What Should Fat People Have to Do?

Public HealthAll kinds of things are being floated as things that fat people should have to do either by social pressure or government edict until we are thin (at which point we can ostensibly do whatever the hell we want as long as we don’t get fat.)  I’ve seen it suggested that we should be forced to exercise, forced to undergo mandatory counseling, forced to have our food and exercise monitored by the government etc.  The media publishes studies with highly questionable research methods funded by corporations which directly benefit from their findings as proof that fat people can’t be trusted to make decisions for ourselves.  It is suggested that completely untested interventions should be made mandatory for all fat people.  That’s how fat people become  unwitting- sometimes obligatory – participants in experimental medicine, sometimes with some truly horrible results and almost always without success.

This is all done under the guise that”fat people need to be healthier for the greater good”.  But upon even a light inspection this falls apart.  First of all, fat is not a behavior or set of behaviors – it’s a body size.  Just like thin isn’t a set of behaviors – it is a body size.  Just like there are fat athletes there are thin couch potatoes.  You can’t look at someone and tell from their body size what their habits are. or how healthy they are.

Upon examination the choice to focus on fat people is, at best, the result of people being incredibly lazy and trying to find a group that is identifiable by sight to blame for things study.   At worst it is simply thinly veiled bigotry.  Anytime we take a group of people who we can identify by sight and then attempt to calculate their cost on society, then create an initiative to eradicate them we are going down a bad road.  Researchers take “everybody knows” size prejudice and solidify it using poor research techniques and confirmation bias.  As Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor found when they reviewed the research around weight and health “Researchers have demonstrated ways in which bias and convention interfere with robust scientific reasoning such that obesity research seems to ‘enjoy special immunity from accepted standards in clinical practice and publishing ethics'”

Researchers base their work on “everybody knows” assumptions without even an attempt to provide proof of these assumptions.  Researchers claim to calculate how much fat people cost in extra fuel, when they don’t even have basic information like how many fat people own cars, and what kind.  The media continues to report that fat people are causing massive increases in healthcare costs when the evidence is clearly to the contrary.

Even if you believe that you can tell that fat people don’t prioritize our health just by looking at us, focusing on fat people is highly questionable when there are so many people who don’t prioritize their health who we celebrate.  We love Olympic athletes, but going 80 miles an hour down an ice track face first does not prioritize health.  We love pro football and basketball players but look what they do to their bodies.  We love our pop stars but the schedule that they keep to go on tour and all the publicity that they do to sell tickets does not prioritize health. Not to mention that plenty of people don’t get the recommended amount of sleep, don’t look both ways before they cross the street, eat soup while driving, and any number of things that don’t prioritize health, and that for every fat person you can find a thin person with the exact same habits but a different body.  The research shows that healthy habits are the best chance for a healthy body, instead of talking about what fat people “have to do” and having a war on us, why isn’t there a war on sedentary people or a war on people who don’t eat their vegetables, or a war on elite athletes?

Or, hey, here’s an idea – how about if we don’t have wars on people at all.  How about if stop acting like it’s our job to tell people what they “have to do” for their health for the greater good, because that becomes a slippery slope pretty fast. Who gets to dictate what healthy habits fat people, or people in general, “have to” practice – the person who eats paleo?  The one who eats raw foods vegan?

This is exactly why public health should be about providing options, information and access and not about saying that all people who look a certain way should have to do this or that. Let’s remember that health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, and agree that health and healthy habits are not an obligation nor a barometer for worthiness.   Let’s make sure everyone has access to the foods they want to eat, any movement options that they may choose, and affordable evidence-based healthcare.  Then let’s start to spread true information, like the fact that 30 minutes of moderate movement about 5 days a week provides tremendous health benefits to most people but will likely never lead to weight loss.  Of course nobody’s obligated to exercise but it would be nice to have true information about what “exercise” means so that we don’t get fooled by posters at the gym that suggest that we have to be miserable for hours every day to get any health benefit, when the truth is that three 1o minutes sessions a day of dancing around the living room in our underwear would get the job done.  Let’s quit assuming that we can look at someone’s size and know anything about them other than their size and our prejudices about their size.  Let’s stop trying to dictate what fat people “have to do” based on assumptions of what fat people do and don’t do as if that’s not just stereotyping and bigotry.  Let’s start giving everyone options, information, and access, and then respecting people’s individual decisions about prioritization and path for their health.  Voila – public health.

Cool news (well, at least cool to me):

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19 thoughts on “What Should Fat People Have to Do?

  1. Thank you. As always, a great article. I appreciate what you do so much. Reading your work helps me be prepared for questions and/or comments. Thanks.

  2. Ragen, I can’t tell you how much I enjoy opening my inbox and finding an email letting me know there’s a new post. You have a gift with words, and you have a gift with inspiring people. Thank you for all that you do in this battle. 🙂

  3. I love your posts so much. There are so many people I’d like to share these with… unfortunately they are still deep into the stigma and stereotyping and I fear they’d just end up blocking me. Ah well.

  4. You know what fat people HAVE to do? Pay taxes and die, like every other person. Death and taxes, the only non-negotiables in life.

  5. Every now and then I’m moved to say thank you. You are my source for reason in this fat hating world. Science and government colluding to eradicate people reminds me of the Nazis. Crazy!

  6. My husband is in the military and currently away attending a school. The first week, one of the lectures was about physical fitness and the entire lecture became about how thin=healthy and how fat people are draining the military’s resources as far as medical is concerned. Ugh!! But like I told him, it all comes back to how they label things. If he, being thin, goes in with a sore foot then it is documented in his records as a sore foot. If I go in with the same complaint it will be documented as a weight issue. THAT is the issue. Things that have nothing to do with weight are documented as such so we have the appearance of fat people costing a lot when it comes to medical treatment.

    Also, I find this entire idea of eradicating obesity frightening. I mean, aren’t we just steps away from them forcing us into camps for “our own good”. And if they can do it to fat people how long before they pick another group of people and decide they are the problem and start weeding them out? We certainly are on a slippery slope and I wish people would wake the hell up and see what is really going on.

    Oh–and yesterday while in the waiting room at the doc (my son has broken wrist–don’t worry he is skinny so it has nothing to do with his weight) there was a morning show on, promoting Bob Harper’s new book, Jumpstart to Skinny. OMG!! The title and then everything he was saying….it was all I could do not to stand up and start screaming at the television.

    He claims you can lose 20 pounds in 21 days–ya know, in case you have a big event to go to and need to be skinny. Because if you are fat you can’t possibly attend a reunion, wedding or beach vacation. And we all know losing virtually a pound a day is perfectly normal and that weight will NEVER come back and make you even fatter.Ugh….

    Ok, I need to go take a few breaths and relax. I got myself all angry all over again. lol

    1. “Because if you are fat you can’t possibly attend a reunion, wedding or beach vacation.”

      Funny thing, I went to my brother’s wedding on friday night. I was fat. Many other people there, including the bride, were fat. We seemed to have just as good a time as any of the thin people there. I spent much of the evening catching up with old friends I hadn’t seen in forever. They didn’t care whether I was fat or thin. They were just happy to see me because we’ve missed one another.

      I didn’t finish my slice of cake, but that’s because it didn’t taste very good, not because I was afraid of the calories. If anything, it made me want to bake a cake this week because I want to taste a good cake, now.

      Who wants cake?

    2. I’m right there with you, sister. I was in the military for 10 years, my hubby is still in the military, 22 years of service. I am now fat, he’s not changed much over the last 15 years. I am so happy to live where there’s a John’s Hopkins and get to enjoy the benefit of not going to a military doc. I have been to the doctor a number of times since going to JH, the synopsis never reads “overweight/obese ##-year-old female presents with” It reads ” ##-year-old female presents with…”

      The last time I went to the military docs the doctor thought I was faking my ankle injury. Turns out I had a broken tibia, and both my achiles and posterior tibialis were severely sprained. Yep, the fat lady was faking it!

      I am so happy that I now recognize that diets like that Bob Harper one are faddish and not healthy. There was a time (when I was active duty) that I would do any diet and work out like an animal to maintain a physique that barely passed military standards. I obsessed about my weight, but rightfully so! I could lose my job for being “overweight.” I have no intention of ever stepping on my scale at home ever again. I do not wish to fall back into disordered eating. Disordered eating–10 years ago if someone told me I had an eating disorder I’d have thought they were crazy. If they told me my approach to working out was obsessive and detrimental to my health I’d have thought them completely off their rockers!

    3. I’m afraid you’re too late. In Canada, there was an extensive program to sterilize undesirables like criminals, hysterics, first nations/Indians, women, etc. This was supported by the gov’t and the suffrage movement. The Famous Five were all for it too (eg. Nellie McClung). It continued the longest in Alberta, into the late 1970s, maybe early 1980s. It only stopped due to public outrage when it was discovered that a bulk of those sterilized hadn’t given consent and didn’t know it had happened to them.

      Also the Holocaust was Hitler’s way to “weed out” Jews from society, among others. Fat people are just the next step in genocidal tendencies.

      1. I am aware of the history and that was my point. We are headed in the same direction. People are shocked and appalled by those points in history. But think nothing of forcing fat people to pay a tax for being fat or being forced to hit the gym or be fined. These kinds of “rules” only make it a few steps before fatties get put into camps to make them “better”. And my point was that if we end up at that point, it only makes it that much easier to oppress and intern the next group deemed “bad”. That is why I’m so upset. Given what we’ve seen in history, why does no one see the slippery slope we are on? How can someone being saddened by what happened to Jewish people but then turn around and think it is ok to eradicate obesity–which is just a nicer way to see they want to get rid of fat people.

  7. My question is – what is it about the mere sight of fat that turns people into both idiots and fascists? People who would squeal blue murder about civil rights in any other context are quite OK with demanding the most intrusive and nasty actions against fat people.

    1. Fat-hating is probably a fairly good way to judge just how compassionate a person is. It’s very easy to go along with whatever society’s current mores are (it’s not NICE to use racial slurs or beat up homosexuals), but if someone falls prey to the current viciousness toward fat people, I think you can be pretty sure they’re not all that loving and tolerant toward other groups as well. The things that so-called liberals have said to me about African-Americans or immigrants would just blow your mind.

  8. I watched the video ’23 1/2 hours’ a few nights ago – I loved having you confirm this research showing that 30 minutes of moderate exercise is about where there is the most evidence of benefit. I can do that!
    And as always, I really appreciate the reminder to be gentle, with myself and others.

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