Hi, I’m the Obesity Epidemic

You’ve read the headlines.  “Obesity has become an epidemic”.  OMGdeathfatiscomingforyouwontsomebodypleasethinkofthechildren.

When they say obesity is an epidemic they just mean that a lot of people are obese (and let’s remember that in 1998 a panel that included many representatives from the diet industry convinced the NIH to change the definitions of overweight and obese which changed 25 million people’s status literally overnight).  It can’t properly be used as a medical term because obesity is not a disease.  Nothing is proven to be caused by obesity, and obese people do not share “symptoms” other than the “diagnosis” itself – and you have to wonder about a “diagnosis” that is nothing more than a simple calculation about the ratio of your height to your weight, with absolutely no other common characteristics among carriers.  I’m trying to think of any disease where the only tool to diagnose is the person’s body size and I can’t think of a single one.

The problem with the idea of an obesity epidemic is that the word “epidemic” conjures up images of the plague and everybody starts to panic about what we’re going to do.  So now instead of public health being about making information and options available to the public, it’s become about making fat people’s bodies the public’s business. And a huge amount of resources are poured into trying to make fat  people’s bodies smaller – completely overlooking the fact that becoming smaller only works 5% of the time and there’s not proof that it will make you any healthier than you would be if you just engaged in healthy behaviors if that’s what interests you.

Far worse is that the articles are almost always accompanied by pictures like this one:

This is a picture of Diane.  She is a lawyer who works with Moms to collect back child support.  For fun she runs 10k’s and this weekend she’s going to complete her twentieth 10k, she hopes in her best time ever. Diane is the obesity epidemic.

This is Joe.  He is a loving and devoted father of three girls. He owns his own business and has five employees who he treats like his own family.  Joe is the obesity epidemic.

Of course I made all of that up, but it’s better than a headless picture and a bunch of stereotypes.  People are lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons.  Health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or a guarantee.  Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could be thin by some means however easy or difficult.  Fat people have the right to exist, period.  Nobody knows these people’s story how dare anyone think that it’s their place to fill in the blanks and then pass judgment?

Here’s another headless fatty:

This is Ragen.  She has no interest in engaging in the good fatty bad fatty dichotomy.

Oh look, that headless fatty is me.  Hi! I’m the obesity epidemic.

The next time you read an article about the obesity epidemic and see a picture  of a headless fatty beside it, challenge yourself to realize that you don’t know the first thing about that person and that the community of fat people is WAY to diverse to be clumped up and called an epidemic.  It’s time that we start to call a spade a spade here and realize that this is just lazy, sensationalized reporting masquerading as facts and news and my fat ass is calling bullshit.


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25 thoughts on “Hi, I’m the Obesity Epidemic

  1. Well said. Actually, most media coverage of fat people is “just lazy, sensationalized reporting masquerading as facts and news…” as you put it. From time to time, a reporter does her homework, and the media does something good. That’s a delight, because it is unusual.

    It’s hard to sell soap these days without sensationalizing stuff.

    At least HAES℠ (Health at Every Size℠) is beginning to get coverage. ASDAH press releases, Linda Bacon’s amazing work, and NAAFA media outreach are but three examples of this.

    There’s so much bad stuff out there about fat, it’s easy to forget that there is also good stuff.

    Oh yes–why the headless fatties? So they can’t sue the media for using their pictures without permission. Without a face shown, they can’t prove damages.

    Bill Fabrey

    1. Posting a picture of a person without their head is dehumanizing. The person is no longer a person but only a fat body. An object that can be cut apart and criticized without feeling rude, that we can compare without having to feel empathy.

  2. Humans have always craved the thrill of crisis. Before we had the Internet, TV, radio, heck, even newspapers, we had to have something to get our hearts pounding…like going to a good hanging, or a witch dunking.

    Now, thanks to the media, we can go to unimagined lengths to foment crisis in our lives. Parents no longer let their kids go out to play (they will immediately be snatched–as if it never happened 40-50 years ago); parents home school so that their kids will be protected from communism and universal health care and maintain their belief in God; terrorists lurk on every suburban street corner; hoarders live amongst us; drug addicts are running around sticking needles in everyone they see; and fat (no longer just a question of fashion) is now out there KILLING us.

    In order to be moral and upstanding, we must fight these plagues, even if it means actually ruining our mental and physical health.

    Daring to question the “facts” regarding overweight is heresy. Lucky we can’t be burned at the stake today!

    HAES to me is the only sane solution. But it’s a solution that only appeals to thinking people, who are willing to go beyond blindly accepting the status quo. Sadly, that’s not the majority…far from it.

    It’s hard to keep fighting, but I’m glad that we do.

    1. lol “drug addicts are running around sticking needles in everyone they see”

      last time i checked , drugs were too damn expensive just to dose/shoot/drop some random kids you dont know for the hell of it.

      but i completely belive you…by the time i was 8 we were running around crazy in the neighborhood…now there are no kids running around.

  3. I think it would be a great art project to photograph a number of people, show them as a headless fatty, then write a bit about who they are, and show them as a person, just as you did for yourself up there, Ragen.

    Give people back their humanity, show that people are people and have no need for shame.

  4. I read the articles and always feel guilty and convinced that I am part of the epidemic. Mens health had a very convincing article recently. I also read a blog post where he was very convincing about the Epidemic. I do know the blog offered nothing more than “research has proven” as his proof. No actual facts or statistics.

    Still, I hate that I feel inadequate and responsible for this epidemic. I fall for it every damn time too!

    I spend a lot of time thinking I am the obesity epidemic…

    Xo Susie

    1. When there is so much bad evidence coming through it can be so difficult to remember that it’s not true. I often think that this must have been how Galileo felt trying explain that Copernicus was right and the Earth really did revolve around the sun.


      1. I’ve been giving the people in those photos names and nice background stories for a long time – my next project is going to be some sort of poem or short story 😀

  5. I’ve been 350 lbs and I’ve been 140 lbs. I’ve been all over the map. It comes down to HEALTH. You can’t tell me that a 120 woman who lives off Red Bull, Diet Coke and chemical laden fat-free cookies is healthier than a 250 lb woman who eats all natural foods, drinks her water, and indulges in butter. It’s a “big fat lie”.

  6. I’m trying to think of any disease where the only tool to diagnose is the person’s body size and I can’t think of a single one.

    Dwarfism, but that’s not a disease per se, it’s a genetic disorder.

    If people mean “obesity is rampant and appears to be spreading by unknown vectors” they should say “obesity IS epidemic” not “obesity is AN epidemic.” Depending on the strength of your maths, you might be able to show that upward shifts in weight/height ratios spread through a population in an epidemiological fashion – i.e. like all other diseases, via vectors (genetic, viral, or otherwise) and hosts. But if you can’t (I’m looking at you, science reporters), it’s just a metaphorical epidemic. By the same token, I might say that Facebook use is epidemic. But whatever I believe about its effect on quality of life, I can’t call it AN epidemic. Unless I’m speaking metaphorically.

    Sorry, the collision of bad science with bad English gets my hackles up…

  7. Dear Ragen,

    I just read your post. I just lost 30 pounds on my cancer-free diet (mostly raw, brown rice and legumes). I have to say that you are in better shape than me, as well as the Diane & Joe. I could not even run a 10K!

  8. “I’m trying to think of any disease where the only tool to diagnose is the person’s body size and I can’t think of a single one.”
    In pediatrics, the condition called “failure to thrive” is typically slapped on babies/ children based on height, weight and head circumference. While it may have a medical cause, many times the cause cannot be determined.

    When my son was 6 months old, the pediatrician started to say, “Maybe we should do a failure to thrive workup” and before she could get the sentence out, I told her to back the bus up. Did she remember meeting my husband? You know, the guy who is 6 foot and weighs 145 pounds dripping wet. The she accidentally called my kid scrawny and immediately was so embarrassed she shut up about the whole thing.

    6 months later, the same doctor declared my son to be the “perfect” weight for his height.

    Turns out, pediatricians are just as hyper and over-reactive when weight is “too low” in kids as when it’s “too high”.

  9. *STANDING OVATION!* Wonderful post, as usual!! Thank you so much for inspiring me to love myself a little more every day. All of those littles add up to a lot! xoxo

  10. There’s also a tallness epidemic. I caught it, and now the kitchen workspaces are too low for me and make my back hurt. Next thing you know, someone will end up ten centimetres taller than their grandparents, and all their pants will be too short.

  11. Polimicks.com had a great post recently about an article (from back in 2006, ffs) in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Epidemiology looking at the “obesity epidemic”.

    according to this article, in a peer-reviewed epidemiology journal, the obesity panic is not an epidemic. The authors surveyed research in the field of “ZOMG! ALL YOU FAT FAT FATTIES ARE GOING TO DIE FROM DETHFATZ!!” and have found that the data does not bear out the label of “epidemic.”

    The article then goes on to further discuss the four main selling points of the obesity epidemic, and why current research in the field doesn’t bear out those selling points. What are these selling points? I’ll lay them out.

    And thanks to the IJE for making the full text of the article available for free.

  12. You know, even though I’m well-versed in HAES tenets, I’d never thought about what the word “epidemic” actually means, having taken it in the more figurative use of the word. But it’s NOT being used figuratively; it’s being used literally, and I’m smacking my head for having given the mainstream media such grace in not getting that before reading this post! So thank you…

  13. I’ll admit. The first time I read this post I was hopped up on copious amounts of pain meds (Thank you kidney’s for deciding to be ones that seem to enjoy growing stones at an alarming rate!), so it didn’t entirely make sense to me. Now that I’m reading it again it does. I am so tired of this whole “epidemic” thing. It seems like every day the mainstream media has a new “epidemic” of some sort to attempt to terrorize the public with. Granted, some of the things they report are things that are growing at epidemic rates, and are things that need more attention like texting and driving, or drinking and driving, or…well you get the idea. However, the size and shape of people’s bodies shouldn’t even really make “news.” I’d rather hear about things like the miracle of Southeast Texas getting a small amount of snow between tonight and tomorrow, or what is going on with things that actually matter, than them telling me that the size and shape of my body is somehow adversely effecting the world around me.

    On a side note, I had to go to the doctor on Tuesday because of this kidney business and found out that in 5 months I have lost almost 50 lbs. This startled the heck out of me because, while I live a decent lifestyle, eat healthy, get as much action as my body will allow, I have no aim to shrink my body size. My doctor usually doesn’t say anything about my weight, he realizes that there are so many other things to look at, and it doesn’t bother him. However, instead of saying “Ok, this rate of weight loss may be a bit alarming, let’s keep an eye on it,” he actually went to high-five me. I was dumbfounded. Unintentional and seemingly (at least to me) drastic weight loss seems like a bad thing, not something that deserves a high-five.

    1. I suppose the question is whether you’ve done anything differently in the last five months, in terms of eating or exercise. If you have, then maybe your body is going where it wants to.

      If you haven’t, then RUN to another doctor. Early last year, I started losing weight very fast. For a while me and my partner put it down to our new-found commitment to eating home cooked meals, but the weight loss got faster and faster.

      It turned out to be Stage IV cancer. Not that you probably have cancer, but there are a number of pathologies that will cause rapid weight loss and they need to be checked out IF you haven’t done anything differently in the past five months.

      When I look back, one of the most disturbing things out of the whole cancer experience is how many people complimented me on my weight loss. I had a grey face, a short temper and a cough that irritated everybody, plus I clutched my sides a lot. But no, grey face notwithstanding, I looked “great”.

      If you FEEL great then don’t worry. But if you don’t, please get checked out.

  14. If I ever had cancer and people were complimenting me on my weight loss, I would say to them “yes, chemotherapy will do that to you, thank you soooo much for the compliment!” in the most saccharine voice that I could muster.
    Almost 30 years ago I had to have a bunch of oral surgery and could only eat pureed food. I was fairly thin at the time (although I thought I was fat.) I ended up at 108 pounds. I felt and looked like hell. I was grouchy all the time, light-headed, pasty complexion, and my hair was brittle. But everyone complimented me on how wonderful I looked. WTF?
    I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis, Alexie. I wish you the best.

  15. These last couple posts remind me of when Kat and I went to the wake for Heather McAllister at El Rio in San Francisco. One woman, a cancer survivor, read a whole long poem about how she wanted her weight back which she’d lost during treatment and never was able to regain, and how enraged she was at those who told her how good she looked.

  16. This post makes me want to go round the internet tagging headless fatty pictures with stories of the people, like you did here. There’s no excuse for headless fatty pics, and when I see them, I feel appalled and upset for the real people in them.

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