Think fat people are a burden to society? A blight on the landscape? Lazy gluttons with a death wish? 4 out of 5 doctors agree! But what if that's all wrong?
As a fat person, the most dangerous place I go in my everyday life is the doctor's office. My weight isn't what's scary. Weight bias is.
Yesterday, the American Medical Association passed a vote — against the advice of their own scientific advisory board — that will make doctor's offices even more threatening. They decided that being fat is a disease.
One reason the AMA gave (according to the New York Times): "[I]t would reduce the stigma of obesity that stems from the widespread perception that it is simply the result of eating too much or exercising too little."
In fact, the medicalization of weight diversity has long served to drive anti-fat attitudes and outright discrimination. The AMA has just greenlighted even more egregious weight discrimination: "Don't hire fatties, they're lazy gluttons and they're sick." (There are very few laws against height/weight discrimination. Massachusetts considers one next week.)
Doctors, who already harbor high levels of weight bias, will be even more likely to view fat patients as "lazy, stupid, and worthless."
When fat people seek medical care, we're likely to be denied tests and treatments that we need, based on our weight alone. At the same time, we're also likely to be pressured to undergo dangerous (and often ineffective) "cures" for our weight. A classic line fat people hear: "You're too fat for us to operate on. You should get stomach amputation!" More such horror stories are compiled at the First, Do No Harm blog.
If anti-"obesity" [sic] fearmongers actually cared about fat people's health, you'd think their first concern would be to make sure we can see a doctor. Instead, the label of "morbid obesity" [sic] has long been used to justify the outright denial of health insurance to individual applicants. (Such a denial is why I became a fat activist, way back in the mid-90s. "You're fat? No health insurance for you!")
When the Affordable Care Act takes effect in 2014, fat people will be allowed to buy insurance like everyone else, but we may have to pay a third more for it, thanks to weight-based reward/penalty systems — so-called "wellness" programs. Such discriminatory programs are encouraged under the ACA's Safeway Amendment. (Safeway's CEO told Congress that his company saved tons of money by charging fat people more for healthcare. Never mind that Safeway's program took effect three years after the period when costs stayed down. Also: research shows no lasting benefit from these types of discriminatory wellness programs.
In response to the AMA decision, fat activists started the #IAmNotADisease hashtag on Twitter and I started a Change.org petition, which is already getting strong support. Please sign and share!
Liberals, who show admirable skepticism about corporate power and for-profit interests in other areas, have not only failed to question the motives behind the prevailing and popular vilification of fat people, they've been proud defenders of The Man, rushing to blame fat people for everything from rising healthcare costs to global warming. As I've long said, "The only thing anyone can diagnose by looking at a fat person is one's own level of prejudice toward fat people."
This is not about fat people's health, it's about making big, fat profits.
Doctors are assuring their reimbursements under the ACA's even more intensely weight-scrutinizing system. Weight-loss surgeons and hospitals are making millions, cutting off or choking off healthy internal organs. There are two new diet drugs to prescribe (one of which can cause birth defects, the New York Times reports). Public health officials know they'll get funding when they promise to fight "obesity" [sic]. Meanwhile, the war on so-called "obesity" [sic] is a war on fat people. And it comes at a heavy price.
This year, Americans will waste $66 billion on weight-loss products. The "weight-loss" industry is a misnomer: nearly everyone regains lost weight and up to two-thirds gain back more than they lost. Repeat customers are the business model of the weight-regain industry — an industry that expands every year, even during recession. (Which wouldn't happen if their products worked, right?) With the money that people waste this year on weight-loss products, based on my calculations, we could feed the hungry or house the homeless or send 90% of high school grads to state college.
Why does Michelle Obama agree with Mike Huckabee when it comes to fat people (and especially fat children)? Why is this attack on an entire demographic group non-controversial?
Liberals and conservatives alike think they know about fat people. We're lazy gluttons who perversely choose to be the targets of widespread social derision. Weight loss is supposedly a simple matter of calorie-in/calories-out.
However, the scientific data doesn't support those assumptions. A powerful new, evidence-based approach called Health At Every Size® offers a way to avoid the harms of a weight-centered, weight-loss approach to health and also promises to right the social justice wrongs that the weight-centric approach has inspired.
Better yet, Health At Every Size is enjoyable and sustainable. Instead of forcing yourself to forego pleasures, it harnesses the pleasure principle in service to health and happiness. The basic idea: Love your body. Enjoy eating well. Find physical activity you truly like to do. And make the world a welcoming place for people of all sizes. Whatever you weigh in the process, that's your healthy weight. Nutrition professor Linda Bacon, PhD, published research comparing a HAES approach to a traditional weight-loss approach. Two years later, the non-dieters were still healthier and happier and eating better and exercising more. In contrast, the only lasting effect for dieters was increased depression and lower self-esteem. Think about it: How many New Year's Resolutions to lose weight last until the next January? You only need motivation to do something if it's unpleasant. If your approach is enjoyable, no one can stop you from pursuing it. We'd all be a lot healthier and happier if our doctors told us to take good care of ourselves because we're worth it right now, not to make less of ourselves.
Health At Every Size, by Linda Bacon, PhD
Talking Fat, by Lonie McMichael, PhD
Big Fat Lies, by Glenn A. Gaesser, PhD
The Fat Studies Reader, co-edited by Esther Rothblum, PhD, and Sondra Solovay, JD