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?

Well, for one thing, they’re already massaging the intelligence, and I don’t know how well that bodes. They say fat prevention is “easier” but nobody’s ever shown you can “prevent” fat in kids any more than you can “cure” fat in adults. No evidence might mean easier; it might mean harder; it might mean helpful; or it might mean a program spouting rhetoric devastating to the welfare of children who aren’t naturally thin.

Or it might mean we should draw a lesson from how wrong we were about weight loss and rethink making this crusade all about a physical characteristic over which we have very limited control, and which has a complex relationship to health. And make it about something over which we have a little more control, and which has a much more direct relationship to health. Like nutrition and fitness. 

Anti-Obesity and Anti-Stigma?

One bright spot in this article is it may just be dawning on the obesity warriors that the greatest threat to the wellbeing of fat people is the War on Obesity itself:

“I want to do that without creating a further stigma on individual people,” Jacobs said. “It’s bad enough when you’re fat that people think less of you. I don’t want the government piling on.”

That may be my nomination for understatement of the year, but it’s some relief that Dr. Jacobs registers a flicker of recognition of the problem. And while setting up an anti-fat agency might seem a little inherently, well… anti-fat…they did have at least enough sense to avoid putting fat or obesity in the agency’s title. It’s just the Office of Nutrition and Fitness.

Nutrition and Fitness? Great! What was I just saying? Why can’t we just talk about nutrition and fitness while understanding that people are going to end up at different sizes? Why can’t…

…. I’m sorry…I was dreaming again. Right after that laudatory acknowledgment of stigma, the very next line is:

He is mulling the idea of having schools notify parents, via report cards, about children with weight problems.

Which snapped me back to reality. As long as the rhetoric is all about singling out unacceptable bodies, the War on Obesity – whether version 1.0 or 2.0 – can never be about health, let alone fighting stigma. It can only be a means to marginalize and target individuals for discrimination. In this case, those “individuals” are just children.

Anyway this article is so full of one step forward/three step back moments that I’ve completely lost track of where we are.

So as a parting thought I’ll just leave you with my favorite YouTube clip at the moment, the off-topic and yet strangely relevant Apple i-Rack. 


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

  1. Meowzer Says:

    It’s pitifully obvious that these officious officials have never actually talked to any fat adults…because if they did, they’d know that most of us were “intervened on” multiple times in our youth in order to slim us down, in much the same way they’re doing now, with spectacularly unsuccessful results. Ask any woman who weighs over 300 pounds how old she was when she started her first diet (whether voluntarily or not); in almost every case it happened before the age of 12, I guaran-frickin-tee ya.

    It doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And it not only doesn’t work as in bringing the dietee back to square one; it doesn’t work as in we get fatter and sicker every time we try, try, try, try, try. When are they going to frigging talk to us already, and quit making assumptions that we don’t have a clue in the world how fat we are?

  2. Stef Says:

    Ask any woman who weighs over 300 pounds how old she was when she started her first diet (whether voluntarily or not); in almost every case it happened before the age of 12, I guaran-frickin-tee ya.

    Six months, in my case, or so I’m told.

  3. fatfu Says:

    When are they going to frigging talk to us already, and quit making assumptions that we don’t have a clue in the world how fat we are?

    They are never going to quit. They started off with the assumption that fat is something you can and should “fix” and never looked back. And now they can’t rethink it, because there’s too many organizations, industries and careers whose whole raison d’etre is fixing fat. I expect this prevention kick to last for a very long time.

    Stef – wow 6 months. I’m not surprised, and I think we’ll be seeing more of that – there’s been a LOT of focus on fat in babies and infants lately, which I find frankly terrifying to contemplate where that’s going to lead us.

  4. Annette Says:

    I have a 9 month old son, and when he was born I was exhorted to breastfeed him not because it was a free, natural, immunity boosting way to feed him but because it would help me lose my “baby” weight and prevent him from becoming obese. I did breastfeed him, but was really angered by this line of reasoning. It came as no shock to me that they had to retract the whole breast feeding stops obesity line when it was disproved. It also is hardly a shock that they are developing a new formula that supposedly has leptin, or something, which would prevent obesity from birth. So, in the future, I guess a diet at 6 months would be considered negligent ..

  5. The Rotund Says:

    I was 7 when I was put on my first diet. And guess what? I WOUND UP FATTER!

    While I applaud Dr. Jacobs for his honesty regarding how much it sucks to have people – much less the government – judge you for being fat, yeah, waging a preventative war on obesity isn’t making me feel respected and warm and fuzzy.

    I tend, these days, to judge things in baby steps. I don’t know that a government official COULD come out and say that diets don’t work and just leave it at that and still have a job in the morning. Fat hatred is THAT ingrained in our society.

  6. Meowzer Says:

    I’ve actually heard of mothers watering down their breast milk to prevent their babies from gaining too much weight. I saw an article in Newsday (New York) about affluent mothers who, one by one, are bringing their toddlers into pediatricians “underweight,” because that’s how they want it — it’s fashionable to have skinny kids, and if you don’t then you’re considered a Bad Mom.

    When I saw that I thought, “Great, a whole generation of kids who will attain a maximal height of 4 feet tall and have IQs of 70.” Not that there’s anything wrong with being 4 feet tall or having an IQ of 70 if it happens congenitally, but geez, why would you try to make that happen for your kid?

  7. Nicole Says:

    Ugh. The “war on childhood obesity” is getting really out of hand. Like many of the PPs, I went on my first diet very early. I remember vividly that when all the other 7-year-olds were making their New Year’s Resolution banners to read more or do their homework, I was preparing one that read, “I resolve to go on a diet.” The worst part to me was that nobody intervened on that sick sentiment. I think I was 9 the first time I did WW.

    I am absolutely convinced that all the early interventions–and I have to cop to instigating most of them myself; it was not my parents forcing me to lose weight–messed up my metabolism to huge effect. If I had been able to accept myself at age 17 or 18, when I thought I was absolutely the fattest and most disgusting creature ever put on the earth, I know I wouldn’t be 120 pounds MORE than that now.

    I absolutely dieted and loathed myself right up to my current weight. It’s only been since I stopped that I feel like my body is slowly starting to figure out how it’s supposed to operate.

  8. CJ Porter Says:

    When I was breastfeeding my daughter, I got comments all the time about how chubby she was. Complete strangers would ask me all the time if I was supplementing her. I was asked what the heck I was eating as if my breastmilk was somehow higher calorie. No one believed that she was solely on breastmilk for the longest time.

    I’m trying to help her learn as she grows that there is no such thing as a bad food. She has healthier eating habits than most people I know even with the occasional ice cream breakfast snack. She’s taught me a great deal about moderation (at 5 years old!!) and she will be what she will be. I refused to have her tracked in school (weight, cholesterol, blood sugars) because I think it’s none of the school’s damned business. That’s between us and her doctor!

  9. Nicole Says:

    CJ–As a side point, how did you assert that desire not to be tracked? My son is 3 and I’m already worried about this, since I remember all too well being weighed in front of the class and how mortifying it was. I don’t want him to have to go through that, whether he ends up heavier than “normal” or stays as he is now. But I also don’t want to single him out unnecessarily. Did you make your preferences known before she started?

  10. vesta44 Says:

    They don’t want to talk to us because we don’t tell the truth about how much we eat or how much we exercise (I don’t know how many drs have told me I’m eating more than I say I am, that I have to be eating at least twice as much as I’ve written down in the food diaries they want kept). So why should they talk to us when they aren’t going to believe a word we have to say anyway?
    I was watching a program on tv the other night (on Lifetime, I think) about a woman who was in for WLS, and her doctor came right out and said she was eating 75% more than she reported. How does he know this? Has he followed her around 24/7 and kept track of everything she ate? No, but she’s fat, therefore she lies about the amount of food she eats.
    I’m tired of being called a liar or delusional just because I’m fat.

  11. celsou Says:

    I don’t understand why they don’t implement HAES. That way, instead of targeting children who *may* become fat, the whole population would become healthier.
    I found it liberating to exercise without the goal of weight loss, instead I focus on building strong bones and a strong heart.
    Children should learn to take care of their insides instead of their appearance.

  12. BStu Says:

    Critics like suggesting that HAES is just a way to “excuse” fatness. Like we’re all just brainstorming a “Get out of being thin” card and this was the result. But the truth is that HAES has actually been shown to work. Time and again. Encouraging people to be healthier will make people healthier. It just won’t make them weigh substantially less, so its written off as a wasted effort. So improving health isn’t what these people are talking about. They’re just talking about reducing weight. The last thing we need to do is ramp up “intervention” and “prevention” efforts with children. This caused the “problem” in the first place. I’m always amazed when its acknowledged that trying to lose weight is only a reliable way to gain weight, but I’m mostly amazed at how little this means to even the people who admit it. “Constant efforts to manipulate weight have failed. So lets start those efforts even younger! That’ll do the trick.” Fat stigmatization has failed and more fat stigmatization is just going to fail more.

  13. Meowzer Says:

    So riddle me this. Why does anyone bother to tell you to keep a food diary if they’re not going to believe the contents of it? No one will self-report 100% accurately — fat, thin, or in-between — but why are only fat people cross-examined like pickpockets about the discrepancies? I don’t get that at all. I had a boyfriend once with a BMI of around 21 who put away a package of Oreos every day, once he sobered up from drinking 25+ beers every day. Would the diary cross-examiners not believe him about the Oreos or the beers?

  14. spinsterwitch Says:

    Fascinating that they can get the state of NJ to fund a program even though a couple of studies have already shown that prevention programs in targeted schools don’t make any difference. Seriously, that Gina Kolata book opened my eyes.

  15. Meowzer Says:

    Erratum to above: I meant to say “12+ beers every day,” that was a typo.

  16. vesta44 Says:

    Meowzer, it’s like most of us have been saying for a long time, it’s not about health at all. It’s about appearance. They don’t like the way fat people look, we don’t meet their ideal of normal or of beauty, therefore we need to lose weight. Matters not if we are healthy or not, as long as we are thin. After all, you don’t see them stigmatizing unhealthy thin people. It’s never been about health, and for the diet industry, it will never be about health, it’s about getting your money out of your pocket and into theirs.

  17. sestamibi Says:

    Long comment but please be patient me: When Stonewall made it clear to the Gays that the environment produced by homophobia was even more dangerous (if possible) than they had previously thought it was, they did not depend on people’s ever becoming able to see past the era’s rampant homophobia and actually try to get to know Gay people. Instead, they began to take action to get people to stop making them so miserable that conventional wisdom (at the time) was that one of the “downsides” of homosexuality was the “high suicide rate among gay youth.” Today, that rate is no different than the rate for other young people (both rates are still too high, btw, but that’s another comment for another time). The action included elements of publicity — high level publicity, as in advertising and programming in major media; retraining the medical profession, most notably getting their sexuality de-medicalized by having homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual; and educating the public about the fact that, contrary to the bigots’ assertions, homosexuals do not “pose a danger” to the public (or its pocketbook). True, in the media, the Gays confronted mere indifference; it was not hostile to them as it is to fat people, so getting to the media will be very, very difficult, but it must be done. By professionals. It would also be helpful if, in this capitalist society, professional marketers work to get at least some elements of the business community — and the medical community is very much part of the business community — to see how it is in THEIR financial interest to get in on HAES. The Gays have not yet achieved full acceptance (for one example — we are still arguing if the world will fall if Gays get the right to marry) and the acceptance they have achieved did not happen anything like “overnight,” but it happened — and to a group that was once perhaps the most unpopular in the country.

  18. Elle Says:

    What the hell, be healthy or not, weigh what you like or change it, be happy or unhappy with how you look (has anyone ever seen Victoria Beckham smile ???), work at it, don’t, as long as you know the risks do what ever the hell makes you happy, like me and my cigs. Puff.

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