“Health” as a Truncheon

At least one religious right organization is already jumping on the report of higher rates of fat among lesbians as ammunition for tired “homosexuality is unhealthy” propaganda. Having long been disappointed by the low rates of HIV and STD infection among lesbians, it looks like these groups are now trying to link fat among lesbians to HIV rates among gay men:

A study to be published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health has found that “lesbians have more than twice the odds of overweight.”…Another study in the same edition of the journal, found that homosexual, bisexual and “homosexually experienced heterosexual men” …have a far higher prevalence of HIV infection. …The studies provide further evidence of the dangers involved with the homosexual lifestyle.

The propaganda then goes on to associate everything from syphilis to cancer to addictions with “the homosexual lifestyle.” 

To a fat person, the routine is familliar. Data that should only be referenced to empower and improve health becomes nothing more than the means to portray us as ailing, disease-ridden creatures, whose miseries are the tragic but inevitable consequence moral degeneracy. Tsk Tsk.

The data itself is sometimes true, sometimes false. Usually distorted, and always selectively culled to create the most dramatic and catastrophic picture possible.

767406_police_truncheon.jpgThe use of “health risks”  as a cudgel against fat people (and now lesbians by association) is not so different from the use of HIV/AIDS as a cudgel against gay men.  Too often epidemiology is recruited for ends that have nothing to do with human health and happiness. Instead they become nothing more than weapons to blame, shame, stigmatize, and pathologize. Sometimes it’s Fred Phelps, and sometimes it’s the American Medical Association.

There’s another parallel here. “Dieting” as a public health response to to health risks associated with fatness 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.  

Fat Lesbians

Lesbians are two-and-a-half times as likely to be fat as straight women. So reports the Toronto Star. Apparently there’s a new study too that effect in this week’s American Journal of Public Health. I don’t have access to the full text, but here’s the abstract 

I’d like to see the full text of the journal article, because the Star implies that fatness among lesbians may have something to do with a “better body image”. But the journal abstract concludes:  

This finding suggests that lesbians are at greater risk for morbidity and mortality linked to overweight and obesity.  This finding also highlights the need for interventions within this population. 

Which makes you wonder how exactly they’ll intervene if  “better body image” is what they think is causing excess weight.

 A shame campaign perhaps?   

Once Again: Diets Don’t Work

Says a recent review of 30 long-term dieting studies reported in the UK Telegraph.  According to the study:

They found that people on diets typically lose five to 10 per cent of their starting weight in the first six months. But up to two-thirds regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and the true number was likely to be significantly higher.

Diet imageThe sad thing is this is just a systematic review of studies that have been in the literature for decades. The fact that this is news to anyone is just testimony to the power of the weight loss industry, which has been able to confuse the public about dieting and weight loss despite oceans of data (and the experience of millions of people).

The full text of the study can be found here.