Global Warming: Blame My Fat Ass

I noticed this news (PDF) last week, grumbled briefly, and then fixed myself a sandwich.

Well? What’d you expect me to do in light of such awfulness?

Americans are now pumping 938 million gallons of fuel more annually than they were in 1960 as a result of extra weight in vehicles. And when gas prices average $3 a gallon, the tab for overweight people in a vehicle amounts to $7.7 million a day, or $2.8 billion a year.

The numbers are added costs linked directly to the extra drain of body weight on fuel economy. In a paper to appear in the October-December issue of the journal The Engineering Economist, the scientists conclude that each extra pound of body weight in all of today’s vehicles results in the need for more than 39 million gallons of extra gasoline usage each year.

It’s not the results or the calculations I have my problems with; data don’t care if you hate them. For a terrific summary of what I do have problems with, and why, I have to point you to Gina Kolata’s article, with what might be my favorite title ever: “For a World of Woes, We Blame Cookie Monster.”

The article includes this dead-on observation from a woman at the CDC:

Katherine Flegal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also wryly cautions against being quick to link cause and effect. “Yes, obesity is to blame for all the evils of modern life, except somehow, weirdly, it is not killing people enough,” she said. “In fact that’s why there are all these fat people around. They just won’t die.”

They won’t lose weight, they won’t die, they won’t do anything to spare us the sight of their fatty fatness! It’s horrible!

I had some jumbled-up thoughts about this I wanted to try to shake out here, but La Lubu’s already expressed them with her customary eloquence:

Frankly, I’d like to see every bone of contention in the feminism world start off with a blunt answering of the question: who holds the key to power here?, and then go from there. I got the impression from my brief look at the “appearance” threads that too many folks were answering that unspoken question, “the individual woman, as a consumer.” And that’s ludicrous.

Who holds the key to power? That’s the question, isn’t it? And if you answer “the fat person,” I think you, too, may be verging upon the ludicrous.

We all know the commonly prescribed remedy for obesity: Eat less, exercise more. And the corollaries: Eat more fresh vegetables and fruits, eat fewer refined starches. Eat more lean protein, eat fewer saturated fats. Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, at least 4-5 days a week.

I’m not saying these can’t be done; I’ve done them myself. I am saying that our society actively puts obstacles in the way of people trying to do them. Chicken breasts cost more than chicken legs. Lean steak costs more than ground beef. Fresh fish costs more than breaded fish sticks. Fresh produce, as has been mentioned here before, is not always available to the people who need it most, and exercise cannot always be conducted safely. Proper nutrition and exercise aren’t just health issues. They are also class and race issues.

And just from my own limited whitebread middle-class experience, here’s a typical set up: A woman with children works in an office at least an hour’s drive from her home in a city with poor public transit options. She wakes at 5:00 a.m., gets the children ready for day-care or school or both, gets herself out the door by 7:00 to be to the office by 8:00. She grabs something quick on the way, maybe a breakfast bar, or she just has coffee. Some thin person (it is always a thin person) brings in doughnuts or bagels to the office. Ooh, a couple of those would go good with coffee!

At 11:30 the “what’re you doing for lunch” conversations begin. Maybe she brought a salad from home, but it’s been one of those mornings and that doesn’t sound so good now. A couple of the girls are going out for pizza; would she like to come? Or maybe this is a work-through-lunch day. Could someone bring her something back to eat at her desk? Maybe a sandwich from the deli? Or, sure, a burger’s fine.

At 5-ish it’s time to race home and deal with the kids and throw together something for dinner. Maybe some Hamburger Helper? Or, wait: She can fix the kids hot dogs with macaroni and cheese while she fixes herself a bowl of cereal. A bowl of cereal’s not much, but it will alleviate the guilt over that cheeseburger she had for lunch.

Now it’s 10:00, the kids are finally in bed and, criminy, she’s starving. Is there any microwave popcorn in the house? Oh, SCORE.

That’s a fairly typical workday for the people who have it pretty good. I’m not even getting into the people who don’t have it good (but Barbara Ehrenreich’s got them covered), or the ones who have it even better, if “working 70-hour weeks” is in fact better.

In the U.S. we require, in order for you to get ahead, to secure even the right to a dream, two things minimum: That you drive a car, and that you put your health last. Then we wonder why everyone’s so fat. Then we get disgusted and blame fat people for everything we don’t like about this world we’ve made.

There has to be a better solution. It should start by answering La Lubu’s question: “Who holds the key to power here?”


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81 comments for “Global Warming: Blame My Fat Ass

  1. evil fizz
    October 29, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    “This is like, let’s find another reason to scapegoat fat people,” Dr. Oliver says.

    Thank you, NYT, for including this line!

  2. DAS
    October 29, 2006 at 5:22 pm

    And let’s not forget in your “typical set up”, the woman in question is actually quite sleep-deprived and otherwise so in need of energy, even when she has food choices available, it’s only reasonable for her to choose to eat foods that will give her the energy she needs to make it through the day rather than healthier, but maybe less likely to give short-term energy foods.

    I love also how the very same people who looove to talk about how people make rational decisions and that the market of and for rational deciders is better than the government or whatever at making decisions, regulation, etc. — and then, when people make rational decisions that the free-marketeers don’t like, somehow those people are scapegoated or otherwise condemned for being irrational or socially/self-destructive or what have ya. I’m sometimes amazed economic conservatives don’t explode from their internal contradictions.

    OTOH, though (and call me a troll if yoou must, even if I’m more of a niebelung than a troll ;) ), it certainly is the case that the lack of availability of healthy foods choices is not something that’s only bad because of some social construct that “thin is healthy”. The working stiffs who are forced or coerced into wrong food choices (OT: why don’t righty-tighties understand the concept of “coersion” except when they project the coersive practices of their organizations onto “abortionists” or those pushing “the gay agenda”?) are really being hurt by lack of proper nutrition — instead of doing the 21st century equivalent of “the poor should be happy they’re poor as theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, it is important that progressives take up nutrition as an issue.

  3. Gabriel Malor
    October 29, 2006 at 5:32 pm

    Lemme get this right. You want to find someone to blame (oops, I mean find “who holds the key to power”) because your hypothetical woman and all her real-world counterparts can’t turn down the doughnuts and cheeseburger?

    Why is it “ludicrous” to expect a woman to deal with obstacles in her way like any other adult? I’m curious to know what your solution is here after we find the guy to blame (I mean the power-key holder, of course)? From your above list, it appears that the first thing to do is mandate that chicken legs must cost the same as chicken thighs and steak must cost the same as ground beef. Those are some of the obstacles that you’re complaining of, right?

    Ilyka, since I cannot envision any circumstances where that kind of price jiggering will solve more problems than it creates, I’m curious to know what other solutions you’re thinking of.

  4. Mark S.
    October 29, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    I think it’s a pretty silly study. An extra twenty pounds of weight makes an infinitesimal difference in fuel efficiency, but if you multiply by 100 million over forty years, you’ll come up with a big number. It would be like doing a study on how men consume 900 million more gallons of oil because they tend to weigh more than women. How do you think the results of study like that would go down with the MRA contingent?

    It also deflects attention to the real problem of oil consumption: our cars are not fuel efficient enough. The first step would be repealing the stupid exemption for SUVs.

  5. October 29, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    For “who holds the key to power” here, I think I’d start with National City Lines, a holding company sponsored and funded by GM, Firestone, and Standard Oil. It’s ludicrous to bitch at folks for driving everywhere when public transportation was gutted before they, or their parents, were born.

    But hey, who wants to take bets on when the first person shows up who”ll say if we all just tried a little harder, we’d find out how easy and healthy and just plain righteous it is to walk everywhere? Hmm? Seventh comment? Seventeenth?

  6. October 29, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    Why is it “ludicrous” to expect a woman to deal with obstacles in her way like any other adult?

    You mean, like the glass ceiling?

  7. October 29, 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I can think, off the top of my head, some ways to fix the above problem:

    1) Have better and more widespread public transit. She wouldn’t have to get up at 5 in the morning if she didn’t have to ride the bus for an hour.

    2) Daycare at work facilities. Again, less time with preparation means that there is more time to eat, and eat well.

    3) Quit having 70 hour work weeks. We shouldn’t have to be working so many hours a week: pay a living wage and then actually hire people to come in and get the work done.

    4) Fast food restraunts are attempting (shoddily, but attempting) to go to healthier foods. I think this will go a long way in quick, cheap, and relatively healthy food alternatives.

    5) Make companies responsible for what they’re selling. Why is it that breaded fish sticks are cheaper? Because that hasn’t been fish in a long time: and it’s full of salt and preservatives.

    Finally, this isn’t about finding someone to blame. This is about not blaming other people. As far as I’m concerned, there are two ways of dealing with problems: the “nothing approach” and the “something” approach. You can look at this scenario and go “Well, she’s just a lazy stupid bitch, so she deserves to be fat and sneered at”. This would be the “nothing” approach. Nothing changes, including any of the actions you have to take, but you get to feel self-righteous. Then there’s the something approach: “What can we do so we can start removing barriers so people can be in better health?” This approach means a lot of thought, and it means that you have to leave out some comfortable things, but something actually happens.

  8. Gabriel Malor
    October 29, 2006 at 6:03 pm

    Antigone, I really like your answer. I mean, you’re going to have a fight about #3, and I’m not sure what you mean by #5, but I like your ideas. I especially like you didn’t go hunting for the magic key holder.

    Oh, and I also want to add that I agree that the study is pretty silly. While true that Americans weigh more now than they did 40 years ago, not all of that weight is “bad” weight. Americans are also a lot healthier than they were 40 years ago, and part of being healthy is being more than just skin and bones.

    On the other hand, this kind of “how much does an extra pound cost” study is interesting and useful for encouraging people to slim down, not just in their eating habits, but in the types of cars they’re driving. If more people recognize that their choices are costing them dollars in their pockets, they may alter their choices.

  9. October 29, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    Another perspective – let’s say we assume this study’s data is accurate. Society’s so hung up on obesity as a factor in determining body weight, but it’s not the only one, by far.

    Not taking into account the fact many Americans are driving larger, heavier vehicles for longer commute times and distances than ever before, we are also in many instances (globally) becoming a taller, more massive species overall – better nutrition and health care allows people to grow taller and maintain greater muscle density, also increasing our body weights.

    I don’t see anyone arguing in favor of species-wide shortness as a means of keeping our transportable body mass lower. ;) Shorter take: yet another argument for badgering the overweight.

  10. October 29, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    useful for encouraging people to slim down, not just in their eating habits, but in the types of cars they’re driving. – Gabriel Malor

    Or in my case, encouraging me to get rid of all that junk in my trunk … literally. ;)

  11. Louise
    October 29, 2006 at 6:15 pm

    (feeling very happy I’m not commenter #7 or 17…)

    This study is bullshit. Okay, I’m seeing far more pudgepots than 30 years ago and finding XXXL on labels is far more common- this is a crisis and a future disaster on health care costs, no doubt. BUT- the automobile industry also includes plush mini apartments in their newer vehicles- DVD players and expensive sound systems don’t add weight? All of the extra storage compartments, gadgets and doohickeys- are ya gonna drive in this thing or LIVE in it?

  12. October 29, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    But… but… being fat is so unhealthy! Did you know that being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and looking socially unacceptable in a bathing suit? I tell you this because I’m sure you’ve never, ever heard it anywhere else. The people who ran this study are just looking out for you! Why don’t you appreciate their deep concern?

  13. evil fizz
    October 29, 2006 at 6:40 pm

    The people who ran this study are just looking out for you! Why don’t you appreciate their deep concern?

    Concern trolling: coming to an academic near you!

  14. October 29, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Hmm…I was responding to someone, but they appear to have been deleted.

    To clarify #5, I want companies to not be able to market something as “healthy” when it isn’t. Now, a reasonable person might know that twinkies aren’t going to give you any nutritional value, but the average person is probably going to think “Fish sticks are healthier than frozen pizza, right?” Well, no, not really.

    To market something as “healthy” it should meet certain nutritional standards, not just a few calories less.

  15. October 29, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    You mean Gabriel, Antigone? I think he’s still here. In my browser, anyway. I didn’t delete him.

    the average person is probably going to think “Fish sticks are healthier than frozen pizza, right?”

    If by “average person” you mean “me,” then yeah, that’s definitely something I would have thought once. And of course it depends on the frozen pizza–the last time I read the ingredients on the back of a Totino’s (hey, they’re very very cheap) I vowed I would never do it again.

    I do think the labeling’s improved enormously from when I was a kid, although I still have to stop and sort out which one’s the lower-fat milk, “reduced” or “low,” every time I reach for a carton.

    Somewhere back in these archives I know there’s a post that also points out the old time-is-money trap: It’s much easier to choose fresher, healthier foods if you have the time to prepare them (and, in some cases, the money to afford them). I can only bust on a busy mom for throwing a 40-pack of frozen fish sticks into her cart so much, you know? It’s tough to beat 15 minutes in the oven = dinner.

  16. October 29, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    the average person is probably going to think “Fish sticks are healthier than frozen pizza, right?”

    Since I currently live in a home whose income is below the poverty level, my mother and I have had that discussion about fish sticks many times. It’s not only healthier: there’s more of them, they last longer, and it has the word “fish” in it so that has to mean something… Besides, we can always slather condiments on them and have them with frozen veggies.

    On another note, while it is possible to lose weight in a low-income household, it is very difficult and your food selection becomes very limited. My mother did it because she had high blood pressure, among other health problems. Her method: eating oatmeal with fruits as her two main meals for the day. Oatmeal, evaporated milk, sugar, apples and raisins. Every day. And for dinner, she’d have fish sticks, or salmon, or veggie spaghetti (a recipe I improvised and she learned). She adds three bags of sugar to each bowl of oatmeal, sure, but she doesn’t have any teeth to rot out now. (I now weigh more than her because she did this while I lived on campus in college, and she badgers me endlessly for it.)

  17. October 29, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Agreed. It’s very, very difficult to live on a tight budget and still eat healthy meals every day — especially when you live in an area where access to grocery stories is limited.

    I live in Manhattan, but in a neighborhood where most people buy their groceries from bodegas and corner shops. There are a few grocery stores, but they don’t have much of a selection, and fruits/veggies are especially limited. Plus, I have the walk from the grocery store home (the best inexpensive grocery store is a 15 minute walk) and a sixth-floor walk-up apartment. A few boxes of pasta and some ramen noodles are cheaper and a hell of a lot easier to carry than apples, oranges, and a gallon of milk, and that has to be taken into account when you don’t have a car to drive your 10 bags of groceries home in. Pasta and ramen also last a lot longer than fruit/veggies, and they’re more filling and feel like more complete meals. I’ll eat an apple as a snack, but it sure as shit won’t satisfy me for dinner. There’s always salad, but when a bag of lettuce costs three times as much as a box of pasta, and when I know that I’m just going to end up eating pasta anyway because salads don’t fill me up, the obvious choice is just to forgo the thing I know will be wasteful. I can’t imagine having to do this kind of shopping for more than just myself. It’s no wonder that parents on a budget turn to fish sticks over grilled chicken breast.

  18. October 29, 2006 at 10:02 pm

    But hey, who wants to take bets on when the first person shows up who’’ll say if we all just tried a little harder, we’d find out how easy and healthy and just plain righteous it is to walk everywhere? Hmm? Seventh comment? Seventeenth?

    Just ’cause not all the walkers are snobs: I don’t own a car, and only take cabs on those rare occasions I’m coming home at two o’clock in the morning and such.

    For the record, sometimes it’s almost an unmitigated pain in the ass, even if you do save some money.

    No, I don’t want to own a car, but I’m not bitching at people who do (except for the people owning Hummers who refuse to even drive on gravel roads… >.

  19. October 29, 2006 at 11:03 pm

    Lucky SUVs are feather-light, eh?

  20. ballgame
    October 30, 2006 at 1:09 am

    Mark S.: you are absolutely right. The contribution of obesity to high gasoline consumption is infinitesimal compared to the criminally low fuel efficiencies of the vehicles many Americans drive, coupled with the insane commutes they have. One woman I know commutes between Baltimore and D.C. in her SUV. (She does at least work from home two days a week.) I have also heard there are significant numbers of people who commute to D.C. from Pennsylvania!

    But the most ridiculous commute I’ve ever heard of is my sister’s friend, who commutes to her job near Baltimore every week.

    From Florida.

  21. Kali
    October 30, 2006 at 1:34 am

    Oh crap, this may sound trollish and I really don’t want to be. But isn’t there a connection between people being bigger and the demand for bigger cars? When the person I love most in the world, who happens to be Texan and seriously obese in a way that is common in Texas but very rare here, came to visit me and we rented a car in Europe, we had to rent the largest size car available cos it was hard for her to fit behind the wheel. Even in the biggest car she wasn’t that comfy. Not that I think “blame the fat person” is a good idea either. I’m just not sure that obesity and huge cars are separate problems. Could easily be wrong.
    (Re: blaming. I lived with my friend for a while, and I also shared a house with another woman who was big (UK 20), and what amazed me was that they didn’t visibly eat more than me. I’m currently a size 6-8 –UK 6, ie I could borrow jeans from Kate Moss and have a chance of zipping them up. But differences in our diets weren’t visible on a day to day basis. Oh, except that my housemate used to eat tons of vegetables– she’d happily microwave a giant plate of frozen spinach and sit down to eat it without even grating nutmeg on to ease the pain. Gag.)

  22. October 30, 2006 at 7:31 am

    I’m so fucking stupid. After the tech crash I was casting around for a job which might challenge or at least pay me and it just so happened I had a friend in a…well, in a professional (or nearly so) field which was relatively easy to enter when one has a friend in said field with whom to apprentice.

    Great! Half-outdoor work, (relatively) plenty of exercise, somewhat challenging…and then I took on my own workload.

    And realized, “Oh shit. I’ve just taken my last bus ride.” My work means I travel from one end of my metro area to the other, often all on the same day. I’ve driven 250 miles in a day, and it’s rare that I drive less than 70. I’m looking into SVO, but this field is not so lucrative that I have a bunch of money to throw around, even for the rarely cheap SVO option.

    I’m driving the most fuel-efficient car I can afford, and it gets (most of the time) 30 miles to the gallon, but that means I’m still burning 2-3 gallons a day with no real alternatives.

    “So wait,” you’re saying, “is this anything more than a self-flagellating, confessional wankfest of a comment?”

    Nope.

    P.S. Please forgive me. Wank wank. The day my metro area develops a transit system that gets me from East Armpit to West o’Nowhere in less than an hour, I’ll be on it.

  23. j0lt
    October 30, 2006 at 10:05 am

    Speaking of bigger cars, I received in the mail last week an ad/promo from the local LandRover dealer, advising me that b/c the Landrover is over some weight (13,500 lbs I think), it qualifies for a tax credit for small businesses – “so come in & buy for your business & get a tax credit!” – this is disgusting! It’s obviously some tax benefit meant to help small businesses buy their delivery vans, but the way it’s written, a small entrepreneur can use it to buy a landrover & they’re promoting it. I’m planning to call my congressman to complain. We should not be encouraging the sales of SUVs.

  24. October 30, 2006 at 11:00 am

    I just moved to a city that has a pretty good public trans. system (Portland, OR) and am looking for employment. It is kind of depressing to me that so many job announcements insist that you must have a car and valid drivers license in order to be considered for a job. The jobs do require certain types of travel but given that there is a very good bus/train/etc. system in this city you’d think they would encourage alternative means of transport and not REQUIRE cars.

    And since losing my regular job and trying to live cheaper I have infact gained about 15 lbs. Which means that I add self-loathing to depression at not finding work and other worries. Great fun this blaming the fat people thing.

  25. ks
    October 30, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    If by “average person” you mean “me,” then yeah, that’s definitely something I would have thought once. And of course it depends on the frozen pizza–the last time I read the ingredients on the back of a Totino’s (hey, they’re very very cheap) I vowed I would never do it again.

    There’s also the fact that even something as basic as bread (bread!!!) is horribly bad for you these days. I tried a little experiment a few weeks ago and checked every single loaf of bread on offer at my local Kroger. All but ONE brand had high fructose corn syrup listed as the #2 or #3 ingredient, and that loaf cost almost twice as much as the others, AND it was from a local bakery, so people outside my general region wouldn’t be able to get it anyway. And speaking as one of those ‘busy moms’, sometimes a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with fruit is a lifesaver dinner. And now, I can’t even feed my kids that without it being very unhealthy (even more so than it already was).

  26. Lorelei
    October 30, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Gabriel, what the fuck do you even care if someone is fat or not? Health reasons? None of your fucking business.

  27. Raging Moderate
    October 30, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Gabriel, what the fuck do you even care if someone is fat or not? Health reasons? None of your fucking business.

    In the US, where you have to pay for your medical care, I guess it’s nobody else’s business.

    In a country with universal health care, it’s everybody’s business (same with smoking, drug abuse, and alcoholism).

  28. October 30, 2006 at 1:44 pm

    In a country with universal health care, it’s everybody’s business (same with smoking, drug abuse, and alcoholism).

    Very true, which is why it stuns me that we’ve worked to make society less supportive of smoking (sin taxes, plain banning it in public spaces), less supportive of alcoholism (don’t drink and drive campaigns, treatment centers), less supportive of drug abuse (drug tests pre-employment), but the best we can do with obesity is to shame the obese.

    And I’m convinced we’ll keep doing that as long as thin people keep getting a morality high off of doing it. Naturally thin people don’t want to hear, “You hit the gene lottery.” They don’t want to be denied their achievement; they want to believe they’ve earned their thinness through masterful, pious self-control. And sometimes they really have earned it through masterful, pious self-control, but sometimes that’s because they’ve been fortunate enough to have a lifestyle that enables and promotes masterful, pious self-control–a job that allows them to bike to work, maybe, or a food budget that gives them greater control over their food choices.

    Gabriel, what the fuck do you even care if someone is fat or not?

    I’ll give Gabriel this, he prompted some great responses from Antigone.

  29. Raging Moderate
    October 30, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    but the best we can do with obesity is to shame the obese.

    Maybe that’s true if “we” means America.

    Here in Canada, the government has recently revived the old “ParticipACTION” series, which was a public service campaign aimed at getting Canadians to be more physically active, and to make better choices regarding nutrition. One of the early ads featured a 60-year-old Swede out jogging — and compared his fitness level to that of the average 30-year-old Canadian.

    Also, the governement intends to offer a $500 fitness tax credit for families that enroll their children in an organized physical activity (sports, dance, martial arts, etc.).

    A quote from Ontario Health Promotion Minister Jim Watson:

    “We’ve got to battle the obesity issue as feverishly as we tackled the smoking issue”

    Obesity and being overweight is costing us billions in health care costs and lost productivity, and the government must do something to combat this epidemic (and yes, Canadian scientists and doctors consider it an epidemic that is harming the nation, PC be damned).

    P.S. I don’t quite see how saying “your smoking is gonna cause you health problems, so you should quit” is any different than saying “your excess weight is gonna cause you health problems, so you should lose weight”. Either both, or neither, are shaming.

  30. October 30, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    P.S. I don’t quite see how saying “your smoking is gonna cause you health problems, so you should quit” is any different than saying “your excess weight is gonna cause you health problems, so you should lose weight”. Either both, or neither, are shaming.

    But that isn’t what we do in the US. As Ilyka referred to in her comment, we tax the hell out of cigarettes and ban it completely in public spaces. It’s also now being increasingly banned in restaurants and bars.

    Obviously we can’t tax the hell out of food, because while you can live without smoking, you will die if you don’t eat enough. Further, taxes on food are extremely regressive, and we should not penalize the poor for eating. We also can’t ban food in restaurants for, you know, obvious reasons.

    This is a tricky one, because offering tax credits for participating in exercise programs means (a) that the person or family has sufficient disposable income to pay the fees (tax credits only being offered once a year and all) and (b) that the person has the time to exercise (someone who has to work two jobs to have enough money to feed a family is probably not in that position).

    One thing we need to do is figure out how to make prepared healthy foods less expensive (as in cheap enough to compete with the cheap crap food). Perhaps we offer the tax subsidies to the distributors, not to the families, for example.

  31. October 30, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    Maybe that’s true if “we” means America.

    Sorry! It did.

    P.S. I don’t quite see how saying “your smoking is gonna cause you health problems, so you should quit” is any different than saying “your excess weight is gonna cause you health problems, so you should lose weight”. Either both, or neither, are shaming.

    Neither are effective. I say that as someone who started smoking after the health effects were already well-documented; yet the attitude to smokers and to the overweight in both cases is, “These poor people must not know. Maybe we should tell them again.” And for that, see Jill.

    Not saying it isn’t good to increase awareness when a lack of awareness is the primary problem, as I think you could say it was in the 1960s-1970s with regards to smoking, but there’s increasing awareness, and then there’s “you contribute to global warming; okay, maybe not anywhere near as much as SUVs, fossil fuels, and methane, but enough that I thought you should know.”

    Also, the governement intends to offer a $500 fitness tax credit for families that enroll their children in an organized physical activity (sports, dance, martial arts, etc.).

    Cool. I think things like that can only help.

  32. October 30, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Our local paper just ran an article about the options for commuting in our city: Carless for a week. While the self-congratulatory tone is off (how many people don’t have employers who’d accommodate the time shifts he finds, don’t have showers for bicycle commuters, etc.), it does illustrate the conundrum.

    The first couple of years I commuted to work by bus, but soon realized that I was losing more than an hour a day and putting up with a lot of inconvenience to remain car free. (Not to mention the way that people assume something must be wrong if you don’t own a car…) I eventually gave in to the subtle pressure to drive– now, of course, the pressure is to get a car “worthy” of my income. (Because I love wasting money…)

  33. October 30, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Not to mention the way that people assume something must be wrong if you don’t own a car…

    Ha! One of my old bosses used to joke with me that I wasn’t really an American, because I didn’t own a car and had never seen “The Godfather”*.

    *OK, that was several years ago, and I have since watched all three Godfather movies, and yes, the first one is one of the best movies ever made, as is the second, so please, please, no “What, you’ve never seen “The Godfather’?” comments. I was just too young when it first came out, and I’m not big on watching movies at home.

  34. pmoney
    October 30, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    P.S. I don’t quite see how saying “your smoking is gonna cause you health problems, so you should quit” is any different than saying “your excess weight is gonna cause you health problems, so you should lose weight”. Either both, or neither, are shaming.

    I agree! Smokers are totally shamed in the US!

    And sadly I think the shaming on the obesity issue is an actual tactic to some. I mean… occasionally it works. Although I would imagine in most cases, it doesn’t. Actually, this might be a more effective weight-loss tool for men rather than women. I’d like to see a study about that!

    I recently watched this occur with some guy friends. One guy said to the other “Dude, you got fat!” which then motivated the other guy to lose his recently-added extra 15-20 pounds. Afterwards, he was very grateful, telling people “It’s all due to my friend! He inspired me!” (with his well-intentioned insult)

    OTOH, I don’t see this EVER working with women. I know if one of my friends said “Dude, you’ve gotten really fat!” I would yell “fuck you!” and then probably cry. ;)

  35. Raging Moderate
    October 30, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    Obviously we can’t tax the hell out of food, because while you can live without smoking, you will die if you don’t eat enough.

    Why don’t we tax the hell out of junk food? You won’t die if you don’t eat enough pizza or Big Macs.

    But… but… being fat is so unhealthy! Did you know that being overweight increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and looking socially unacceptable in a bathing suit? I tell you this because I’m sure you’ve never, ever heard it anywhere else.

    Same for smoking. Why is there no similar reaction to anti-smoking studies or ads (“we know already – quit shaming us!”)?

    Cool. I think things like that can only help.

    Yep. They’re also planning to re-introduce phys ed, and to ban junk food and vending machines in schools.

    “you contribute to global warming; okay, maybe not anywhere near as much as SUVs, fossil fuels, and methane, but enough that I thought you should know.”

    I put this in “the truth hurts” file. There was a documentary on CBC recently showing how much the “average joe’s” lifestyle contributes to global warming. The discussion that followed the doc was full of comments like “Global warming is much more due to cars; let’s fix the cars before I have to stop using my microwave. Make them do something about it, but leave me alone.”

    Here’s an experiment: put 50 pounds of weight in the trunk of your car for a month and see if it makes a difference in fuel consumption. I don’t drive a car (never had a license, and I saw that many of my friends gained weight when they got theirs), but I know it is harder to pedal my bike when wearing my backpack full of softball gear than when I don’t.

    The first couple of years I commuted to work by bus, but soon realized that I was losing more than an hour a day and putting up with a lot of inconvenience to remain car free.

    I use that extra hour to read or catch a couple of extra zzz’s. Also, I’ve met a couple of women on the bus (it’s better than the bars or dating sites).

    Not to mention the way that people assume something must be wrong if you don’t own a car

    That’s true. Strangely enough, it’s generally been women who have taken that attitude with me. But I’m pretty resistant to conforming to other’s attitudes (such is the life of a moderate).

  36. October 30, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    Why don’t we tax the hell out of junk food? You won’t die if you don’t eat enough pizza or Big Macs.

    Because junk food is cheaper than the healthier foods that the poor already can’t afford to buy. If we make the food they can afford to buy more expensive, we’re penalizing them for needing to eat. This is why I later said we need to make the healthier foods less expensive rather than making the cheaper ones more expensive.

  37. October 30, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    the reason junk food is so much cheaper, though, is because of the massive gov’t. subsidies to the agribusiness corporations that grow the ingredients — specifically corn & soybeans.

  38. Raging Moderate
    October 30, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    This is why I later said we need to make the healthier foods less expensive rather than making the cheaper ones more expensive.

    Why not do both?

  39. October 30, 2006 at 4:00 pm

    the reason junk food is so much cheaper, though, is because of the massive gov’t. subsidies to the agribusiness corporations that grow the ingredients — specifically corn & soybeans.

    Absolutely. Providing tax subsidies to the businesses and distributors of healthier foods would be a great way to bring down the price. I think it would be more successful than giving them to consumers, because you don’t have the issue with businesses needing to find a way to fund the up-front purchase while waiting for a tax credit that comes months later. If you’re poor, the tax credit in April won’t help you much when you can’t find the cash today.

  40. DAS
    October 30, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    the reason junk food is so much cheaper, though, is because of the massive gov’t. subsidies to the agribusiness corporations that grow the ingredients — specifically corn & soybeans. – trishka

    Indeed. And let’s not forget whatever bizarre system of milk subsidies that keeps the price of healthy milk high and the price of component dairy products that get snuck into foods where they don’t belong low .

  41. October 30, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Why not do both?

    Sure, that would make sense. Just as long as the poor don’t wind up paying more than they currently are.

  42. Raging Moderate
    October 30, 2006 at 4:26 pm

    Not saying it isn’t good to increase awareness when a lack of awareness is the primary problem

    I don’t think lack of awareness is the primary problem, but it still exists to some degree. Google “healthy at any weight” and see what you find.

    I think that there are many more people who dismiss the health problems caused by excess weight than people who dismiss the health problems caused by smoking. Nobody here has made such a claim (yet), but I’ve heard it often in discussions of weight issues.

  43. October 30, 2006 at 9:12 pm

    Fine, put me in as saying that thin =/= healthy.

    I weigh 30 pounds overweight, according to the weight chart. But, my cholestrol is fine, my blood pressure is perfect, I don’t get winded when exercising. So I don’t see what the big deal is if I don’t look good in a tube top.

    Oh, and here is the biggest difference between smoking and eating: you don’t need to smoke. It isn’t healthy in any way. It’s unhealthy to the people around you (my main reason for supporting smoking bans). You need to eat, you don’t need to smoke.

  44. October 31, 2006 at 4:34 am

    Google “healthy at any weight” and see what you find.

    The usual phrase is “healthy at every size,” or HAES.

    I think that there are many more people who dismiss the health problems caused by excess weight than people who dismiss the health problems caused by smoking. Nobody here has made such a claim (yet), but I’ve heard it often in discussions of weight issues.

    You seem very certain that anyone who supports HAES must be suffering from lack of awareness. I think you’re mistaken; well-informed people exist on both sides of the “how unhealthy is fat?” question, and also on the related (but not identical) “is trying to lose weight healthy?” question.

    I do think that there are some health problems caused by extreme weights (both extremely thin and extremely fat). But I think the risks have been much exaggerated (they’re certainly nothing like the risks of smoking!), and the solutions proposed are usually not helpful.

  45. October 31, 2006 at 6:47 am

    and (b) that the person has the time to exercise (someone who has to work two jobs to have enough money to feed a family is probably not in that position).

    Lesley, thank you. One of the things I had seething in the back of my mind on this subject: A report I transcribed by what’s called a CDE, a Certified Diabetes Educator, of a session between the CDE and a woman who worked two jobs, one of them on the graveyard shift. One thing that popped out to me immediately: You can recommend “30 minutes 5 days a week” of exercise MUCH more easily to a woman working an 8-to-5 job than you can to a woman working the 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. shift; if nothing else, the woman working the day job can walk on her lunch hour.

    Two, you can more easily recommend “making healthy food choices” to a woman whose lunch break is at 12:00 p.m. than you can to a woman whose lunch break is at 3:00 a.m. I’ve lived many a place where your only take-out lunch options at 3:00 a.m. were Denny’s or Whataburger. But, yeah, she should have raw spinach and baby greens instead of a sausage biscuit; I mean, doesn’t she care about her health?

  46. Sheelzebub
    October 31, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Another thing to consider is the grocery gap–poor people in very rural areas or in the inner city are far less likely to have a grocery store they can get to easily. When you don’t have a car and have to transfer on the bus line twice with your kids in tow, you’re less likely to go to the supermarket and buy fresh produce and lean meat (that will go bad on the trip back). Not when the convenience store/bodega is nearby and you can get food there. Granted, it’s less healthful and more expensive, but when you’re working a couple of jobs and you’ve got kids in tow, you don’t have a few hours to haul your cookies to the grocery store, get the food, and haul the food and the kids back on the bus. You just don’t.

    As for walking–a lot of places are downright hostile to walkers. A relative of mine told me about how shocked she was when she moved–she likes to walk and was harassed by assholes in their cars when she tried to go out for a walk. She was told that no one walks there (there are no sidewalks or safe places to do so), and that the guys probably assumed she’s a prostitute. (Since, you know, prostitutes deserve to be harrassed. A whole ‘nother post, I know. . .)

    Yeah. Great opportunities for healthful eating and excersize!

    /sarcasm

  47. Sheelzebub
    October 31, 2006 at 11:36 am

    Oh, and I’ve brought salads to work for lunch, in a quest to eat more healthfully (I’m naturally thin, but my eating habits are horrific–up until a few years ago, it was ramen noodles, mac and cheese, and doritos and coffee). Know what happens? I’m ready to fucking pass out by three o’clock.

  48. Raging Moderate
    October 31, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    You seem very certain that anyone who supports HAES must be suffering from lack of awareness.

    I believe it’s either lack of awareness or denial.

    I think you’re mistaken; well-informed people exist on both sides of the “how unhealthy is fat?” question, and also on the related (but not identical) “is trying to lose weight healthy?” question.

    Well-informed people also exist on both sides of the global warming question. Are we to assume that the jury is still out on global warming too?

    I do think that there are some health problems caused by extreme weights (both extremely thin and extremely fat). But I think the risks have been much exaggerated (they’re certainly nothing like the risks of smoking!)

    I have yet to find a non-American scientist or doctor who believes that the health risks of obesity have been exaggerated. Or that trying to lose weight has to be unhealthy (one pound a week for an extended period of time is considered a healthy way to do it here in Canada).

    Do you think that the health risks of anorexia have been exaggerated too?

    and the solutions proposed are usually not helpful

    Really? The solution proposed by Canadian doctors is “eat less (or better) and exercise more”. I can tell you from experience that it is effective. It’s just not always easy.

    What are the solutions proposed by American doctors?

    Know what happens? I’m ready to fucking pass out by three o’clock.

    That’s pretty common. I used to have the same problem. My doctor told me to eat a piece of fruit or some unsalted nuts when you feel the fatigue starting to creep in (or shortly before it usually occurs). Drink some water too. It works for me. Give it a try and see if it works for you.

  49. Sheelzebub
    October 31, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    Nope. I’ve tried it many times. Didn’t work for me. Fruit and nuts don’t fill me up, especially if I’ve had a workout. As far as drinking water, I was so enthusiastic about about that at one point that my electrolytes got too low and I kept passing out–I ended up in the ER.

    Well-informed people also exist on both sides of the global warming question.

    Um, actually, no. Scientists (not industry-paid shills) are unanimous in their assessment that climate change is real. I know you’re trying to make a rhetorical point, but this example was not the way to do it.

    Also, define excess weight. Some people are dangerously obese, but some people are considered “obese” and yet are healthier than thin people.

    Finally–HAES isn’t about denial.

    Self-Acceptance: Affirmation and reinforcement of human beauty and worth irrespective of differences in weight, physical size and shape.

    Physical Activity: Support for increasing social, pleasure-based movement for enjoyment and enhanced quality of life.

    Normalized Eating: Support for discarding externally-imposed rules and regimens for eating and attaining a more peaceful relationship with food by relearning to eat in response to physiological hunger and fullness cues.

    Basically, HAES encourages people to learn more healthful behaviors and become more mindful of when they are hungry/full. I wouldn’t call that denial.

    Also, there is evidence that being either underweight or overweight can decrease one’s lifespan, although the risk has lessened for those who are overweight. Certainly, there are health risks in being underweight. The difference is, a thin person does not get the dirty looks and shaming for being too thin. I got some rude cracks about anorexia when I was younger, but I never had people act like I was so much trash because of my size. Not so for people who are fat.

    This may be because thin people can afford to be in denial–they aren’t fat, so they’re healthy! Being underweight can damage your heart. Being anorexic can, ironically, lead to weight problems in the future, since your body goes into famine mode.

  50. October 31, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    Well-informed people also exist on both sides of the global warming question. Are we to assume that the jury is still out on global warming too?

    Actually, if you look only among real experts – climatologists who have published in legitimate peer-reviewed journals – it’s very hard to find any who deny that global warming exists, and that human activity contributes to it. There is a near-complete consensus on this point among the relevant scientific community. Furthermore, virtually all the ones who disagree are in the pay of large oil corporations.

    In contrast, there are many experts on obesity and nutrition writing in legitimate peer-reviewed journals on both sides of the “how bad is fat, and how good is dieting” question. Furthermore, the big money is not behind HAES, but behind dieting – a lot of the “fat is soooo deadly’ researchers are supported by money coming from the multi-billion dollar commercial dieting industry. In contrast, there’s no big money behind HAES. For these reasons, I don’t think the comparison you’re making is apt.

    I have yet to find a non-American scientist or doctor who believes that the health risks of obesity have been exaggerated.

    Why the “non-American” qualifier? I’m really bewildered by this. Does a research study not count as evidence if the researcher is American?

    Really? The solution proposed by Canadian doctors is “eat less (or better) and exercise more”.

    Eating healthier food and exercising is helpful advice for most people, regardless of if they’re fat or not. It’s the “go on a diet and lose weight” advice that I think is usually not helpful.

    I can tell you from experience that it is effective. It’s just not always easy.

    I’ve yet to see a good peer-reviewed controlled clinical study showing that any weight-loss plan works for most fat people who try it (by “works,” I mean turns them into a significantly less fat person for at least five years). On the contrary, studies show that weight-loss plans don’t work for the large majority of fat people. And there’s some reason to believe that losing and regaining weight is worse for many people’s health than a steady fat weight would be.

    Regarding what you can tell me from experience, that’s not a representative sample; just because something works for you personally doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate advice for everybody.

    HAES is all about “eating better and exercising more.” It just uses a different definition of health and well-being – of “success” – than whether or not weight is lost. HAES says that if a fat person feels better, can move better, and has better blood pressure, cholesterols, etc, then that person is healthier and that’s a good thing for them, regardless of if they’ve lost weight. What about that is so awful?

  51. October 31, 2006 at 4:42 pm

    Whoops! Cross-posted with Sheelzebub, who said pretty much the same stuff I said, but said it better.

    I agree with everything Sheelzebub says, except for one nit-pick:

    Also, there is evidence that being either underweight or overweight can decrease one’s lifespan, although the risk has lessened for those who are overweight.

    The study this sentence linked to, which was conducted by the CDC scientist quoted in Ilyka’s post, found that being overweight was actually slightly beneficial to lifespan (compared to “normal” weight people). It also found that being underweight or obese decreased one’s lifespan.

  52. Raging Moderate
    October 31, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    Certainly, there are health risks in being underweight.

    Of course. Ironically, the first sentence in that article is “There’s no question that being overweight is bad for your health.” Do you agree with that part too, or just the parts about the health risks of being underweight?

    Why the “non-American” qualifier? I’m really bewildered by this. Does a research study not count as evidence if the researcher is American?

    My point is that if the health risks associated with obesity is still an open question, why do we only find Americans on the undecided side? Why are there no non-Americans who support this view? Are scientists and doctors in every other country in the world just “fat haters”?

    On the contrary, studies show that weight-loss plans don’t work for the large majority of fat people.

    That’s true, but not because consuming less calories than you burn won’t shed the pounds. It’s because the large majority of fat people do not, or cannot, stick with the plans (for a variety of reasons – many of them were mentioned in this thread).

    And there’s some reason to believe that losing and regaining weight is worse for many people’s health than a steady fat weight would be.

    Again, absolutely true. But that’s not a good reason (IMO) not to try anyway. Isn’t this just conceding defeat before the game starts (I’ll probably just gain the weight back, so why bother)?

    HAES says that if a fat person feels better, can move better, and has better blood pressure, cholesterols, etc, then that person is healthier and that’s a good thing for them, regardless of if they’ve lost weight. What about that is so awful?

    Nothing. It’s a good first step. But why stop at “heathier”? Why not aim for “healthy”? If I cut down from 25 cigarettes a day to 15, I’m healthier, but still not healthy.

    The study this sentence linked to, which was conducted by the CDC scientist quoted in Ilyka’s post, found that being overweight was actually slightly beneficial to lifespan (compared to “normal” weight people).

    I read the study a few times, and I cannot find this claim. Please reprint it here if you have the time. Thanx.

  53. Raging Moderate
    October 31, 2006 at 5:47 pm

    One more point on the non-American thing before I focus on the ghouls ringing my doorbell:

    As far as I know (and I may be wrong here), I don’t think I’ve heard a non-American scientist refute the notion that global warming is a problem, or that it is caused by humans.

    I saw Tony Blair on tv yesterday saying that something must be done about it soon, or it might be too late. Even our Conservative government does not dispute it either, although they are dragging their feet on doing anything about it.

  54. Louise
    October 31, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    #35 Raging Moderate says: “Here’s an experiment: put 50 pounds of weight in the trunk of your car for a month and see if it makes a difference in fuel consumption. I don’t drive a car (never had a license, and I saw that many of my friends gained weight when they got theirs), but I know it is harder to pedal my bike when wearing my backpack full of softball gear than when I don’t.”

    I had an old rear wheel pickup truck for dump/ brush runs (required for a farm to have such a vehicle) and routinely we HAD to put 2 60 lb bags of sand in the back directly over the back wheels for traction in winter. Have no idea how the extra 120 lbs affected mileage; didn’t drive it more than 7000 miles in 3 years. Figured it would be the equivalent of having an extra person in the vehicle…

  55. October 31, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Raging Moderate, the soundness of arguments should be based on research and evidence, not on nationality; you can’t dismiss research that you don’t like the findings of by saying “they’re all Americans, so they must be wrong!,” but that’s essentially what you’ve said here.

    It’s true most of the researchers cited by the HAES and size-acceptance movements are American, but that just means it’s a US-centered movement. All ideas have to start somewhere; this one started in the US not very long ago, and is still centered in the US. That doesn’t prove that it’s wrong.

    On the contrary, studies show that weight-loss plans don’t work for the large majority of fat people.

    That’s true, but not because consuming less calories than you burn won’t shed the pounds. It’s because the large majority of fat people do not, or cannot, stick with the plans (for a variety of reasons – many of them were mentioned in this thread).

    Even if that were true, then so what? If a plan in practice is not stuck with by the vast majority of participants, then suggesting the plan to every fat person is not useful advice.

    And there’s some reason to believe that losing and regaining weight is worse for many people’s health than a steady fat weight would be.

    Again, absolutely true. But that’s not a good reason (IMO) not to try anyway. Isn’t this just conceding defeat before the game starts (I’ll probably just gain the weight back, so why bother)?

    It’s not a game. The worse-case scenario if I play a baseball game is that I might lose. The worse-case scenario if someone fails weight-loss diets includes being discouraged from exercise, thinking of oneself as a weak-willed failure, and dying earlier.

    For the vast majority of fat people, weight-loss diets will not have any benefits, and will fail to keep weight off in the long term. However, weight-loss diets will make most people unhappy and moody; will cause them to obsess unhealthily on food; will hurt their self-esteem; and, for those who lose weight and regain it, weight cycling carries risks to health and longevity.

    Imagine a person with a heart condition. The doctor tells them “there is a treatment, but it’s very stressful and could harm your physical and mental well-being, and only works in 5% or less of individuals who try it in the long term. If we don’t treat your condition, your life expectancy may be a couple of years less than normal – but it may also be slightly above normal.” Would you say that person is “giving up” if she chooses to forgo such a treatment?

    Finally, by setting up weight loss as the barometer of success, fat people are encouraged to believe that eating healthier and exercising more are failures if the results aren’t long-term weight loss. That tends to discourage fat people from exercising and eating healthy food. A clinical study of HAES shows that people are more likely to stick with HAES over a couple of years than they are to stick with a weight-loss diet – and, unsurprisingly, had better results. In practice, a treatment that patients stick with is more effective than one that’s unlikely to be stuck with.

    Nothing. It’s a good first step. But why stop at “heathier”? Why not aim for “healthy”? If I cut down from 25 cigarettes a day to 15, I’m healthier, but still not healthy.

    1) You’re assuming that no one can be fat and healthy.

    2) Weight-loss diets are more likely to harm than help most fat people.

    3) Eating is not smoking. No one can give up eating and expect to live.

    I read the study a few times, and I cannot find this claim.

    You can read the study here (pdf file). From page 4 of the pdf file: “Overweight was associated with a slight reduction in mortality (−86 094 deaths; 95% CI, −161 223 to −10 966) relative to the normal weight category.” The tables and figures on that same page support my claim, as well.

  56. November 1, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    Raging Moderate, (not that I’m taking this topic WAYYYY of OT or anything) but there’s another aspect to consider, and that’s the different standards of “fat” for women.

    I’m “fat” in the sense that I don’t have a flat stomach and perfectly trim thighs. But, my boyfriend, who is the exact same waist size is me, is not considered fat, even though we are the same height and weight (he gets called short, wheras I don’t, however).

    Which is weird, because even the “healthy” amount of fat a woman’s supposed to have is higher than a guys, but yet women are supposed to be thinner than guys.

    Ick, this is horribly said. Someone want to help me out here?

  57. Raging Moderate
    November 1, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    you can’t dismiss research that you don’t like the findings of by saying “they’re all Americans, so they must be wrong!,” but that’s essentially what you’ve said here.

    One last attempt to explain myself: if the global scientific community is in agreement about something and a small group of scientists disagrees, I tend to be skeptical about the claims made by that small group. And it seems that claims refuting the health risks of obesity, the danger of global warming, and the theory of evolution are made exclusively by Americans.

    However, weight-loss diets will make most people unhappy and moody; will cause them to obsess unhealthily on food; will hurt their self-esteem; and, for those who lose weight and regain it, weight cycling carries risks to health and longevity.

    The way I see it, your opinion is that these people are beyond help. Here in Canada we believe it’s never too late to get back to a healthy lifestyle.

    I guess I’ll just add this to the (large) file of things I don’t understand about Americans. But thanx for trying.

  58. November 1, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    RM, you seem to be under the impression that there are no “fat” people in Canada.

    As a person who lives about an hour away from Canada, and who worked at the Kmart, I can say conclusively that you’re wrong.

  59. Raging Moderate
    November 1, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Someone want to help me out here?

    I don’t get it either. Up here, obesity, overweight, and underweight are determined by BMI. Men and women are measured using the same formula.

    If your doctor considers you overweight, but not your boyfriend, I’d suggest finding a new doctor.

    If it’s your friends calling you fat, I’d suggest finding new friends.

  60. Raging Moderate
    November 1, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    RM, you seem to be under the impression that there are no “fat” people in Canada.

    Not at all. We’re under the impression that there are too many “fat” people in Canada. So many, in fact, that it is harming the nation. Hence the government sponsored attempt to reduce this trend.

  61. piny
    November 1, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I don’t get it either. Up here, obesity, overweight, and underweight are determined by BMI. Men and women are measured using the same formula.

    The BMI says that I’m overweight. I’m underimpressed.

  62. piny
    November 1, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Oh, and? Some BMI-related calculations are gendered, at least in this backwards country. No idea whether or not that’s true in Canada.

  63. Raging Moderate
    November 1, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    Oh, and? Some BMI-related calculations are gendered, at least in this backwards country. No idea whether or not that’s true in Canada.

    It’s not.

  64. Raging Moderate
    November 1, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    at least in this backwards country

    You said it, I didn’t.

    ;-)

  65. November 1, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    According to the BMI, I’m normal weight. I’ve been called fat before, but I don’t think it’s an accurate characterization of how most people would perceive me. A little round or chubby, maybe, but generally pretty average.

    I eat as well as I can (not enough fruits and veggies, but I also stay away from processed foods, fried foods, sugary foods, etc). I work out 2-3 times a week, for 1-2 hours a stretch, including at least an hour of cardio each time. I run, bike and swim regularly. I live in a sixth-floor walk-up, and I hike up those stairs 2-4 times a day. I walk pretty much everywhere I go — at least 45 minutes per day (and I walk quickly).

    And yet, this past Saturday, I was in my traithlon training class, and we were doing a 10k piece on the bike and then a mile run — and I was the last to finish. The woman who would probably be considered “fat” by many people (but who isn’t obese by any stretch) kicked my ass.

    So I think that perhaps the point people here are trying to make is that one’s body type doesn’t necessarily reflect their fitness level, or their eating habits or their overall health. I am of the opinion, based on what I’ve read, that being obese is unhealthy. But… so what? That doesn’t justify the shame that obese and overweight people have to deal with every day — next time you see a fat person eating something less than perfectly healthy, take a look around and see how other people are looking at them.

    Size/weight does not directly correlate with health. The extremes at both ends are dangerous, and should ideally be avoided. But if you really think that fat people are fat only because they’re lazy slugs who don’t exercise and just sit around eating twinkies all day, and thin people are thin because they eat properly and exercise, you have a seriously mistaken view of the world.

  66. Sheelzebub
    November 1, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    RM, way to miss my point. If you’d bothered to read what I’d written, you’d see that I never said there were no health risks to being overweight–I merely pointed out that the risks were just as stark for those who were underweight, but those people are not shamed, blamed, lectured, and hectored by the peanut gallery.

    Pointing out that being underweight is also a health risk is not something that is only attributed to Americans, BTW, though it’s charming how you try to stir shit with such a trollish move. The WHO actually questions the validity of the BMI scale, and says it may be better to go by waist size. (FWIW, Brad Pitt and George Clooney are considered obese by BMI standards, thanks to the fact that muscle weights more than fat.)

    I’ll leave the passive-aggressive nationality baiting to you. It tells me you have nothing of value to add if that’s the best you can do.

  67. November 1, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    Enough! If this thread’s going down in flames it’s gonna be because I torched it.

    Fuckin’ A, people.

    RM, I appreciate your sharing of some of the obesity-prevention measures the Canadian government has implemented. That’s news of which I admit I’m pretty ignorant much of the time, and it sounds like y’all have some good practices in place up there. I’ll even forgive the “backwards Americans”-type sneering because, hell, least I learned something.

    And yet it’s that sneering that helps make my original point (remember that? Anyone?), which is that treating the overweight as stupid, ignorant, recalcitrant children who need to hear how bad they are repeatedly, lest they forget, does NOTHING to treat obesity–nor have you been able to argue convincingly that it does. That’s what got up my ass about this study, because the idea motivating it seems to be, “Maybe if we point out that they’re actively helping to kill ALL of us, they’ll finally get it.”

    Listen: If the dirty looks, substandard treatment, rank prejudice, open jeering, and army of anorexic celebrities looking down their plastic noses at fat people ain’t fixing it, adding “you cause global warming, too!” as the cherry atop the fat-hating sundae ain’t gonna fix it either. This is something every fat person knows and something too many thin people deny, which is why every conversation about this issue eventually degenerates to this template:

    Thin person: Obesity is an epidemic!

    Fat person: Wanna hear how you could help?

    Thin person: Why should I? You’re the fatty. Hey, did you know obesity causes heart disease?

    Fat person: Yes, I knew. Thank you.

    Thin person: Wait, where are you going? I have to tell you more about this epidemic you clearly don’t know about.

    Fat person: Why don’t you just let that be my problem? I’m the fatty, remember?

    Thin person: Because obesity is EVERYONE’S responsibility!

    Fat person: …

    If it’s everyone’s responsibility, then “everyone” needs to include “fat people.” And “everyone” needs to listen to the fat people when they say, “Here, I’m having this problem; it might help me if you could x” instead of just clucking at them things like:

    It’s because the large majority of fat people do not, or cannot, stick with the plans (for a variety of reasons – many of them were mentioned in this thread).

    Yes, many of them were mentioned in this thread; so why are you still stuck on “lack of awareness and willpower?” Because when you shout down Sheezlebub, Ampersand, Antigone, and others who have not only suggested, but shown that it’s a little more complicated than that, that’s what I’m left to think you identify as the real source of the problem.

    The other half of my point, though, was that I don’t think American society is structured in a way that is particularly conducive to preventing or treating obesity, and I think that society overall is a much more “blameable” culprit not just for obesity, but for global warming. On this, it seems, we agree.

  68. November 1, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    And yet it’s that sneering that helps make my original point (remember that? Anyone?), which is that treating the overweight as stupid, ignorant, recalcitrant children who need to hear how bad they are repeatedly, lest they forget, does NOTHING to treat obesity–nor have you been able to argue convincingly that it does.

    But… maybe if we make them feel badly enough about themselves, they’ll stay inside their houses and starve until they look acceptably skinny.

    Because that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? To shame them out of having the audacity of appearing in public?

  69. November 1, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    Also, gluttony is a sin, so maybe if they just pray to the Baby Jesus and repent for the error of their ways, they will be thin. Right?

  70. November 1, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    Ha! I just read about a new study that said gluttony and red wine = longevity. Like the French haven’t been trying to tell us that for years?

    I live in a sixth-floor walk-up, and I hike up those stairs 2-4 times a day. I walk pretty much everywhere I go — at least 45 minutes per day (and I walk quickly).

    This is something I envy about New Yorkers, right up until I remember that y’all have to do this through the winter as well as through the hot, humid summers.

    By the way, I forgot to smack down that “Fat is determined by the BMI only” nonsense. Not when it’s a bunch of thugs suggesting you lose that “freshman 15,” right, Jill? Please: If everyone calculated everyone else’s BMI before deciding whether to call them “fat” it’d be a better world. Not perfect, since the BMI has its own problems, but better.

  71. Raging Moderate
    November 1, 2006 at 4:59 pm

    Pointing out that being underweight is also a health risk is not something that is only attributed to Americans

    True. I never said that it was. I said that claims refuting the health risks of obesity are only attributed to Americans. Same as the claims refuting the danger of global warming and the theory of evolution. That is the source of my skepticism.

    The WHO actually questions the validity of the BMI scale, and says it may be better to go by waist size.

    Health Canada recommends a combination of both when determining healthy sizes:

    “The Canadian body weight classification system uses the body mass index (BMI) and the waist circumference (WC) to assess the risk of developing health problems associated with overweight or underweight.”

    (FWIW, Brad Pitt and George Clooney are considered obese by BMI standards, thanks to the fact that muscle weights more than fat.)

    Again from Health Canada:

    “Very muscular adults, such as athletes, may have a low percentage of body fat but a large amount of muscle tissue. This can result in a BMI in the overweight range which may over estimate the risk of developing health problems.”

    If a doctor thinks a muscular person is obese, I think that says more about the doctor’s incompetence than the unreliability of the system.

    I’ll even forgive the “backwards Americans”-type sneering because, hell, least I learned something.

    Blame Piny for that one (and the global warming and evolution flat-earthers). I never thought Americans were backwards until the last 4 years or so. I’d bet many here would agree with that sentiment.

    Because when you shout down Sheezlebub, Ampersand, Antigone

    I didn’t intend to shout them down. I was merely debating the issue. I’m sorry if I sounded antagonistic. This issue hits close to home for me, as I have had several realtives die due to weight related issues.

    I find it hypocritical that the accepted tactics used to curb smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse are unacceptabe in the movement to curb obesity.

    If a guy on the street says “fuck, you’re a fat pig”, he’s an asshole.

    If your doctor says that you should lose weight for health reasons, that’s good medical advice.

    Many seem to equate one with the other.

    As to your original point, I agree that we should not heap the blame for global warming on the overweight. But it is a small part of the problem, and therefore should be recognized as such.

    As I said earlier, it seems everybody always wants the other guy to do something about global warming.

  72. November 1, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    Dang, I knew I phrased that poorly.

    What I was going at was that women are supposed to be skinnier than guys, even though to be healthy we are supposed to have more body fat (I believe 15% compared to men’s 10%) and that’s only if you believe those charts. I was talking about the fact that the standards are different for guys and girls as to what constitutes “fat”.

    And I don’t need new friends: I need friends that realize (like most of society needs to realize) that fat doesn’t equal unhealthy. They say I’m fat in the “I’m concerned about your weight” saying I’m fat. And I also need them to figure out that their standards for what constitutes fat is highly gendered. Again, my cholestral level is perfect, and my blood pressure is perfect and I’m moderately active. Blame the fact that I’m “fat” on the genetic dice roll, and also to do with the fact that the only thing I can afford right now is school food (which is disgusting).

  73. November 2, 2006 at 12:48 am

    Is anyone on this thread arguing that extreme obesity never has negative health consequences? Not that I’ve noticed.

    I think the risks of being moderately overweight are nonexistant (as the study I linked to earlier shows). However, I’m convinced the health risks of obesity exist, although I think they’ve been vastly exaggerated.

    RM wrote:

    if the global scientific community is in agreement about something and a small group of scientists disagrees, I tend to be skeptical about the claims made by that small group.

    I think that’s perfectly fair. But skepticism, properly applied, is a reason to examine evidence carefully. It’s not a reason to dismiss any views that don’t agree with your own without actually addressing the arguments and evidence in any meaningful fashion.

    However, weight-loss diets will make most people unhappy and moody; will cause them to obsess unhealthily on food; will hurt their self-esteem; and, for those who lose weight and regain it, weight cycling carries risks to health and longevity.

    The way I see it, your opinion is that these people are beyond help. Here in Canada we believe it’s never too late to get back to a healthy lifestyle.

    If you define “help” as “becoming a thin person in a healthy and long-term way,” then yes, I think all but a small minority of fat people are beyond “help.”

    However, I disagree that all fat people (or “these people,” as you charmingly call us) need help. I disagree with your assumption that if someone is fat, they must not be living “a healthy lifestyle.”

    And for those fat people who do need or want to improve their health, I think that it’s usually more helpful to take a HAES approach, rather than a weight-loss approach. HAES will improve most people’s health – regardless of if they’re fat or thin – and is much less likely to fail over the long term than a weight-loss diet.

    Diets don’t work. That’s the essential fact that you’re refusing to face or discuss. A huge number of peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that weight-loss diets either don’t cause fat people to become non-fat people; or don’t work over the long term; or, usually, both.

    If you disagree, then please cite a longitudinal study, from a legitimate peer-reviewed journal, demonstrating that a weight-loss plan caused a majority of fat subjects to become non-fat people and to stay non-fat for at least five years. And if you can’t cite one, ask yourself why no such peer-reviewed study exists, despite decades of trying, and despite the huge wealth awaiting anyone who comes up with such a weight-loss diet.

    We’re under the impression that there are too many “fat” people in Canada. So many, in fact, that it is harming the nation. Hence the government sponsored attempt to reduce this trend.

    I’m curious as to why you think the US is any different in this regard. What you describe above is absolutely the mainstream view in the US, and the mainstream view within the US government. And there are many US government attempts to “fight obesity.”

    I find it hypocritical that the accepted tactics used to curb smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse are unacceptabe in the movement to curb obesity.

    The accepted tactics to curb smoking and alcoholism are to encourage users to stop smoking and boozing altogether. Drug addicts in the US are frequently thrown in jail. I can’t imagine that you’re advocating that fat people quit eating altogether, nor that we be thrown in jail. So I don’t think the comparison makes much sense.

    As I said earlier, it seems everybody always wants the other guy to do something about global warming.

    If you don’t have a scientifically proven plan for weight-loss that removes a significant amount of weight from a majority of fat people in a healthy and long-term fashion, then suggesting fat people lose weight for any reason is irresponsible.

    You’re like someone saying “everyone should just throw away their cars and choose self-powered flight”; if you don’t have a practical way for us to accomplish that, then it’s worthless advise. For the large majority of fat people, it’s no more possible to become non-fat (in a healthy, long-term manner) than it is to fly by flapping our arms.

    * * *

    There’s multiple definitions of “fat” and “overweight.” It’s true that the standard BMI definition, used by the US federal gov’t and many others, uses the same definition of “overweight” and “obese” for both women and men.

    However, there’s also the social definition of “fat” and “overweight” and “obese” – the nonscientific, informal judgements people cast on each other in everyday society. Men are given much more leeway to have a bit of fat around the waist, etc, without being judged “fat”; women are judged much more harshly.

  74. November 2, 2006 at 1:04 am

    My comment is in moderation (it’ll show up later), but I just wanted to add that I don’t feel I’m being shouted down by RM. On the contrary, although I wish RM would do a better job of addressing opposing arguments, I think she (or he) has done an admirable job of staying calm and polite while being the minority view on this thread.

    I do feel that all fat-postiive views are being shouted down, but not by RM; rather, we’re shouted down by a social and media environment that refuses to consider anti-fat claims with the slightest degree of skepticism, that gives a megaphone to their side but refuses to give the time of day to our side, that accepts millions of dollars in ads from the diet industry but then pretends to be “objective.” We’re being shouted down by social norms which define any fat-hating view as mainstream and any fat-positive view as out of the bounds of reasoned discussion.

    Ilkya wrote:

    Listen: If the dirty looks, substandard treatment, rank prejudice, open jeering, and army of anorexic celebrities looking down their plastic noses at fat people ain’t fixing it, adding “you cause global warming, too!” as the cherry atop the fat-hating sundae ain’t gonna fix it either.

    This is so right. The anti-fat people just seem to think that we fatsos haven’t been told to hate ourselves enough; if we’re just taught to hate ourselves a little bit more THEN we’ll stop (pausing to pry the Big Macs and chocolate shakes and, oh, I dunno, fried chicken out of our collective mouths) (because in their fevered imaginations, fat people do nothing but scarf down junk food 24/7) and so “oh, okay then, I guess we’ll stop being fat now.”

    Yes, Americans are heavier, and that’s contributing to global warming, just as heavier clothing or heavier cars or infant car seats or child booster seats do. Well, duh! This study is only newsworthy because of its fat-bashing subtext, not because it says anything interesting or notable. And being fat is not a choice the way driving an SUV is a choice.

    Anyway, sorry that I’ve helped diverge the thread… if you want me to stop it, say the word and I will (or I’ll at least take it to my own blog!). I admit this is a hobby horse of mine.

  75. Raging Moderate
    November 2, 2006 at 2:48 am

    (or “these people,” as you charmingly call us)

    By these people, I meant the “them” you referred to here:

    However, weight-loss diets will make most people unhappy and moody; will cause them to obsess unhealthily on food; will hurt their self-esteem

    I disagree with your assumption that if someone is fat, they must not be living “a healthy lifestyle.”

    Then let’s agree to disagree.

    For the large majority of fat people, it’s no more possible to become non-fat (in a healthy, long-term manner) than it is to fly by flapping our arms.

    Again, this is defeatism in my eyes. I think that one of the (many) reasons these people (just kidding) cannot lose weight is that there are so many people telling them that they can’t.

    Can you think of another situation where you’d tell someone “very few people can accomplish X, so you shouldn’t try either because you’ll probably fail”?

    I think she (or he) has done an admirable job of staying calm and polite while being the minority view on this thread.

    I believe I’m always calm and polite here (I try my best, anyway). And I always hold the minority view in any thread I comment in (I usually don’t join in with the choir when I agree) But I’m still on the moderation list for my sins of disagreement.

    And being fat is not a choice the way driving an SUV is a choice.

    This I agree with. Being fat (for the most part) is the result of many choices over a long period of time. That’s why it is so hard to reverse the effects of those choices.

  76. November 2, 2006 at 11:18 am

    I disagree with your assumption that if someone is fat, they must not be living “a healthy lifestyle.”

    Then let’s agree to disagree.

    Well, sure – but for me, it’s like agreeing to disagree with a creationist. This isn’t a disagreement between two equal positions; it’s a disagreement between a position based on evidence (mine) and a condition based on blind faith (yours).

    (Not that anyone is obligated to live “a healthy lifestyle,” by the way. Lots of people, thin and fat, have other priorities, and that’s fine.)

    Can you think of another situation where you’d tell someone “very few people can accomplish X, so you shouldn’t try either because you’ll probably fail”?

    Sure – trying to become ex-gay. The two situations actually have a lot in common:

    1) The evidence shows that for most gay people, attempts to become heterosexual will not be successful.

    2) Attempting to become heterosexual is likely to be harmful to the person trying to change.

    3) The reasons the gay person thinks they should become straight are rooted more in prejudice than fact.

    4) Most of the benefits that the gay person thinks they will gain by becoming straight, are more readily available by pursuing other changes combined with pursuing self-acceptance.

    We could replace the words “gay” and “straight/heterosexual” with “fat” and “thin” and all four of those statements would remain true.

    Here’s a counter-question for you: Can you name another medical treatment that is as commonly prescribed as weight loss dieting, that doesn’t work in 95% of the cases in which it is attempted; that is so stressful and unpleasant for the patient; that might cause the patient physical harm if it doesn’t work; and that treats a condition in which the relative risk (the increased odds of premature death) for most people who have it is under 2.0?

  77. Sheelzebub
    November 2, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    I said that claims refuting the health risks of obesity are only attributed to Americans.

    And the studies we cited never claimed that being morbidly obese was healthy (nor did we for that matter); they did indicate that being overweight (which is different) wasn’t as bad as previously thought. The studies also showed that being underweight was a significant risk factor–something that the hectoring moralists ignore.

    Again–and kindly stop falsely claiming that I assert that there are no health risks to being morbidly obese–a healthy lifestyle is what’s most important. A thin person can be very unhealthy, have an unhealthy percentage of body fat, have heart problems and blood sugar issues. But because they are thin, they do not get the lecturing, hectoring, and moralizing from the public.

    It’s not just someone saying, “That guy’s FAT!” It’s the hectoring self-righteous fuckwits who say things like “It’s fat people’s fault for contributing to global warming because their weight reduces gas mileage! Damn them!” instead of oh, I don’t know, looking at the fact that skinny people buy SUV’s too, plenty of thin people don’t bother to walk anywhere, and plenty of thin people overconsume products (which take resources to make and transport). It’s the moral scolds who whine about how undisciplined fat people are and assume that thin people are disciplined and very healthy. It’s the sanctimonious peanut gallery who treat fat people with less respect than thin people–even if they don’t realize they’re doing it, even if they insist they treat everyone equally. I’ve been out with friends who are much larger than me, and I can tell you right now, they are treated very differently.

    Finally–RM, you’re not the only one in moderation. Amp’s post was in moderation, as have mine been. So kindly stop the martyr business. It’s tiresome.

  78. Raging Moderate
    November 2, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    RM, you’re not the only one in moderation

    Good…I guess. When I first started commenting here last year I never was in the moderation queue. But after I had a few debates here (presenting a contrary opinion), all my comments have been moderated. I thought that was the reason for the change.

  79. November 2, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Good…I guess. When I first started commenting here last year I never was in the moderation queue. But after I had a few debates here (presenting a contrary opinion), all my comments have been moderated. I thought that was the reason for the change.

    There is a reason: We started getting a shitload of comment spam, and had to add many more words to the list of things that will get you thrown into the moderation cue. Also, very long comments almost always go into moderation.

  80. November 2, 2006 at 3:04 pm

    Oh, and FYI, that last comment I made? Moderated.

  81. Raging Moderate
    November 2, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    Thanx for the clarification, Jill.

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