Beware of Fat People

Beware of Fat People

There is no doubt that there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to our unhealthy diets.


There is no doubt that there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to our unhealthy diets. Yes, a number of us eat too much food, especially the worst possible kind. Why make do with one hamburger patty, when you can have two, and please, please don’t forget the bacon, mayo, or oodles of melted cheese. All of it over-processed and drowning in saturated fat. Yummy!

But it’s equally true that the shock/outrage/concern over the “obesity epidemic” — especially as it gets played out in the MSM — is often a flimsy pretext to beat up on people who aren’t thin, and vent the fat-phobia of our inner anorexic/bulemic, much of it masquerading as science.

A great example is the absurd claim made recently in New England Journal of Medicine that fat is similar to a contagious virus “spread from person to person like a fashion or a germ,” especially among friends. So my chance of becoming obese is 57 percent higher if my pal gains a lot of weight over a certain period of time — even if she/he lives on the other side of the country, or even the world.

Talk about a good reason to stay away from fatties…

The argument just didn’t sound right to me when I first heard it — and certainly didn’t co-relate to any reality I could detect in my varied body-shape/weight circle of friends. So I was delighted to read this blistering take-down in TCS Daily penned by Jonathan Robison, who exposes the research for what it is: junk science that can’t tell the difference between cause and corelation. Here’s an especially damning bit:

“Perhaps most disturbing is that, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of media images relating to the article were pictures of women, it turns out that the supposed impact of a friend’s obesity on a friend’s obesity (the strongest association of the BMI’s of all those observed) was only significant when both friends were male.

Have the researchers not heard that, aside from not being a good predictor or mortality or morbidity in males or females, use of the BMI is particularly problematic with males because it does not distinguish between muscle and fat and thus mislabels significant numbers of men as being overweight and obese when they are not?”

Robison’s concerns echoes an interview I did a couple of years ago with Paul Campos, the author of The Obesity Wars, who rightly argues against the over-emphasis on weight as a marker of health:

“One is that for the vast majority of people, weight simply isn’t going to tell you anything relevant about their health in and of itself. And second that among those groups that do show some meaningful correlations with health, we need to unpack the extent to which the weight is causal or merely a marker for other things, such as poor nutrition, socio-economic status, weight cycling brought on by dieting etc.”

In any case, whether we’re obese or anorexic, the basic underlying condition is an unhealthy, pathological relationship to food, or what Campos describes as “a form of eating-disordered thinking.” And both the fast-food and diet industries — which is once again obsessed with size at the expense of nutrition — are equally an expression of our sick culture.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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