I’ve heard about studies linking fat to everything from diseases to lower cognitive function. There are any number of issues with these studies – from sample sizes so small that everyone in the study would fit in an efficiency apartment, to correlation vs. causation mistakes that would make a first semester statistics student blush. But there’s a much larger issue: They often try to control for variables like age, smoking, socioeconomic status etc. But there are a couple of variables that they never control for: the stress of being under near constant stigma and oppression and the effects of dieting.
It’s not a small thing – the diseases that are correlated with obesity are also independently correlated with being under a high level of stress over long period of time. Like, for example, the stress of having your government declare war on you for how you look. So in order to even start to prove that fat causes diseases, there would at least need to be a control group of fat people who have not suffered a lifetime of stigma to see if their disease incidence was the same as the first group.
When they find (in a tiny study) that fat kids perform worse in math, in order for them to even suggest that the fat causes the poor math performance they would need to test a group of fat children who did not constantly see diet commercials, hear the message that fat means your bad, lazy, sick, stupid etc., and who aren’t having war waged on them by the government. Because it’s entirely possible that being constantly stigmatized, bullied, and called lazy, ugly, dumb etc. could affect your performance in school. I imagine they don’t have these control groups because no such group of fat people exists in this culture.
This society MUST stop acting like the best thing that we can do for public health is tell 60% of the population that they should hate their bodies and see them as a sign of their physical and moral failings, insisting that everyone will just hate themselves thin and healthy (and acting like they are the same thing), then asking if we’re “doing enough” about obesity. Not only is it not helping anyone’s health – it’s possible that it’s having the opposite effect. When we hear about how our fat is linked to swine flu, the plague, hangnails or whatever the hell it is today, remember that it is entirely possible that they are caused by the stress of being under constant stigma and oppression which, as I’ve said before, I believe are the real public health threat. And that doesn’t even touch upon the effects of a life of dieting (especially in a world where we are putting fetuses on diets) but that’s a whole other blog. We don’t know what effect ending the constant shaming and stigma of fat people will have on our health, but I would certainly like to find out.
Book Me! I give talks all across the country and I’d love to give one to your organization. (I’ll be in Northern New York and Central Pennsylvania in the next couple of months if you are in those areas and would like to add an event to those trips.) You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and even testimonials here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!
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