Fear and loathing in overweight America

Between skinnier and skinnier celebrities and fatter and fatter everyone else, I expect our culture to explode in a fiery rain of fad diets and rib bones any day now. Today’s news is a classic example of the perfect fat-storm engulfing the nation. Essentially, everyone hates fat people, even as more and more people become obese.

Though obesity is a health issue, the dialogue is a finger-shaking moral one. If you are fat, you are slovenly and bad. Let me tell you how disgusting you are, and then you will want to lose weight! In this article, the researchers seem to think that there is insufficient social pressure to lose weight. I highly doubt telling someone how repulsive they are makes them want to overhaul their lifestyle.

There are plently of massive social sanctions against obesity – in fact, I got the above article from Shifting Baselines, who saw fit to illustrate their point by contrasting a John Singer Sargent (I think) painting with an actual photo of a real woman, held up to be scorned. Clearly, there is plenty of social sanction against obesity when it is ok to post an obese person’s photo to your Serious Science Blog for public mockery. [EDIT: In response to my comment, Shifting Baselines changed the photo to a more anonymous one.]

Finally, remember my post a while back on how BMI does not really correlate with what we think of as fat? NPR reports that your friendly corporate overlords are ready to use your health (and that of your children) to reward or punish you.

Companies are cracking down on the health of their employees. IBM recently said that starting next year it will pay employees $150 if they sign up their kids for a program to fight childhood obesity.

Clarian Health recently revised controversial plans to penalize workers for smoking, having high blood pressure, or body mass index over a certain limit.

The moves are part of a trend among a growing number of employers to monitor their workers’ health. After all, it costs more to insure smokers and overweight people.

Now, in my happy-land everyone is healthy and active, and a certain degree of obesity is usually incompatible with that. But this moralizing has got to stop. It’s making everybody insane. I mean, is this how people really eat? Obsessing about food all the time, doing every fad diet, and eating all the highly processed but “low-cal” food under the sun?

I think that half our problems would be solved if people ate only real food. If you don’t know what an ingredient is – sulfur dioxide, anyone? – don’t eat it. I’m fully aware of the class implications here – preparing food takes time, fresh ingredients cost money, etc. – but don’t you think that subsidizing healthy food is cheaper than subsidizing diabetes? Or worse, docking people’s pay?

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6 Responses to Fear and loathing in overweight America

  1. infragilis says:

    “I think that half our problems would be solved if people ate only real food. ”

    Quoted for truth.

    The funny (in a really sad way) thing about real food is that, once you’ve had it, processed food doesn’t really taste like anything. I had a hamburger, one night, that was made from grass-fed beef, hand-made buns, and farm-grown cheddar, and it was -amazing-. The Wal-Mart-beef, Wal-Mart-bun, “American” cheese burger I ate a few nights later tasted like … nothing. How odd.

  2. Sam says:

    And a big reason fresh food costs so much more is that our farm laws subsidize processed corn products, rather than actual food. So how ’bout we subsidize food that will make people healthier, if we really think obesity is a public health crisis?

    Have I mentioned that I hate everyone?

  3. If people realized how much money they waste when buying that bag of chips, can of soda and box of sugar, they’re be in shock.

    Eating healthy is cheaper than eating poorly.

    Eliminate the crap and save money.

  4. Dread Polack says:

    True. I’ve been overweight since I was about 5. I’m 28 now. One of the things scientists are learning is how little control we really have over our weight. The vast majority of people who try to lose weight don’t, and the vast majority of people who do gain it back. This is not a simple matter of not being disciplined enough. Despite what you do, your metabolism has the final say in what it does with the food you eat.

    Personally, I spent over a year working out ever other day for 2 hours a shot. I watched what I ate. I weight 230 lbs all the way through. I haven’t worked out for about two years now, and eat fast food 3 times a week and I weigh 230 lbs.

    Diet and exercise affect weight to different degrees depending on the person. Some people are skinny despite being lazy and eating poorly. Some people diet and exercise and can’t lose weight. Some people face food cravings most of us can’t imagine. Despite this, the general assumption in the public is, as you said, that fat people are guilty of now fewer than 2 sins- sloth and gluttony, and that thin people are paragons of virtue. This kind of thinking isn’t making people any healthier.

  5. I agree; moralizing certain weights or BMIs is not only not healthy (mentally, for sure, and probably physically as well – I could see eating disorder backlashes), but it’s also not accurate. BMI is such a faulty system; what if someone is muscular, for example? Besides, it’s an individual thing. It’s important to have support, but someone’s body is their own, and not a corporation’s. I think that things like body composition scales are useful tools for people, but not for companies.

  6. childhood depression symptoms…

    […]Fear and loathing in overweight America « The Oyster’s Garter[…]…

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