Epic Head-Desk Ahead!
Generally I’m big fan of MSNBC, especially Rachel Maddow, so I pop over to their site almost every day to scan the headlines and catch her show. A couple of evenings ago I saw a headline: “The Surprising New Face of Obesity.” Is it EVER surprising! Surprising how a couple of researchers, some data and a headline can be SO CLOSE and yet SO FAR on an issue so close to my heart.
It’s a lot of fail and fear-mongering wrapped up into one bit of “journalism,” so it’s hard to know where to start, but I suppose the beginning is best. The opening salvo is that the obesity epi-panic is MUCH WORSE than anyone realized, and it’s all the BMI’s fault. That researchers and mainstream media have finally caught on that BMI is a poor indicator of health is a good thing, but then they go on to talk about how fat is what causes heart disease, depression, menstrual problems, cancer, anxiety and other illnesses. REALLY?! No. Correlation does not equal causation. Being fat in a culture that hates fat people will definitely cause anxiety, and yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling, can definitely cause depression because, hey, who likes a 95% chance of failure? The menstrual problems mentioned are probably polycystic ovarian sydrome, which isn’t CAUSED by fat, but CAUSES someone to appear fat/creates fat. Gebus. I’m no medical school professor, but even a quick wander through Google or Wikipedia will tell you these things. It’s not like folks in the Fatosphere and elsewhere haven’t been writing for a decade or so about the emotional, mental and physical damage caused by being despised, and PCOS isn’t exactly a new thing. Being fat may cause heart disease, but then again there’s a strong genetic factor. Same with diabetes. Being fat can also protect you during cardiac events or after surgery. The obesity paradox rears it’s beautiful chubby face again!
Anyway, their solution to the whole “fat is the number one predictor of who’s going to live or die” thing is to simply change the definition (again!) of who’s overweight, obese, etc. Seriously.
Based on these findings, Braverman and his co-author Dr. Nirav Shah, the current New York state health commissioner, suggest lowering the BMI definition of obesity from 30 to 24 in women and down to 28 in males. Under these suggested guidelines, a woman who is 5’ 6” and 150 pounds would be considered obese. Under the current BMI standards, the same woman would be considered healthy.
Everyone dies, Dr. Braverman. Whether or not they’re costing America a lot of money or not is beside the point. Instead of focusing on how healthy people are, which this was a perfect opportunity to do, these researchers chose to suggest moving the goalposts so MORE people suddenly become overweight and obese. That worked out so well in 1998! I’m sure that won’t increase stigma against fat folks at all! I’m sure it won’t funnel more money into the $60 billion a year diet and weight loss industries either! *EPIC HEAD-DESK*
This really was the perfect opportunity for Dr. Braverman and Dr. Shah to make a dramatic U-turn and say, “Hey, instead of focusing on fat and weight as a predictor of health (because let’s face it, those are pretty bad predictors), let’s work on this cool idea we heard about called Health at Every Size. Instead of stigmatizing certain numbers as good or bad, we focus on overall behaviours and attitudes towards food and health. Yeah! Great idea!” Sadly, they did the opposite and drove to the next battlefield in the War on
Fat People Obesity. Depending on how far reaching and influential their findings are, the rest of us might just get dragged along with them.