Fat People and Tax Dollars

“As long as my insurance and tax dollars continue to pay for there [sic] diabetes, and heart disease, I’ll continue to feel justified in telling every overweight person I see that they need to lose weight.  Shame is powerful and there [sic] fat is costing me real money”

So I read when I broke the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and read the comments.

First of all, when someone brings this up I typically demand to see their list of things that their tax dollars pay for, broken down into things that they want to pay for and things that they don’t, and the interventions in which they are participating for each of the things they don’t want to pay for.  Nobody has ever produced such a list – I think that’s because this really doesn’t have anything to do with their tax dollars, it’s simply a convenient way to couch their size bigotry.

This argument is based on shaky claims that fat people are unhealthy and going to cost more money than thin people in healthcare.   I’m going to look at this two ways.  First the reality, and then as if those assumptions were true:


Independent research has shown that the cost claims about fat people’s healthcare are seriously overblown (thanks to a world where people can say almost anything about fat people and it will be believed.)   The truth is, you cannot tell how healthy a person is by looking at them, you can only tell what size they are.  There is no such thing as a healthy weight.  Health is complicated, multidimensional, and not entirely within our control.  People make all kinds of choices that don’t prioritize their health, they are allowed to make those choices, and you can’t tell based on their size.

Also, research from Columbia has shown that shame and stigma can have negative affects on our health, so it’s possible that if their tax dollars are paying for fat people’s healthcare, they may  actually paying for the results of their fat shaming and bigotry. (We’ll never know the effects that shaming has on fat people until we stop shaming fat people.)

Fat people are targeted because we are easily identifiable by sight, and it’s never a good idea to take a group of people who can be identified by sight and suggest that they should be eradicated to make things cheaper for everyone else.  Not to mention that nobody making this argument can show a single method of weight loss that has been shown to work for more than a tiny fraction of people over the long term.

But let’s pretend that the assumption is true.  In that case:  I’m fat, so I’m unhealthy and may cost more money. But…

Fat people pay taxes too, and our taxes go to pay for the war on obesity – we are actually funding a war waged against us by our government for the purpose of our eradication.

I’ve never even smoked a cigarette.  And yet my tax dollars go to all the people who get health problems related to smoking.

I don’t drink.  I’ve never even been drunk. And yet my tax dollars pay for cirrhosis, drunk driving accidents and alcohol poisoning.

I’ve never done drugs.  And yet my tax dollars pay for people whose lives and bodies fall apart due to drug addiction.

I look both ways before I cross the street.  And yet I have to pay for people who get run over after failing to do so.

I don’t mountain climb, but my tax dollars pay for the healthcare costs of people whose attempts to do so are dramatically unsuccessful.

And well they should, because that’s how civilized societies behave. I would rather my tax dollars pay for antibiotics to cure bronchitis than pay for an ER visit and hospitalization for pneumonia.  And I’d rather my tax dollars pay for an ER visit and hospitalization for pneumonia than pay for a public funeral because someone didn’t have access to healthcare.  I think that a society where everyone has access to healthcare is better from every possible angle and so I’m interested in removing barriers to healthcare, not justifying them with an argument about my tax dollars.

Even if health was entirely within our control, I’d  rather my tax dollars go to the healthcare of people who make different choices than I do than live in a world where there is someone who gets to tell us all how we should live and I think that the people making the “fat people and my tax dollars” argument would agree.  I’ve also noticed that people who want to police my “health” (and by health I actually mean body size which is not the same thing) are never that excited to have other people police their health.  Should vegans only have to pay for the healthcare of other vegans if they believe that’s the healthiest lifestyle?  Should Christian Scientists taxes not have to pay for any healthcare at all?  Should people without cars not have to pay taxes for the road, should people without kids not have to pay taxes for schools?  Since I think that people who make this argument are bullies should I not have to pay for their healthcare since I don’t like bullies?

Marathoners drop dead of heart attacks.  People who do everything “right” (“right” here having the meaning of “what health concern trolls say we should do”) die of diseases to which they were genetically predisposed. Other people live their lives in ways with which we disagree, we live our lives in ways with which other people disagree, and all this “won’t somebody think of my tax dollars” hand wringing is nothing but thinly veiled fat bigotry.

If someone starts talking about their tax dollars, I tell them that I need to see the list of things their tax dollars pay for, broken down into things they do and don’t agree with, and the interventions they are involved in for everything they think makes their taxes too high. Otherwise, I’m going to assume that this is a bullshit excuse for engaging in weight bullying and this conversation is over.

Bottom line:

Even if they could prove that being fat makes me unhealthy (which they can’t). And even if they had a method that was scientifically proven to lead to successful long term weight loss  (which they don’t). And even if there was proof that losing weight would make me healthier (which there isn’t). And even if they were going to go around yelling at smokers, drinkers, jay walkers, and thin people who climb mountains (which they aren’t) this slope is still too slippery.  And that doesn’t take into account the reality that their premise is completely flawed, their assumptions are faulty, and their method of shaming people is utterly ineffective since they can’t make us hate ourselves healthy or thin.

So I think it would be dandy if they would just shut up.

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35 thoughts on “Fat People and Tax Dollars

  1. I think I love you in a platonic girl way. Also I am saving this email in my “important info” folder, for those times I read stupid fat shaming comments online, so that I can paraphrase you to them. Because I can never think of what to say nearly as eloquently as you can.

  2. “Shame is powerful and there [sic] fat is costing me real money”

    First off, how much “real money”? Give me a dollar value. Because I bet they have absolutely no idea how much, or how much is spent per fat person, or how much is spent on fat people who need medical treatment for things not remotely related to weight, or any other useful breakdown. And you know what? I’d probably give them a hundred times what I’m costing that person personally (as it would probably still only cost me a couple of pennies), just to get them to shut up about it.

    Secondly, yes, shame is a powerful motivator. It’s not a good motivator, or a healthy motivator, or an appropriate motivator, but it sure is powerful. Maybe it’s too bad there’s not more shame in being an arrogant, self-righteous bully who wants to be everyone’s Underpants Overlord.

    1. 😀
      How true that often the arrogant, self-righteous bullies get patted on the back for their crap behavior.
      We could change the world tomorrow if we, to a person, would either ignore these asshats or throw their bullcrap back in their face. Unfortunately, only a handful of people are doing this.

  3. I tried several times to post this to my Facebook wall (as I do fairly often, as I feel more people need to hear what you’re saying), and I keep getting: “The message could not be posted to this Wall.” I’m able to post everything else I want to without a problem, so I’m wondering if you might be aware of something going on at your end of things…? Is anyone else having this problem?

    1. I’ve had the same problem. It’s facebook I think. They get uptight about wordpress. Have you tried sharing it from Ragen’s page?

  4. I am thinking of an activity with my health students where they pair up and.. or maybe just evaluate me… and guess what they can tell about me from just looking at me… then ‘clue them in’ to reality and try to dry home the point of not judging a book by it’s cover or a person by their size. I’m really working to incorporate Health at Every Size and to eliminate diet talk and food shaming/fat shaming in my middle school classes. Not sure it will be much of a difference in a world where t.v. uses every possible stereotype and slur for humor and the kids’ parents are already imbedded in the fat hating culture. But I’m gonna try.

      1. I agree — sounds like a great exercise. But I’d also add a component where each person is assigned to do the same (anonymously) about a different member of the class. It would be effective to correct their assumptions about you — even moreso to understand that others are making assumptions about them, too.

    1. I like exercises that force kids to confront their own assumptions and prejudices. If it gets even one kid to look a little more closely at assumptions about health and/or weight, it would be a great success.

    1. Jim Fixx, one of my favorite examples, the original jogger and he could not defer the genetic inevitable

  5. My father never smoked. My mother-in-law smoked two packs a day for fifty years. They both died of lung cancer. Believe me, my mother-in-law’s suffering was every bit as miserable as my father’s, and I don’t give a shit what caused either one to die in that horrible way. I’m glad both had doctors who treated them with dignity through the ends of their lives.

    1. Dana Reeve (Christopher Reeve’s wife) died of lung cancer, and she didn’t smoke. Of course even if a person smoked like a chimney, they deserve to be treated with kindness at the end of their life.

  6. Perfectly timed. I have to talk to my supervisor at work today about a couple of instances of concern trolling/fat discrimination that have happened at work recently. I’m nervous about it, but hopeful.

  7. Oh, wow. Thanks for mentioning the “thin people who climb mountains.” I was commenting on a fat-bashing article once and made the points that pro and amateur athletes are quite prone to getting expensive injuries that need long-term care. Dedication = tax dollars. You should’ve seen the hue and cry that broke out from that. 😀

    1. I agree! I have often pointed to extreme athletes and mentioned that these people purposely put themselves in harm’s way–and they are applauded for doing so. Think of the cost of resources for monitoring and treating injuries at X-Games types of venues. It is possible that corporate sponsorship may foot some of the bill, but I doubt they pay for all.

      1. You don’t even have to go to extreme sports. The NFL is the cause every year to dozens of broken bones, repeat concussions, and spinal cord injuries, not to mention all the blown knees, sprains, strained ligaments, etc. Nobody ever calls playing football unhealthy, but it’s actually costing a lot of health dollars every day it’s played.

        1. And with the NFL I get the extra eye-roll reflex at the random “He’s athletic, for a big guy” comments about the larger players like Offensive Linemen.

          I love watching American Football, and that comment gets me every time. Of course he’s athletic–he’s a freaking athlete!

          For male athletes, American Football (especially college football) is a pretty good example that athletes come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. But for some reason people fail to remember that when faced with the random person on the street who does not fit within their percieved window of a “healthy” size.

  8. This topic irritates me so much! I’ve been considering researching and putting together a comparison paper on the topic of the Cost of Fat vs the Cost of Extreme Sports in the Healthcare System. I’m willing to bet that the results would prove *very* interesting!

    1. I would love to see statistics on the costs associated with extreme sports. Many are lauded for their activities and fitness… and here these people purposefully put their bodies in harm’s way.

    2. Melissa, that would be a really interesting paper to read and would likely start any number of conversations! I’d love to have something like that available from HAESians 🙂

  9. I’ve come up with a new one, which fits extremely well for me given that I’m a massage therapist and yoga teacher, and one of the most common complaints I hear relate to stress.

    So my question when I hear this BS about tax dollars and fat people is that if said concern troll is so concerned about health spending, why don’t they harass the stressed. It’s become a common adage today that “stress is the plague of our time.” It is well-known that one of the leading causes of illness today is stress. So if a concern troll wants to target a group, why trifle with fat people? Why not go to the group that’s at highest risk for illness, the stressed? How about people who choose high-stress jobs, or people who chronically overload or overwork themselves, or people who choose to be in high-stress relationships, etc. Why not throw stressed single-mothers under the bus, or people living under the stress of taking care of sick family members?

    Because it is so ridiculous to conceive of a “War on Stress,” it often makes peoples’ eyes go wide and their mouths go silent, even if for a second. I love the look of cognitive dissonance!

    1. My schedule is a lot less healthy for me than the scale reading of 300 pounds. I work graveyard shift, and it is often very difficult to sleep during the day. I have to be so exhausted that I’m literally about to drop, and even then its hard for me to sleep. I would warrant that aside from heredity, my stressful work schedule is the greatest contributor to my hypertension issues.
      For the “just change jobs” brigade, that’s easier said than done. I actually prefer working the night shift, for a myriad of reasons, and it is not that easy for a person pushing 50 to “just change jobs,” given the ageism that is rampant in this society.

      1. Hi Real Cie,
        I certainly hope you didn’t take my comment to mean that I was serious about starting a “War on Stress” (or the Stressed)! I use this tactic as a facetious way of opening people’s eyes to how ridiculous their “but you’re costing me tax dollars, fatty” argument is.

        And to your point, it is very irritating when people make off-the-cuff remarks like “just change your job,” as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Blergh.

        1. Oh no, not at all! I was actually in agreement with you. I tend to come off as defensive–probably because always being under attack has a tendency to make a person defensive!

  10. This is slightly off-topic, but I was actually thinking about the Christian Scientist thing the other day, because my great grandmother was a Christian Scientist. If Catholic organizations can provide health insurance doesn’t pay for birth control, then can Jehovah Witnesses provide insurance that doesn’t pay for blood transfusions, and can Christian Scientists provide insurance that doesn’t pay for any conventional medical care? I wonder how all of that is going to work out…

  11. Reblogged this on Talk Shop With Cie and commented:
    “As long as my insurance and tax dollars continue to pay for there [sic] diabetes, and heart disease, I’ll continue to feel justified in telling every overweight person I see that they need to lose weight. Shame is powerful and there [sic] fat is costing me real money”
    Shame is powerful–okay! Then my being the Proper English Police should shame every nimrod who writes like this into using the proper word (THEIR) in sentences!
    I only pull the “spelling police” card with people I consider to be irredeemable idiots. I do not pull it with everyday people who might happen to not have the best skills in this area. Not everyone has the same strengths.
    Yes, please, fat bashers, show us the proof that fat people “cost more.” On a personal level, I have not called in sick to work in several years. I go to the doctor once or twice a year, and I pay for it out of my own pocket. The last time I was in the emergency room turned out to be for wax pushing against my eardrum causing me to have vertigo. Excess ear wax is not a problem that only fat people endure.
    My hypertension is not entirely under control at this point–hypertension being a problem that many people of all sizes pushing fifty have to deal with. It is spiking at times–this in spite of the fact that I exercise more now than I did during the past five years and eat far less meat and more vegetables. I’m doing lots of things right, but because I’m fat, it’s obviously all my fault, although there are many fat people who aren’t dealing with hypertension.
    Our bodies aren’t all the same. One cannot put all persons with the same body type into one category.
    With this body type, I’m also supposed to have diabetes. I don’t. I’m also supposed to have heart disease. I don’t. I do have a mitral valve prolapse, which is not a disease, it is a structural malfunction. Mine is minor and does not require surgery. The worst complication from it is the heart palpitations, which vary depending on other factors such as the amount of rest I’ve had.
    Both the hypertension and the mitral valve prolapse appear to be hereditary. My father wasn’t fat, in fact he was something of a healthist. Yet his life was devastated by a major hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 68. He ended up developing congestive heart failure and dying at the age of 74. His cardiovascular system was a mess. At the end, his body was bloated with fluids from the CHF.
    My mother, who falls into the “slightly overweight” category on the BMI chart, also has hypertension and a mitral valve prolapse.
    I am desperately trying to avoid the problems that my father (who again, was NOT fat) had. I do not want to die the way he did.
    There are those out there who would say that all I have to do is lose weight and I will somehow, magically, live forever. Yet one of the nurses at the place where I work, who was a very tiny woman, recently died.
    Doctors need to treat the patient, not their body type. As a wise EMS instructor said, “treat the patient, not the chart.”
    End of rant.

  12. I loved this and immediately shared this on FB because it is the best and most clear article I have ever read that takes on the ” I do not want my tax dollars to go to paying for..” I am always blown away by your articles and this one is one of the best! Thank you Ragen!

  13. This is the best explanation I’ve ever read/heard about all those tax dollars other (thin) people are paying out for us. I will copy this and memorize it!

  14. I am commenting five years late, after coming here from a different post.

    Research suggests that the people who cost taxpayers the most are those super-healthy people who are jogging when they are 70. Guess what? They are still mortal! And guess what? They are the ones who are likely to be in a nursing home for a decade before dying of dementia. And guess, what? They collect retirement benefits, as well as having Medicare, that whole time!

    People with Type 2 diabetes, which I have, are likely to pay into Medicare and Social Security for their whole lives, and then not live long enough to collect much.

    The research here, though, is stronger with smokers. Smokers cost *less* in medical care than do non-smokers. I have seen research on retirement benefits, but I’m sure the difference there is more pronounced, with non-smokers *really* costing more.

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