Well, 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.