And the Horse You Rode In On

Image by Susan at yeahandanotherthing.com

I wake up in the morning to all kinds of interesting things:  comments on the blog, e-mails from readers asking questions or for help, and articles that people think might interest me.  Make no mistake, I love getting these things, even when the articles are awful.  Today I  got a couple of articles that made me want to tell the authors, and some of the subjects of the articles  “Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on.”  Except I have nothing against the horse, so I guess it’s just fuck you.

The first article [trigger warning:  blatant fat bigotry] is about the Royal Ottawa Hospital’s family court case reviewing whether a 38-year-old man is too fat to be a dad.  It seems that the court now uses obesity as a factor when deciding if someone is a fit parent.  This is, obviously, HIGHLY problematic. First the court said:

[the father's] strong personal beliefs on issues, including weight loss, make it difficult for him to accept the opinions of specialists on such matters,” the doctor wrote in the assessment report.

This one really concerns me – weight loss as a prescription for anything (except weight gain) does not meet the guidelines for evidence based medicine – there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that he will succeed and there is a mountain of evidence that shows that the most likely outcome of weight loss attempts is weight gain. So forcing people to make weight loss attempts or be seen as legally non-compliant and unfit is a very dangerous concept.

[father] has struggled with obesity for years, which impacts significantly on most aspects of his life including [his] functioning as a parent. He was short of breath or winded in simply walking short distances about the clinic and he lacks both the mobility and stamina required to keep up with young and active children.

Does the court make everyone take a fitness test to be a parent?  What does this mean to parents who have disabilities that cause stamina and mobility challenges?

Court filings show a doctor had recommended the sometimes deadly “obesity surgery” but the man declined and instead “had his own approach to weight loss.”  A doctor wrote, “I do not believe he followed through with even one of our dietary recommendations.”

The father refused to put his life in danger (and set his boys up to lose their father) for a risky, sometimes deadly surgery that has horrible side effects and fails a lot of the time.  He still lost a lot of weight short term, dropping from 525 pounds to 340 pounds and now weighs 380. (He is likely to be blamed for the weight regain even though it is what all the evidence says will happen.) He also stopped smoking marijuana and took anger management classes as the court requested. And it may still not be enough.  The doctor contracted to assess the man’s case wrote:

Regardless of how much weight (the father) may have lost to date, he will continue to be at risk related to his obesity for some considerable time. This will include not only his risk for major life threatening events, but also a lack of mobility and proneness to injury as was exemplified by (the father’s) hobbling around on crutches when last seen individually. (The father’s) health issues are magnified by his anti-authoritarian traits and refusal to follow recommended treatments. This also raises questions to his ability to make proper decisions in regards to his sons’ medical, educational or psychological needs.

Unbe-fricking-lievable.  He got the outcomes that the court asked for and he may lose the right to see his children because he refused medical advice for which the doctor would be completely unable to provide an evidence basis, and because he had a life event that put him on crutches? Do other parents who come to court using crutches have their suitability for parenthood questioned?

Fuck you Ottawa Family Court.

The next article [Massive Trigger warning:  Absolutely Horrible] is called “Armaglutton” (See what they did there. Get it? Get it? Hilarious amirite?) The first line reads:

OVERWEIGHT people could bring about the end of mankind by gobbling up all our food stocks, a shock study claims.

Which begs the question – if you know it’s a “shock study” why are you treating it like it’s news?  The next question that I have, as a trained researcher, is “How in fat hell did they calculate this?”  So I looked it up and it turns out that using study, research, and calculate to describe this is charitable:

For each country we used data on body mass index (BMI) and height distribution to estimate
average adult body mass. We calculated total biomass as the product of population size and
average body mass. We estimated the percentage of the population that is overweight
(BMI > 25) and obese (BMI > 30) and the biomass due to overweight and obesity.

Did you catch that the whole thing is based on an estimate and every single calculation includes an estimate.  I think they got confused – it’s the hypothesis that’s supposed to be an educated guess, not the entire research process.

But wait, it’s gets better.  They used those estimates to determine that “If all countries had the BMI distribution of the USA, the increase in human biomass …would have energy requirements equivalent to that of 473 million adults.”

Their conclusion “Increasing population fatness could have the same implications for world food energy as an extra half a billion people living on the earth.”

Note that they rounded up from 473 million to half a billion.  I guess they just wanted to get one more estimate in under the wire. Also, increasing population fatness by how much?  Do we have any reason to believe that this is likely?  Zombie Apocalypse could also end the world but I don’t expect major media outlets to report on the Zombegeddon.  Much later in the paper they explain that this is actually a worst case scenario which means that maybe IT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THEIR CONCLUSION. (It also means that their conclusion rounded up from their worst case scenario – as a trained researcher I’m embarrassed for and by these people.) Not to mention the fact that it’s impossible to calculate how many calories a population will need based on an estimate of a guess of that population’s BMI, even if you knew the exact BMI you would not know the body composition (different types of tissue requires different caloric amounts to be sustained) or activity level of the population.  Don’t worry, they just went ahead and guessed at those as well.

Here is a quick study that I put together that has similar validity:  I know that there were six researchers who participated in the creation of this study.  I know that the school these researchers come from has 4,000 students. I can assume from the available data that all six researchers were either incompetent or had their heads up their asses.  I estimate that it was half and half.  Therefore I conclude that 2,000 of the students at the school are incompetent and the other 2,000 will require a colo-rectal head extraction to have any hope of becoming competent researchers.

Hundreds of news outlets reported this story as fact – with headlines like “Obesity Could Lead to the End of the Human Race”

Fuck you research team and every news outlet that is reporting this as if it’s legitimate.

Dear fat people and fat activists who aren’t fat:  It’s only a “War on Obesity” if we fight back.  If we don’t fight back, it’s just going to be massacre. What’s it going to take to get fat people to stop internalizing our oppression and start saying “If they want a War on Obesity - let’s give them one.”

Pre-ordering is almost over!  Pre-order my book now to  get an autographed copy and free shipping!

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Published in: on June 20, 2012 at 8:07 am  Comments (28)  

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That thing about how fat people are gonna destroy the planet with our fatness is all very interesting and stuff, except for one thing.
    I actually don’t eat any more than most people who are smaller than me.
    So, whoever wrote this crap can go put that in their pipe and smoke it.
    And they can also go fuck themselves.

    • And the whole it takes more fuel to move fat people around. That depends on choice doesn’t. If a fat person drives a car that gets 30+ mpgs and a thin person drives a car that gets 20 mpgs (everything else being the same), then it isn’t really taking more fuel to move fat people around. These ‘researchers’ clearly are using a faulty assumption base to extrapolate their conclusions.

      • Totally.

  2. When I read the article, it struck me that the reporter himself was also alarmed by the whole fat angle. He makes it clear that the guy had adopted healthy habits like swimming and that the guy’s doctor thought it was great.

    In this case, there seem to be other, potentially good, reasons why there might be doubts about the fitness of this man to be a parent, including the need for ‘anger management’. That’s much more disturbing than how much fat he’s carrying and his adipose tissue shouldn’t be obscuring those issues.

    The most worrying thing about this, for me, is that introducing ‘fat’ into a court case in this way serves to criminalise fat. It might not be encoded in legislation, but if it’s a factor in a parents losing children, then ‘being fat’ has just become something that can be sanctioned with legal penalties.

    • It would set a very bad precedent if a court were allowed to *require* that a person have surgery– especially major, life-threatening surgery– as a condition to (re)gain custody of hir own child. That would hurt fat people, people with disabilities, and trans people.

      Another disturbing phrase: “anti-authoritarian traits.” Gee. The state is taking away your kid because of your weight and demanding that you undergo dangerous and ineffective medical treatments in order to regain custody and they expect you to be all smiley about it? Might as well write “bad fatty” on the paperwork and have done with it.

      • Yep. I wandered into comments to make that point – the court are more concerned with the ‘anti-authoritarian’ bit than the fat bit (they seem to be flagging that as a symptom) but of course everyone likes to think they’re a little rebellious when it comes to The Man so they concentrate on the bit they’re conditioned to feel disgust for.

        Family courts give me the heebie jeebies and I have an unreasonable fear of ever falling into their hands (same with the mental health system actually). I suppose there must be teams of dedicated professionals who do nothing but good but of course we only hear about the ridiculous and nonsensical cases (if we hear about them at all – family courts in the UK sit in secrecy I believe).

  3. And NPR just HAD to have the “researcher” from Stupid Story Number 2 on air this morning. I absolutely HATE their “health” reporting.

    –Andy Jo–

    • That is horrible. I hope DWF readers will leave comments on npr.org!

      http://www.npr.org/2012/06/20/155411564/study-fat-people-burden-earths-resources

    • NPR is so awful. I listen to them all the time and was prepared to donate last year, but they had that terrible series on obesity around the time I was getting ready to write a check. I decided that my fat-tainted dollars would be better used by a different charity, one that didn’t instigate hatred against fat people.

  4. I read about the second publication too, even BBC reported about it… (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18462985). I must say I’m really surprised that these people actually managed to get the paper published… they even assumed that one’s calory intake is directly proportional to one’s weight…

    Anyway, thanks for commenting both stories! More people should read your blog, really, especially when these kind of sudies are reproduced and presented as fact way too often…

    • Some diet company somewhere funded that, bet you. It’s a neat trick though. Shift the blame onto the OMG FATTIE FAT FATS! instead of actually sorting out the food distribution system in the world. I think I’m correct when I say that we are perfectly capable of supporting the population of the planet, and more, on the resources we have, as long as we could distribute them fairly. But no, let the skinny-to-middling socially acceptable folks chow down all they want and we can take the blame, because it’s easier, even if it’s not true. *sigh*

  5. When British newspapers and tabloids use the word “shock” in headlines, they’re using it the way their American equivalents would use the word “shocking.” So, it’s meant to be read as “shocking study,” like “alarming,” not “shock” as in “sensationalist.”

    • Oh. Thanks, I really appreciate that. Two countries separated by a common language indeed.

      ~Ragen

  6. The first story particularly leaves me speechless with rage.

  7. I have to ditto Helena. I also am speechless. However, I wonder if the writer took into consideration all the fat people who dont go anywhere in public because of people like him? How much energy do they save the planet by not taking transportation. And…..Oh it is such a bunch of crap. Thanks Ragen for your words as I have none.

    • And what about those of us who – despite being fat – mostly walk, ride bikes, or take public transportation?

      Oh, I guess I make up for all that walking by eating yet more Twinkies and clubbing baby manatees to death so I can chomp them down, too. (/sarcasm)

      We all know the saying ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’, right? Well I propose a corollary: the plural of random guesswork is not data, either.

      • Manatees? That’s kid stuff! I’ve been swallowing entire walruses in one gulp! ;-)

  8. Ragen, wasn’t sure where to post this, but I have ore-ordered your book and gave the payment and my address in the UK. But in a few weeks I am moving to another part of the UK and though my post will be re-directed by Royal Mail, I wondered if you needed me to give the new address and how would I do that? Thank you.

    Marion Fallon, UK

    • Hi Marion, thanks for pre-ordering. I can use the old address and have it forward, if you prefer to use the new address just e-mail it to me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and I’ll take care of it :)

      Sent from my iPhone Please excuse my thumbs!

  9. I send all my well wishes to the poor man trying to get his children back. It is wrong for the court to make such extraordinary demands of him. I applaud him both for his herculean efforts to change and his refusal to have WLS in the face of such daunting opponents and such high stakes.

    Sadly, I expect that the court will demand that he have the surgery in order to get the children even though he has done so much without it. They will use his having regained 40 pounds as proof that he has no will power in spite of the other amazing things he has done that definitely DO require will power.

    Trigger warning. I get graphic: As for the other piece, I found the language of the headline interesting: “OVERWEIGHT people could bring about the end of mankind by gobbling up all our food stocks, a shock study claims.”

    It puts fat people on one side of the virtuous fence and the rest of the world, including the reader, on the other throught the use of the word “our.” Then there’s the term “gobble.” It means to greedily devour, to gulp down hastily in large pieces. The image the headline creates is disturbing: the threat of waves of greedy fat people swarming across the globe like locusts taking resourses away from the deserving thin people.

    This is the sort of rhetoric that gets used on populations that are being scape goated. It is dangerous. It is hate speech.

    • “This is the sort of rhetoric that gets used on populations that are being scape goated. It is dangerous. It is hate speech.”

      Yep. And in the UK, at least, there is a lot of it going on against various groups. Disabled people and those who are chronically ill, in particular, are being framed as workshy scroungers. Then there’s the studies which ‘prove’ that poorer people are fatter, to go along with the tabloid-promoted idea that people who are poor are just lazy and should get off benefits and into jobs (of which there are few and far between). There’s a whole horrible culture of blame and finger-pointing and shame going on, it’s poisonous and it doesn’t address a single problem. :-(

      • I hate to go all Godwin here but, you know the Third Reich also targeted the disabled. I believe the term for them was “useless eaters.” I’m not sure if the fat were lumped in with the disabled, but at least one part of the world “went there” before. Jews, the disabled, gays, communists, Gypsies…

        All scapegoated into concentration camps, and sanitoriums, and killed for the greater good.

        We’d like to think that we are wiser now, but the truth is, we’re just as stupid, and bigoted, and wrong.

        And sometimes we gotta Godwin stuff to remind people of exactly where that kind of stupid, bigoted and wrong takes us.

  10. Awesome blog! I just heard the news story about the world food supplies and obesity yesterday – on CNN Headline News. Robin Mead reported it. It was just a blurb, because it is after all Headline News, but I was like “are you effing kidding me??? ” Out. of. control.

  11. Some doctors are so egostistical, they get crazy when someone questions them, as if patients don’t have a right to question major health decisions….

  12. Ok the dad article was…wow! I read it thinking the whole time that this just can’t be real. I mean I know it is. How do they get away with this? Isn’t there anyone in that whole situation speaking up saying this isn’t right? The last part, “The boys are aggressive, quite active and have been known to jump on furniture and ignore orders so much so that they run away.” Really? Aren’t most boys that way. Isn’t that a definition of being a kid? Jumping on furniture & ignoring orders? Hell even I do that sometimes when I’m able! My boys are totally that way. I have fibro & am disabled a lot of days (when not jumping on the furniture.) I’m still a good parent! These people need to take a hard look at the policies that brought about this situation!

  13. Believe it or not, the second study does remind me of a lot of my reactions while studying statistics – that is, sometimes numerical origami goes too damn far. Yes, you can fold and staple and fray data a million ways from Sunday, but that doesn’t necessarily make it relevant. I’d tell my now-husband, “I feel so bad for these poor numbers – but I think they’ve passed out from shock by now, they can’t feel what’s being done to them.”

    Then again, that article only deals with imaginary statistics, so it’s only imaginary numbers that are being mutilated.

  14. While it’s absolutely terrible that the father in question (or anyone) is being treated like this, and trust me I am horrified, part of me is thinking, ‘What a badass!’ I mean, he’s a rebel, he’s not taking their BS, he’s doing his own thing despite the way he’s being treated, he obviously loves those kids or he woudn’t put himself in this position… I like him already.

    I can’t believe TPTB judge this man in this stupid way. Saying he gets a bit puffed out, even if it’s true, so what? Plenty of grandparents mightn’t get from nought to sixty as fast as their adult children might. Does that mean any parent leaving their kid with the grandparents is committing child abuse? What BS.

    I guess looking for logic in a sizeist person is like looking for teeth in a chicken.

  15. This story seems to have made the mainstream news (i.e. Yahoo) today at some point and after reading an article and then making the mistake of reading the comments I seriously wanted to cry. Especially since I’m pregnant with my first kid right now and despite doing everything including starving myself I’ve never been able to get down to the so called “normal” BMI I’m supposed to have. It disgusts me that people seriously think weight or body size has anything to do with parenting. There are so many parents out there with various disabilities who can’t run after their kids but no one says anything about them because they didn’t “choose” it the way fat people supposedly “choose” to be fat. I didn’t choose to be fat any more than my boyfriend chose to be thin. I can’t lose weigh to get to that magical “normal” BMI that everyone is supposedly supposed to have and he can’t gain weight to get to it either, but I’m the bad person because my body is bigger. I hope this man is able to get his children back.


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