I gave a talk today to the students at the Texas A&M School of Rural Public Health (They have a great blog that you can check out). They were awesome – attentive, open-minded and they asked excellent questions. One of my favorite questions was a woman who asked what I thought was the number one most important change that could be made in public health.
My answer was that we need to take weight out of the equation and make public health about public health, not public thinness. Right now the idea of “eradicating obesity” is a major part of public health effort and I think that every penny we are spending on that is a waste of money. So what would I spend money on? I’m glad that you asked…
Have you heard of “Food Deserts”? These are areas where there is a lack of affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains. You know that money that we’re putting into commercials that talk about how many calories a day breastfeeding burns and how it will stop your kid from being fat? How about we spend some of that money making sure that moms, and everyone else, have access to affordable healthy foods.
There are people who don’t have safe access to movement options that they enjoy. Even if they like jogging some people can’t do it safely in their neighborhoods. Some people would love to swim but they don’t have access to a pool. Some would love to dance but don’t have access to classes. Remember those horrible fat kid-shaming billboards from Georgia? What if they used those millions of dollars to build some non-profit community fitness centers and help existing community fitness centers take sliding scale payments. All the money the Ad Council spends on OMGDeathFatIsComingForYou ads? Let’s spend that letting people know about those fitness centers and how they are fiercely anti-shame and all about health for people of all sizes.
You know every damn penny that we are spending having a war on fat kids? How about we re-purpose that money to be for healthy healthy kids of all sizes. Gym classes with all kinds of options -the end of dodgeball as we know it – some kids can walk around the track, some can swim, some can dance, some can play computer games that require them to move, whatever will help them create a lasting love of moving their bodies or at last keep them from just hating the crap out of exercise. How about some school lunch offerings that are nourishing, appealing and affordable?
All those grants that we are spending for researchers to keep trying to figure out how to make us all fit the same narrow height/weight proportion? Let’s re-purpose that money for research to make us healthier. Let’s train doctors how to work appropriately with people of size – from a place of respect – treating health issues with health interventions. Let’s cure some form of cancer. Let’s do SOMETHING a little more worthy of our time and money than ignoring the diversity of the human experience and trying to make everyone fit the same very narrow ratio of height and weight.
And it’s not just money. Every second that we spend talking about the war on obesity, body shaming, body snarking, acting like someone else’s body size is our business, or confusing body size with diagnosis or health… What if we re-purposed that time to doing, oh I don’t know, anything else? I don’t think that people hate themselves healthy, because I don’t think that people take good care of things that they hate. If we would back the hell off so that people weren’t obsessed with not being fat anymore, or not getting fat, or hating parts of their bodies, then people would have an opportunity to realize how amazing their bodies are, appreciate them and then care for them in their own way without constant stigma or constant threat of stigma.
I think any public health intervention that leads people to hate their bodies is a bad intervention. I think that making everyone the same size is not the same as making everyone healthy. I do not believe that getting rid of fat people is a goal worthy of any time or money. I think that giving people access to healthy foods, safe movement options that they enjoy, and love for their bodies are goals worthy of all the time, energy and money that we can possibly spend on them. I have great hopes for the students of the Texas A&M School for Rural Public Health and for society in general that we will get past the scapegoating and stigmatizing of people of size and get onto the business of giving people access to a variety of options and then respecting their choices.