There is an argument that suggests that it’s ok to body police, bully, shame, stigmatize and have a war against obese people because being fat is an indication that someone doesn’t prioritize their health and that costs taxpayer dollars, and so prioritizing health is a social obligation and the punishment for not holding up our end of the bargain is that the government has declared war on us.
For today let’s set aside the fact that body size is not an indication of behaviors, health, or prioritization of health. Even if it were true that fat people don’t prioritize our health, the argument is still bullshit – a convenient lie used to justify indefensible bigotry. The way I know that is that if people truly believed the argument, there would be a lot more wars:
The War on Football Players: Football players, especially at the professional level, are absolutely not prioritizing their health. When their careers end their bodies are often in horrible shape – multiple concussions, blown knees, some players admit to having had over 50 surgeries after leaving the NFL. They retire at an average age of 28 years old with no salary, studies show that 78% go bankrupt within 5 years of retirement, but they don’t get insurance until they turn 50 and then only if they are vested and qualified. This sounds expensive, let’s get that war going.
The War on Insomniacs: Lack of sleep has been shown to be detrimental to people’s health. Studies suggest that most people are shown to need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Sounds like we’re gonna need to gear up for a war on people who choose to sleep less than what is shown to be healthy.
The War on Rock Stars: The rock star life that we celebrate as a culture includes drugs, alcohol, and a schedule of, rehearsals, shows, and appearances that runs performers ragged. These people are clearly not prioritizing their health. Where’s the war?
The War on Unhealthy Thin People: This whole idea rests on stereotypes about fat people – that you can tell by a fat body that someone doesn’t eat well and doesn’t exercise enough. Of course that’s no more true then the idea that every thin person eats well and exercises. Everyone knows a thin person who eats a ton of “junk food” never exercises and remains thin. If we’re going to do this we’re going to need to have a war on those people too.
The potential list goes on – UFC fighters brag about not prioritizing their health, professional bullriders, X Games athletes, people who choose to work third shift, people who choose jobs with repetitive motion, people who climb mountains, Iron Man triathletes, people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street, people who buy cars that don’t have the highest safety ratings etc.
The truth is that there are many ways to prioritize and de-prioritize our health and none of them can be be judged by body size. People of all sizes prioritize their health at different levels for different reasons. Fat people simply make good scapegoats because we share a single physical characteristic that is easily picked out in a crowd. The prejudice is kept in place by “everybody knows” thinking, the frantic shouting down of good research, embarrassingly poor research done from a platform of confirmation bias or for profit, and lies about healthcare costs.
In what should be a blinding flash of the obvious (with a nod to my friend Stan), the solution is not to have more wars on more people. The solution is to end the wars.
I don’t believe that health is a moral, social, or personal obligation (you can choose to prioritize things other than your health just like professional bull riders, X Games participants, stressed-out sleepless executives, those who have elective plastic surgery, sky divers, and people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street). Also, let’s not kid ourselves – our health isn’t completely within our control. Health is multi-dimensional and includes genetics, access, stress, environment, and behaviors among other things.
It’s time to recognize that public health is not about making the individual’s health the public’s business. It’s about removing stress whenever possible (like, say, the stress of having the government fight a war against you or hearing politicians promise that in a generation they will have eradicated all the people who look like you) and providing information, access, and options to people of all sizes.
Those who disagree with that better be prepared to police EVERYBODY and fight a war on people who don’t prioritize their health on every imaginable front because it’s unacceptable to simply pick a group of people who can be identified by sight and start “calculating their cost” to support the idea of having a war to eradicate us.
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