Bob Harper’s Heart Attack

I think this broke the record for fastest time to me getting 100 requests to write about something: Bob Harper has suffered a heart attack.  If you’re not familiar, Bob is one of the original trainers, and now the host, on the abomination of a show that is The Biggest Loser.

He was working out in a gym when it happened and luckily an MD was nearby to give him CPR and use the defibrillator to keep him alive. He was unconscious for 2 days. (At this point I’d like to point out that you can get CPR certified and learn how to use the Automated External Defibrillators and possibly save a life.)

I want to start here:  I’m sorry that Bob had a heart attack, I’m glad that he is recovering (and that he is lucky enough to be able to afford the care he needs – including a 10+ day stay in the hospital.)  I take no joy whatsoever in his health issues.

I also understand, and experience, the frustration that the people e-mailing me and asking me to write about this are talking about.

Because every story about Bob’s heart attack mentions his genetics, and the fact that genetics are a huge part of heart attack risk. That’s true, of course.  The issue here is that you won’t hear Bob telling that to the contestants he is screaming at on the show, and you will never see the media fall all over themselves to talk about genetics when a fat person has a heart attack.

Bob makes his money telling people to attempt to manipulate their bodies in ways that are dangerous – sometimes very dangerous (and also, by the way, hardly ever work) because, he tells them, it will help them avoid heart attacks.  Bob makes his money suggesting that fat people should be blamed for having heart attacks (as if genetics don’t play a part in body size, or risk of heart attacks,) but now suggests that thin people should not –  even if those thin people participate in under-eating and/or over-exercising which can also predict heart issues.

For the record, I believe in blame free, shame free, future oriented healthcare, so even if Bob’s habits around food, exercise, sleep and/or stress played a part in his heart attack I don’t think that he should be blamed or shamed for it.

This situation brings the following into sharp relief:

  • Thin people have all the same health issues as fat people, so being thin or becoming thin (even if it was possible for more than a tiny fraction of fat people) can neither be a sure preventative nor a sure cure for any health issue.
  • Regardless of anything else, health is not an obligation or barometer of worthiness. Though research suggests that behaviors (rather than body size, or body size manipulation) are the best way to support health, there are many other aspects that contribute to health outcomes that are not in our control (including the oppression that comes from being fat in a sizeist world.)
  • The Biggest Loser is a horrific show in which fat people are physically and emotionally abused and it needs to go off the air. If the show were done with dogs instead of humans it wouldn’t have lasted even a single season because animal rights activists would have (rightly) gotten it shut down for cruelty.  This has nothing to do with Bob’s heart attack, it’s simply a fact I like to point out at every available opportunity.

A big part of fat phobia in our culture revolves around the idea of a “healthy weight” as if there is a weight you can achieve at which you will be immortal unless and until you get hit by a bus.  This does a disservice to everyone since it suggests that for fat people the only thing we can do to support our health is try to manipulate our body size (which, again, is not what the research says) and it suggests that thin people are healthy because of their body size, which is also not what the research says.

What we need is a paradigm that is based on health, not body size, where the focus is on creating a world where people have the opportunity to love and appreciate their bodies, and see them as worthy of care, and where everyone has access to types of movement they want to do, types of food they want to eat, and the kind of healthcare that wealthy people like Bob Harper get. That’s what Health at Every Size is about.  So let’s have a reality show about that.

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22 thoughts on “Bob Harper’s Heart Attack

  1. OK, I just cannot imagine the thoughts running through the minds of Biggest Loser contestants as they read about this, especially the “He had a heart attack because of genetics, Genetics, GENETICS!” bit.


    Weren’t there some contestants that collapsed and had “incidents” during the “training” they received from this guy? But that was blamed on them being awful food-vacuum slugs, and of course, neither genetics, nor overwork/underfuel played any part, whatsoever?

  2. You are a better person than I am Ragen. I saw that and thought (Man who came to dinner accent) “We’ll isn’t that just too bad.”
    Maybe it happened because he is a mean hateful angry person and it just tore his heart apart to be vicious for so long.

    1. That’s what I figured caused my dad’s heart attack. You can’t be that hateful and angry all the time without it being bad for your heart and blood pressure.

  3. Completely agree with almost everything you say Ragen, as usual. I have noted that you often refer to health behaviours as being more important determinants of health than body size, and certainly in a contest between the two, health behaviours win hands down. However, according to a ton of research now, health behaviours pale in comparison to what are commonly referred to as the social determinants of health.

    These include socio-economic status, the social environment, cultural environment, policy and legislative environment, economic environment, natural environment and built environment. In fact, collectively these account for about 60% of the determinants of health, and health behaviours only account for about 20%, with medical care accounting for about 15% and biological factors like age, sex, and other genetic and physiological factors accounting for about 5%. Even the CDC acknowledges this on their website:

    So whilst I completely agree that health behaviours are more important that body size and other biological factors, the social determinants of health are significantly more important than all of these combined.

    Keep up the great analysis.

    1. That’s as may be. We, as individuals, can’t do much, if anything, about those social determinants. However, we can control our own behaviors, so it’s still highly worthwhile to keep our focus on those, even as we work on our activism to improve society, at large.

      1. According to the AHA’s website, one of the best ways to combat heart attacks is knowing the symptoms so if you or someone you know has a heart attack, you can get them immediate help. The quicker the person makes it to the doctor, the better their prognosis.

    2. There was also a very large recent study showing that it is our personal relationships (spouse, friends, family, etc.) that is the biggest factor in health and longevity. This is regardless of socioeconomic status. Sorry I can’t remember the name of the study. So maybe things we consider to be healthy habits are actually healthy because they help us socialize and build community.

  4. Hey, look at that. A relatively young, thin, and fit person had a heart attack. It’s almost as is health is not a barometer of worthiness, not completely within our control, nor guaranteed under any circumstance. Huh, imagine that. Someone should have pointed that out before now …Oh, wait.

  5. I agree with Jen. Ragan is a better human being than I am. My first thought, upon hearing the news, was “Good! He deserves it, after what he and Jillian and everyone associated with that show has done over the years to contestants on that vile disgusting excuse for a TV show! Karma is sweet!”

    Even now, all I have in my head is Nelson from the Simpsons.

    And also the young USA gymnast, who commented, deadpan snarkily, upon watching a competitor from another country have a fall: “Awww. That’s toooooo bad!

  6. My sympathies to Mr Harper. My and I have both had heart attacks that had us in the hospital for many days. It’s a very painful and scary to happen. I don’t like his show but I hope he recovers well.

    1. Same here. I’ve never had a heart attack, but I know someone who has, and it’s easy to forget in these days of modern medicine that they are really serious and are still one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It’s a relief he pulled through, and good on the gym for having all the necessary personnel and equipment on hand, too.

  7. I admit I haven’t followed this story closely–I have enough close friends with serious health concerns than to delve into those of strangers, whether for gossip or shadenfreude–and this is not on topic, but I keep seeing that he “was unconscious” for two days. Was he, or was he in a medically-induced coma, a common part of treatment for cardiac events?

    Meanwhile, thin and fit people continue to have the same health problems fat people do, including heart attacks among marathoners as well as Homer Simpsons, and the media will continue to reassure us that they are flukes caused by genetics while fatty-fat-fattypants’ problems are entirely their own fault.

  8. Golly! One less guarantee in life- that thin = healthy.


    I’ve never watched the show. But I understand that the “trainers” are pretty rough. Maybe this’ll instill some compassion towards others. Maybe even acceptance of others as well.

  9. I think the expression is “the chickens coming home to roost” – meaning that your offensive words or actions are likely at some point to rebound on you.
    It is DISGUSTING that this program continues because the real research (not paid for by the diet industry) shows that over-exercising and under-eating will result in regaining weight – PLUS additional “insurance pounds” that the body adds to prevent you from starving next time.
    But they make over $60 BILLION a year of castigating heavy people and blaming them- And on their show, practically every one of the contestants has eventually gained back most of the weight- not their fault, just their body doing what’s natural.
    Bottom line: don’t EVER diet- unless you want to gain MORE weight!
    And being heavy doesn’t mean you are unhealthy- just like being slender doesn’t mean you are HEALTH! …Just like Bob Harper.

    1. I really wish someone could have told me all of this when I was young. I started dieting before I was 10, first forced by my mom, then around 11 and 12 by buying my own food, counting calories, cooking. I should have just left it alone. I feel most of my weight is “insurance pounds,” as you say. This is why I will not restrict my 10 year old son. He is 5′, 130 pounds, strong, healthy, and beautiful. He doesn’t look really fat, just stocky. I accept that he will be a big boy his whole life and I am fine with that. I believe that if I force him to diet he will become much larger. We eat healthy, about 90% all homemade, and he keeps active, that is all I encourage, and maybe sometimes I do cut him off when he is eating way too much, but mostly because I don’t want him to feel sick later. Unfortunately, kids at school already tease him. I do talk to him a lot about body acceptance (not just for girls,) and make him understand how perfect he is, and how perfect everyone else is no matter their bodies. I also try to comment in a positive way when we see people in life or on TV who are heavier, or have a disability, are gay or transgender, or different ethnicities/races. I say things like, “he (or she) is very handsome or beautiful,” or “wow, that person sings really great,” or something like that.

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