The despair of “obesity battlers”

A few tweets I made this morning after seeing this lamentation on Radio NZ’s website:

This is an idea I’ve had rattling around in my head for a while – the constant messages and stigma focused on fat people (right from the get-go, depersonalizing us by talking about “obesity” as an amorphous, scary phenomenon) aren’t science any more. They’re religion.

Perhaps I’m too cynical, but making a headline by quitting and parrotting the usual demonizing lines – the Obesity Monster will destroy us all, the Obesity Monster is ruining our health system – and then mentioning “oh, by the way I have a book out soon” rings far too hollow to me.

For more information about Health at Every Size, I cannot recommend enough checking out Dr Linda Bacon’s website. Also:

I know this runs counter to so many ideas which are so deeply embedded in our society and media. We’re constantly reminded to associate physical size with health, and health with moral virtue. We’re meant to believe that weightloss is just this easy and that the only reason 95% of diets don’t work is because of personal failure and weakness.

But when we step away from the framing of “obesity” as a modern-day Nothing and remember we’re talking about people who happen to be fat, the whole facade starts to crumble. We can see that there’s a difference between having a certain body shape and having an actual defined health issue (like diabetes – which doesn’t only affect fat people – or high blood pressure – which doesn’t affect all fat people – or PCOS – which can cause weight gain but isn’t caused by being fat).

That’s crucial to being able to do something about those conditions instead of ignoring all the evidence that diets don’t work and fat stigma harms people far more than being fat does. That’s evidently something Dr Robyn Toomath wasn’t able to do. So, frankly, good riddance to her.

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on weight, food and pregnancy

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

sansa misandry

I got the inside running on this one by catching five minutes of Breakfast on One’s interview with John Key:

The rest of the media weren’t far behind.

I just want to note the first sentence of the article Andrea Vance linked to:

More than 60 per cent of pregnant women gain more weight than is recommended, which has implications for a child’s weight later in life.

Not implications for health; implications for weight. We’re so wedded to the notion that being fat automatically means you’re unhealthy that we don’t even need to establish whether or not weight gain in pregnancy leads to health issues. It just must because ew, fatties.

Take it away, Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Dovil/status/655982421607755776

And back to me:

https://twitter.com/MorganHopes/status/655970896092377088

For many, many informed perspectives on what happens when you force fat people to go to the doctor, check out First Do No Harm.

This is a common tune for me, but I’m just going to repeat it: fatness does not equal poor health. Thinness does not equal good health. Correlating certain diseases with fatness does not mean fatness causes those diseases. Considering the incredibly fatphobic society we live in, it’s ludicrous not to consider the effects of stress, deprivation, and societally-applauded yo-yo dieting on the overall health of fat people, even IF fat people were inherently less healthy than thin people, which they’re not.

And when it comes to policing the every waking thought and action of pregnant people – including how much weight they gain during pregnancy – there really aren’t good grounds to be talking about “evidence-based approaches”.

Stop talking about weight. Stop judging people based on their weight. Stop buying into the weightloss industry’s propaganda. Because if you want to know the #1 reason why we’re not having national conversations about food access, living wages, family time, and health awareness? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact we keep saying it’s all fat people’s fault for not being able to put down the doughnuts.

And for god’s sake stop making pregnant people responsible for the welfare of our entire society.

Today in dehumanizing fat people

Check out this glorious first sentence in an article about a health policy announcement:

The Government is preparing to make a major announcement in the fight against obesity, as it looks to reverse a trend of expanding waistlines and the burden of disease that goes with it.

Notice what’s missing?

People.

“Expanding waistlines!” it cries. “The burden of disease!” it shrieks. We’re “in a fight against obesity!” it declares. Fatness isn’t a simple physical descriptor in our society: it’s a monster, an autonomous phenomenon which will destroy us all as soon as it can get off the couch.

Whatever the Government’s announcement is, I’d like you to bear in mind a few simple facts:

  • Fat people are people
  • The fact some diseases are statistically linked to being fat does not mean that being fat causes disease
  • Being fat isn’t a disease either
  • Being thin isn’t proof of health
  • You can’t diagnose medical conditions just by looking at someone’s weight
  • There are plenty of diseases and conditions associated with height but no one declares a war on tallness
  • When you live in a society which treats your very bodily existence as proof of your immorality, stupidity and sickness, it’s not exactly a surprise you might get ill.

And if the Government’s announcement is any one of the usual grab-bag of food/exercise strategies:

  • Having access to a broad range of different foods, affordably and easily, is good no matter what your size is
  • Having opportunities to be physical active in a fun and non-coercive way is good no matter what your size is
  • People of any size may have nutritional needs or physical disabilities which you can’t see.

We’re a beautiful, incredibly diverse species, people. We don’t all fit into one box of dietary needs and physical capabilities.

If the Government is creating genuine opportunities for kids to eat a variety of foods – not a narrowly-defined “healthy diet” – or to get out and play – not conform to narrowly-defined notions of “fitness” – awesome.

If the Government is saying “wouldn’t it be nice if all the fat people went away” … not so much.

Fatties destroying the New Zealand Defence Force

Oh, sweet merciful mother of God:

The Defence Force has announced it will restrict sugary fizzy drinks and deep fried food as it emerges more than a quarter of its personnel are ‘obese’.

This story frustrates me so. I’ve criticised the use of BMI as a “health” metric for years, and the response is always the same: “Oh, but it’s a good measurement for populations as a whole.”

It simply makes no sense. If a metric doesn’t tell you anything useful about someone on an individual basis, what can it possibly tell you on a population-wide basis?

It might provide some information on how the population’s average-weight-divided-by-square-of-height is changing over time, but that’s equally meaningless in terms of “health”. Different ethnic groups have different body shapes (and different health issues). Older populations have different body sizes to younger populations (and different health issues). Why not measure those things when we’re talking about how healthcare costs are changing over time?

And what the apologists ignore is this: BMI is most frequently used against individuals. Immigration, access to certain types of healthcare, forcing fat people to buy two plane tickets: they target individuals for demeaning, inadequate, even harmful treatment, every time.

The supreme irony is that I’ve often challenged BMI-is-good-for-populations by saying “but how can it be a good measurement if you can’t even say for certain whether a high-BMI population is [a group of lazy fatties] or [a group of weightlifters]?”

And there is sneering and eye-rolling about how unlikely it is that NZ’s population-wide BMI is going up because more of us are weightlifting.

Well, here you go: a quarter of our military personnel are obese, compared to a third of the NZ population overall (according to the Ministry of Health, which also thinks BMI is good for anything). That’s a much smaller gap than you’d assume if you remember that the military is meant to be younger and fitter and the general population older and More Evil less fit.

(Of course, our military, especially our Army, is also a lot browner than the general population – remember what I said about different ethnic groups and different body shapes?)

We can either assume that our military training has really gone off the rails, or – hold onto your hats – that BMI, as an individual measurement, as a group measurement, is totally worthless for determining anything at all.

And next time you see an article screaming blue about how our “obesity rates” are “out of control”, don’t picture a gross, headless fat person holding a burger. Picture Richie McCaw, whose BMI, at 30, means he’s being counted as one of the terrible fat people destroying our health system.

~

PS: And of course, Stuff just couldn’t resist including a picture of Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee, because get it, LOL, he’s fat.

QOTD: Beware that latest “diet breakthrough”

A must-read article at io9:

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it.

The story of how they got their study published and turned into blaring, inaccurate, weight-loss-promoting headlines across the world make for fascinating and worrying reading.

But it’s not just about the reporting. There’s a hugely important message about weight-loss “science”:

I know what you’re thinking. The study did show accelerated weight loss in the chocolate group—shouldn’t we trust it? Isn’t that how science works?

Here’s a dirty little science secret: If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a “statistically significant” result. Our study included 18 different measurements—weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being, etc.—from 15 people. (One subject was dropped.) That study design is a recipe for false positives.

So why should you care? People who are desperate for reliable information face a bewildering array of diet guidance—salt is bad, salt is good, protein is good, protein is bad, fat is bad, fat is good—that changes like the weather. But science will figure it out, right? Now that we’re calling obesity an epidemic, funding will flow to the best scientists and all of this noise will die down, leaving us with clear answers to the causes and treatments.

Or maybe not. Even the well-funded, serious research into weight-loss science is confusing and inconclusive, laments Peter Attia, a surgeon who cofounded a nonprofit called the Nutrition Science Initiative. For example, the Women’s Health Initiative—one of the largest of its kind—yielded few clear insights about diet and health. “The results were just confusing,” says Attia. “They spent $1 billion and couldn’t even prove that a low-fat diet is better or worse.”

The ironic thing about Attia’s “lament” is that the lack of clear evidence about diet and health didn’t stop him cofounding an organisation whose website cries out for proper research and funding – but still assumes that the “dramatic rise in obesity” in the US is a “crisis” and not a blip caused by changing the definition of “obesity” in the 90s.

The authors of this terrible study did it deliberately to make a point about bad science and bad science reporting. There are plenty of others out there doing it for a far worse reason: the ridiculous amount of money there is to be made from promoting health anxiety and fat panic.