of condoms for the young and restless, for instance — but he has also led us into a disastrous war for which there appears to be no end in sight. Still, the man looks good.

Celibacy as a “silly nostrum.” Interesting. I’m not sure if his bringing celibacy up in this context was an intentional comparison, but if not, then I’ll do it. At the risk of ….well what the hell, I’m just going to go ahead and repeat myself:

“Dieting” as a response to to health risks associated with fat has a lot in common with “abstinence education” as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Both are ineffective means of improving public health. Both pit public health against the people they presume to “help,” putting them in hopelessly moralizing and paternalistic relationships. But both “solutions” are tenaciously clung to and promoted by certain quarters, for reasons that are political, ideological, economic, or some combination of all three

And both of which have the larger effect of shaming and victim-blaming than they do of making anyone thin (or abstinent). And least of all making us healthy.  

Think I can make a bumper sticker out of that?

Fat hatred is serious

739409_edson_face2.jpgThis morning, after reading Kate Harding blog about it, I wandered over to the comment section of Shakesville’s post on Opie and Anthony, and my humor evaporated. 

Maybe they were just trolls,  but I saw — not for the first time– how seamlessly fat hatred merges with the most vicious and violently imagined misogyny. So much that in this case there isn’t even any sense in trying to pick them apart. 

Don’t feed the trolls, but if you’re ever tempted to laugh off fat hatred, have a look at those comments (in the last half). And don’t let anyone tell you that fat isn’t important.  

(I’m not going to take comments on this post since I want to kick this over to Kate Harding’s site, where she’s already started the conversation. Kate has also compiled a lot of these comments in her post, if you want to read them there.)

Comment Issues

If anybody is having their comment disappear let me know. The spamfilter on WordPress is a little overzealous, a problem I only figured out when three of my own comments vanished into the ether. I’m checking the spamfilter now, so if this happens to you I should be able to yank it out of the filter and restore it.

Latest Editorial From Paul Campos

Paul Campos has written another excellent editorial discussing Gina Kolata’s new book, Rethinking Thin. I’ll quote my favorite part:   

This inspires me to point something out to my more liberal readers. Remember that particularly clueless right-wing acquaintance of yours? The one who believes that anybody in America can become rich, because he thinks about poverty in a completely unscientific, anecdotal way, which allows him to treat the exceptional case as typical? The one who can’t seem to understand the simplest structural arguments about the nature of social inequality?
 

The next time you see some fat people and get disgusted by their failure to “take care of themselves,” think about your clueless friend.

It was my favorite for one thing because he nailed it. Everything that’s wrong with every argument I’ve ever had about fat. I’ll quote it again because I love it. “they think…in a completely unscientific, anecdotal way, which allows him to treat the exceptional case as typical?”  If one person can lose weight, everyone can be thin. Thus fat is a choice. It is proven.

 

But also because I appreciated the minisermon to the liberal crowd. It’s a bane for me. I don’t think I ever stop feeling that sharp bite of disillusionment and depression when it happens. When liberals, my friends, my allies  – from sophisticated feminists to staunch nonconformists – suddenly start talking about fat in terms that ring of nothing so much as Victorian moralism.

 

There is no apparent cognitive dissonance as they expound on the need to educate the fat (and the obviously ignorant) in how to “eat properly” and live correctly. As they associate fat with poverty, and assume ignorance or laziness rather than discrimination. As they then without missing a beat, turn us into symbols for greed and consumerism. As they deploy caricatures and stereotypes of the fat that, if applied to any other group, would fill them with outrage. As they urge us to keep trying to become “normal” no matter what we want, or what the personal cost. To redouble our efforts when we fail. And then redouble them again. To restrain our urges, control our bodies, to not be a burden on society that we surely must see we are.

 

And all of this, in the name of helping us.

 

Of course it’s not all liberals. I don’t even think most. And it’s not a “liberal thing” – it’s pervasive in the society. It’s just so much more strange and dismaying when liberals do it.

Height

I’m sure you’ve heard this one: “If fat is genetic, how come we’ve been getting fatter?”

Deviously clever.  How could you possibly argue against that logic?

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