By Jan Chait | April 28, 2009 3:55 pm
Recently, I was watching a debate on one of those cable news shows about the increased taxes on cigarettes when one of the guests said, "…and I wouldn’t mind if they taxed obesity next."
Then came the announcement that United Airlines was instituting an obese-passenger policy, which garnered a slew of comments from readers when it was presented in Diabetes Self-Management’s Flashpoints section on April 20.
Was that the end of it? No. The Lancet, a British general medical journal, then ran a letter alleging that overweight people contributed to global warming, with United Kingdom researchers opining that fat people caused more oil consumption, more food production, and a resultant increase in the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Gee. Obesity seems to be at fault for everything!
One of my favorite drawings that depicts just how obesity is at the root of all of our woes appeared in The New York Times a couple of years ago (see it here). In a Rube Goldberg-ish sequence of events, an overweight man eats a piece of cake, causing a button to pop off his shirt, turning on a propane torch that causes global warming. That, in turn, heats up water which kills endangered species. However, the condensed water does cause a flower to grow…which tips over a box filled with nuclear secrets. The secrets fall into the hands of a spy, leading to nuclear proliferation. As the spy runs away on a treadmill, a buzz saw is activated which cuts down a Brazilian rain forest.
No wonder “they” want to get rid of obesity. Gotta end nuclear proliferation and save the Brazilian rain forests, ya know.
OK, I get it. Obesity isn’t good for you. But society assumes that obesity is something people do to themselves and, if we’d only stop that fork from reaching our mouths, we’d all be svelte. There’s more to it than that: Genetics, certain medications, life experiences, and more all contribute to obesity. Those are factors that (1) may not be understood or (2) may not have been researched enough because it’s easier to blame the victim.
I was sitting out on the front porch a little while ago, thinking about my family. I’m the largest and my father is number two. Then come my size-8 mother and my tall, lanky brothers. Once, when Dad was complaining about his weight, Mom said, “We all eat at the same table.”
Then I glanced over at the cats, who were lounging on various surfaces, looking for the birds they could hear but couldn’t see. Three of the four are from the same litter. The litter mates all began life within three grams of the same weight. One is now about twice as large as his siblings. Judging from the kittens’ markings, he has the same father as at least one of his siblings. He’s as active as the others. He cannot go to a drive-through and order the heart-attack special, nor can he go to the grocery store and stock up on ice cream and potato chips. He eats from the same bowl.
Fat-bashing seems to be the last bastion of social acceptability. Race is out. Religion is out. Sexism is a no-no. But comedians, celebrities, and run-of-the-mill people are free to lash out at large people. (And, incidentally, at those who have Type 2 diabetes, which goes hand-in-hand with being overweight — although most people who are overweight do not have diabetes).
Do “they” believe they are helping by bashing overweight and obesity? Perhaps by surmising that it will cause overweight people to lose weight? Surprisingly, a report in the October 2006 issue of the journal Obesity found that people coped with the stress of being stigmatized about their weight by…eating more and refusing to diet.
People have been fired for making comments about off-limits topics. It may have something to do with political correctness, but I like to think it’s more about the fact that there are human beings beneath skin color, gender, and other off-limit topics. I wish those who make inappropriate comments about weight would remember the human factor, too.
Somehow, this blog had its own ideas about where it wanted to go as I was writing it. I wanted to include a quote about obesity and global warming from Rebecca M. Puhl, PhD, director of research and weight stigma initiatives at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. But, hey, nothing wrong with ending with her comments:
“Body weight has very little to do with one’s environmental footprint. For example, there are many obese individuals who drive small cars or take public transportation to work, who recycle as part of their daily lifestyles, buy locally grown foods, and find ways to conserve energy. There are also many ‘thin’ people who don¹t do these things.
“These studies only serve to perpetuate the stigma and prejudice that obese persons already face, and deflect attention from the more serious contributors of food-related contributions to global warming, such as industrialized food production and the food distribution system (e.g., how many gallons of aviation fuel are burned to get fresh produce to our supermarkets? Or to package food products in plastics and ship them daily all over the world?).
“Rather than focusing on how much energy is expended by carrying extra body mass, we should be focusing on ways to improve our agricultural practices and food environment as a way of addressing both ‘globesity’ and climate change.”
Isn’t it amazing what you can dig up if you just go beyond the surface?
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