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:

protein in infant formula
mother’s weight gain in pregnancy
reduction in the nutrient content in food
diet soda
radical diets

abundance of junk food and the lack of physical activity
living in a rural area
urban sprawl
living in the suburbs
plastic in baby bottles
lack of family support

mother’s early puberty
“environmental food cues”
not enough fruits and vegetables in diet
permissive fathers
irresponsible parents
emotional eating
emotional issues
inaccurate infant growth tables
food prices
newspaper recipes
lack of individual responsibility
britain’s one-hour lunch break
larger portion sizes
farm subsidies
lack of personal responsibility
belly fat
the fear that being slim will make people think you have AIDS

precocious puberty
reading about the obesity epidemic
poor urban planning
low testosterone
southern high-fat diet
mother’s diet during pregnancy
disruptions of the circadian clock
online marketing

That’s just from Google News since April. And it’s incomplete since I blew through the headlines pretty quickly – most of these are from articles that were purporting to identify a or “the” cause of “obesity” in their headlines.

If you did a search of the medical literature you’d be rewarded with even more esoteric suggestions, like high preprandial ghrelin to obestatin ratio or right prefrontal cortex deficiencies leading to impaired “moral cognition” or an unconscious method of protection against renewed sexual abuse.

Like other moral panics, who or what you choose to “blame” for the “sickness” is probably based on your diagnoses of society. Conservatives see it as a failure of the family, or of personal responsibility, or look towards their nostalgic visions of the 1950s, grieving the loss of authoritarian fathers and housewives. Liberals have their own lens: those with an environmental slant may look for toxins in the environment or urban planning; those with an anti-corporate outlook blame the food industry and its additives and advertising.

In other words, that Sanjay Gupta selected to do a segment on working mothers – out of all of the endlessly proliferating “social ills” that have been recently fingered as the “cause” of fat – almost certainly says more about his prejudices than it does about fat.

16 Responses to “Working Mothers Cause Obesity!”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Wo. That is some list. Thank you for documenting that (infuriating though it is).

  2. celsou Says:

    I cannot believe that list o_o
    Can’t they just accept that people come in all shapes and sizes? It would be easier than coming up with some of those reasons (newspaper recipes,wtf?)

  3. galnoir Says:

    Thanks so much for this comprehensive round-up!

  4. Meowzer Says:

    They forgot to blame Tinky Winky.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    Here’s something interesting:

    “After the investigators adjusted the data for the affects of heart disease risk factors, such as age, gender and other relevant factors, they found people who reported higher levels of unfair treatment at the study’s outset were 55 percent more likely to have a heart attack, to have developed heart disease, or to have chest pain during the follow-up period. They were also 46 percent more likely to report poor physical health and at 54 percent increased risk of poor mental health.”


  6. The Rotund Says:

    Hey, you forgot when they blamed Torrid – because the availability of cute plus-sized clothes will make people fat.

    Every day, I am reminded of just how damned ridiculous all of this is, you know?

  7. La di Da Says:

    Not enough humiliation and beatings! That’s what those tubby children of today are lacking! I’ve seen so many comments on blogs from people who sincerely believe that a bit of humiliation “never hurt anyone” and would do those fat kids a bit of good.

    People are dumb and mean. Gah.

  8. wriggles Says:

    Well done FF, I can’t stand the way we are used as a dustbin for whatever ‘issues’ they want to work through. I know that intelligent people can be stupid, but it is truly perplexing to see so many people that should know better, unable to wise up to themselves. They forget that respect goes both ways, and that they are losing ours.

  9. fatfu Says:

    Ha! Torrid and Tinky Winky – they almost got away with it, didn’t they?

    La Di Da – dont’ get me started on that crowd. If you didn’t have an absurdist mindset beforehand, listening to even LIBERALS talk about increasing discrimination and public shaming people who don’t have the right “bodies” or who they feel “don’t live correctly” will turn you into one.

    wriggles – Yeah, it’s infuriating. But you can have fun with it too — watching people claim that they have discovered the OBVIOUS cause of the “scourge”.

    It’s like a Rorschach test because of course nothing’s obvious at all. All they’re doing is giving you a direct window into their prejudices and the particular provincial perspective they’re coming from.

  10. Meowzer Says:

    Rotund – hee hee, I’m surprised that when I brought my size 4 mother to Torrid she didn’t just up and decide to gain 50 pounds on the spot just so she could wear the clothes! If you were a size 4, wouldn’t you?

    Fatfu – goddess yes. I keep wanting to grab those people by the ear and yell, “Yo, I’m a fat progressive person reading your blog and I’d be perfectly happy to contribute to your cause if you actually thought I was a human being!”

    I once actually heard about one woman who had a prog-related event in her home and someone actually had the temerity to ask her, in her own home, if she ever exercised! If it were me, I probably wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to blurt out, “Do you and your husband ever fuck?” Which would of course engender a shocked expression, to which I’d add, “I mean, as long as we’re in my house and we’re doing rude condescending sideswipes, I wouldn’t want to be outdone.” And you know, I’m nice. Imagine if I wasn’t. 😛

  11. Rachel Says:

    Tsk, tsk.. we all know the reason for obesity in America is because mothers simply don’t love their children enough. Or so says the National Action Against Obesity, and on Mother’s Day to boot.

    If there were any clear cut answer as to why some people are fat and others aren’t, diet industries would be put out of business. I think the multitudes of speculations only goes to show how complex and myriad weight truly is.

  12. kateharding Says:

    You are so awesome for compiling that list.

  13. fat fu Fat in Politics « Says:

    […] Working Mothers Cause Obesity! […]

  14. Rebecca Says:

    Sigh – I live in Rome, and frankly, Sanjay Gupta’s “some people” just sounds like most average Italian men. Wait – maybe that’s his source. Did he cite “alcuni italiani”? Anyway, in a country where cellulite ranks up there with pedophilia, it’s a seriously devious anti-feminist argument. Citing something universally accepted as baaad (fat!) as a concrete effect of “letting” women exit their homes to wage-earn in a crap economy. Boo.

    At least I can pretend I don’t speak the language for a hasty exit.

  15. Puppy Dogs and Daffodils May Contribute to Obesity at Shakesville Says:

    […] totally asked the wrong person to contribute here. Sucker!) I’ve been meaning to highlight this post of hers on my own blog for a while. It includes the following mind-boggling — and, sadly, incomplete […]

  16. [Red No 3] Anti-fat Surgeon General? Says:

    […] people than in 1970/1980/1960/etc. What has changed in our culture that we can glibly blame?” FatFu listed some of the many supposed vilains subjecting the world to fat […]

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