When They Say “War on Obesity” I Hear “Casualties”

Design by Kris Owen
Design by Kris Owen

Twenty-one year old Eloise Perry bought diet pills on the internet.  The pills are believed to contain dinitrophenol, also known as DNP.  The UK government had warned people about taking pills with DNP because it is very dangerous. The pills killed her. Many people are outraged because “she wasn’t even fat.”  I am outraged at the idea that her size would matter.

At the age of 32, Christina Mettias was pushed by her doctor to have Weight Loss Surgery. She was in perfect health and didn’t meet any of the criteria for having the surgery – including the ratio of weight and height – but her doctor scared her into having the surgery.  After 14 additional surgeries to correct the problems that landed her in intensive care for three months, she still suffers from painful abdominal scar tissue, daily vomiting, chronic eating problems and intolerance to oral food. But she’s thin. These complications are not uncommon. The $4.25M judgment against the United States (she received the surgery at a Department of Defense hospital that offers this it for free) must be cold comfort.

Zoya Khan had 80% of her stomach amputated.  At age one. You read that right, 12 months into her life doctors gave her irreversible weight loss surgery because she had become fat due to a genetic disorder. There is absolutely no research on what giving a one year old what amounts to a medically induced eating disorder before she can walk or talk will do to her.  But, hey, at least now she’s thi… no, wait. She didn’t lose any weight at all.  Doctors are baffled, baffled I tell you! But don’t worry because “the doctor plans to conduct a leptin gene (responsible for obesity) study on her once she turns five” and “The case will be presented in an international forum.” So they are holding off on a leptin gene test until she is five but they were completely happy to give her a major organ amputation at one. But at least the doctor will get to present the findings, right? This is the end result of the obesity epi-panic.

Whenever I hear “War on Obesity” I think “wars have casualties” A war on obesity is a war on fat people, and a war on people has injuries and deaths and collateral damage and that’s exactly what’s happening.  And the casualties are all sizes and all ages, and not a single one of them should ever have happened, or would have happened if our society wasn’t obsessed with manipulation of body size as a path to health.

We must end this war. These casualties are completely unnecessary and we could stop them today. We could understand that weight and health are two separate things that are both complicated, not an obligation or barometer of worthiness, not entirely within our control, and not guaranteed under any circumstances, and then we could be for creating access to food and movement options for everyone, instead of against fat bodies.  Doctors would need to get themselves together, leave their size bias at home, and provide a proper standard of care based on health and symptoms and not weight (which would include, you know, using a diagnostic tool besides staring at us fully clothed and guessing).  Fat bashers would need to find a new sport.  Everyone would need to remember that public health is about making information and access available to the public and not making the individual’s body the public’s business.

But the first step, the very first step, is for fat people to realize that we deserve respectful treatment and then demand it.  No matter what size we are, why we are the size, or even if someone wants to change their size, they can still claim their right to be treated with respect in the bodies they have now.  Respect, and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should not be contingent on body size (or “health” or “healthy behaviors” by any definition) and the more fat people who demand respectful treatment in every area of their lives, the more allies who will come forward to support us. Remember they say “War on Obesity” we hear “Completely unnecessary casualties” and that is not ok If they want a war, we will damn well give them one!

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14 thoughts on “When They Say “War on Obesity” I Hear “Casualties”

  1. This is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy: the doctor for the little girl in India who had the surgery at age 1 said, “We have succeeded in restricting the weight from increasing. Once she starts walking, her weight will come down.” Um, and he knows that – how? When he doesn’t seem to know why she’s still fat after the surgery (per the article)?

    1. If it’s a genetic disorder, her body is likely storing fat in preference to making calories metabolically available, which leaves a fast-growing child *where* with a sharply reduced ability to process food? Pretty horrible experiment.

    2. And they’re so concerned that she’s taller, but still weighs the same. Doesn’t that mean less fat, and more bone and muscle, and organs and all that jazz?

      What the heck is wrong with these people?

      I feel so sorry for that child.

  2. I’ve been saying this a lot recently… there are casualties to every war, and a lot of them involve people who aren’t even the targeted “enemies.”

    One of the really sickening parts of the story about poor little Zoya is that the doctor still seems to take credit for her weight not going UP, either. They don’t even understand the condition that’s caused her to gain weight so fast, or why it’s meant she’s not lost weight despite the surgery, but he’ll take credit for that part. And I, too, would love to know why they have to wait to do the leptin gene study until she is 5, but can do irreversible surgery, for which the potential complications are horrific in adults and pretty much unknown completely in an INFANT, when she’s just a year old?!

    There’s also the story of this little girl, and I’ve always been upset by it and find some of the things said about the “before and after” questionable. The video, in particular, just makes me think so many of the things they talk about her doing… she could’ve done before, but I get the feeling she was considered “too fat” by her doctors/family to DO them. Also, just a year later she’d already regained 8 – 10 pounds of 60 lost. Now, she has a rare condition and maybe the surgery DID stop it from being a much bigger gain… but I still feel like in this story there is a lot of obesity hysteria happening, and particularly given how public her family made her story, it scares me for her future.


    But then there are actually thin people damaged by this War, too. People who think that, simply by virtue of being thin they don’t need to do anything else to be healthy. People so terrified of becoming fat (even when they’re a completely “normal” weight on the stupid BMI charts, or even underweight, to start) that they go to desperate, dangerous measures to avoid it.

    I read a story yesterday, one that had nothing to do with weight… about a woman who battled severe mental health problems and ultimately lost her battle. Her mother wrote the piece, and she said that the average time it takes someone experiencing a psychotic break to get help in the United States is SEVENTY weeks.

    This is the essay I am talking about, and it’s powerful and heartbreaking.


    I bring this up for a few reasons. Eating disorders – which DO NOT affect all fat or all thin people by any means, and which are very frequently not even externally visible, meaning a person with an ED might fit the visual criteria for “healthy” while actually being in both a physical and mental health crisis – are mental health issues. Anorexia is often cited as having the highest death toll of any mental health issue. The “War On Obesity,” at least in part, has created this generation of children who say things like they’d rather lose limbs than be fat, or they don’t want to wear their coats because they’ll look fat (I had a 3 year-old in one of my classes say that… turned out she’d overheard her thin mother say it). We’ve created such a panic and fear about being fat that children are developing eating disorders at early ages than ever before, and I absolutely think this is an example of the War hurting “innocent” bystanders, too. Since you know, as fatties we’re expendable. Not that this is right or true, of course, but that’s how we’re viewed by our own damn government. We’re Public Health Threat #1… or a major “public health crisis.”

    Well, sorry but I think the fact that someone in the midst of a severe mental health crisis not getting help for 70 weeks is a WAY bigger issue than how my body LOOKS on the outside. And god forbid if you’re experiencing said mental health crisis whilst being fat… I’ve had more than one “therapist” who more or less told me all of my unhappiness was created by my weight. And yes, at the time my weight made me unhappy… but why? Not because it was preventing me from doing things. But because I’d been taught by society, by my family, by my teachers, by everyone that being fat meant I was unlovable, that I was ugly, that I was somehow significantly less than.

    So, we have this severe lack of support, lack of understanding, lack of empathy, lack of concern for what mental health illnesses do. Then we take being fat and make that a HUGE public health priority, and in doing so create MORE mental health issues for millions of people… that includes people who are both actually fat and those simply truly, legitimately terrified of becoming fat.

    The priorities of our culture are so inordinately fucked up.

  3. The problem with someone dying from taking diet pills is that the diet pills killed someone, not the weight at which someone began taking them… though if that person wasn’t actually fat, there’s another layer of wrong here in that someone who wasn’t fat was so terrified of being fat that she literally (albeit accidentally) poisoned herself in order to avoid that appalling fate.

    Would that be the moral panic war equivalent of friendly fire?

  4. My niece has severe gastroparesis, a little-understood illness that’s on the increase among adolescent girls. The “complications” of weight loss surgery (daily vomiting, intolerance to oral food, constant pain) that you describe sound eerily like gastroparesis, which can and all too often does lead to death. It is unfathomable to me that surgeons can legally perform an operation with a high risk of inflicting this horrible condition on people who would otherwise never have had it.

    1. That sounds like what I have! Wiki said anorexia is also a known cause, plus I had over 2 decades of no salt in my diet. No wonder I feel like crap.

      I think my mom has it too, due to diabetes and no salt.

      1. I’m really sorry to hear that, Mich. I hope you and your mom have mild cases and can cope with it successfully. I hadn’t known about the anorexia connection (my niece hasn’t ever had anorexia and I’m familiar with gastroparesis only through her experience) but it makes sense that anorexia could cause lasting damage to one’s digestive system.

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