I’ve been gone for a while. The Mama-drama of the spring and early summer, combined with the end-of-semester craziness, combined with general just-plain-pooped-ness has not left me with much interest in my own fat, let alone in the issues of fatness-in-the-world. But stuff keeps coming up. And it kind of wants to be talked about–especially last article I’ll reference.
But first, there is this bit of loveliness from Cafe Press:
I kind of don’t wear tees, but it’s tempting.
So, Chris Christie had bariatric surgery. I wanted to care, I really did–for about 6 minutes. But A) it’s his body and he can do what he wants with it and B) he’s not likely to be president no matter how much weight he loses. In the first place, he’d eff up the campaign at some point by saying something godawful, and in the second place his family is not sufficiently media-genic, which kind of sucks, but there we are. So I’m back to not caring.
Back at the beginning of the month there was a proper flap over a STUPID tweet by a bug-brained evolutionary psychologist about how fat people can’t get their fat asses together long enough to haul themselves through the epic slog that is a Ph.D. I was particularly amused by all the juicy photos of various Ph.D.-ed fat asses that immediately began circulating. The jerk’s home institution (U. New Mexico) quickly disavowed him, and his current academic address (visiting prof at NYU) supported him, ostensibly in the sacred name of academic freedom. Now, I also worship at that particular altar, so I was sort of okay with NYU’s defense, though on a human level, I rather preferred UNM’s response. Mostly I just think he deserves a life as a barrista at a second-rate coffee shop because his intellect is so patently impaired. In truth, his utter lack of understanding of the complexities of the human psyche pretty much discredits his cred as any sort of psychologist at all–i.e. he’s too dumb to be professoring anywhere.
There were all sorts of good responses, but my fave was this one, by a guy-prof. For a variety of probably important reasons, guys aren’t heard from in the fatosphere nearly enough. So, even though the whole discussion is almost a month past (ages ago in 21st-century terms, but remember that I’m married to a medieval historian, so there sort of is no such thing as “past” in this house…), I think this is still worth linking to.
Speaking of guys, there was also this charming bit on xojane:
This guy’s my fave because he’s just so gorgeously turned out (the yellow socks are Astaire-worthy):
There’s been a good deal of genuinely important discussion of the actual causes of the “obesity epidemic” in the past few months. The NYT Magazine had a cover article about the food industry’s careful, intentional conniving to create actual addictive foods via the unholy, or holy, trinity of fat, salt, and crunch. I’m so consistently anti-corporate that I confess I just rolled my eyes and gave the cover a big “DUH” before dutifully reading the article itself. Gosh, golly, corporations are amoral pig-dogs ruthlessly working for profit-at-any-cost? Who’da thunk?
Then there was also this: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-05/cafn-atu051613.php
It discusses further the implications of the idea that unhealthy foods are often addictive–and those implications are many and varied. I’m a little worried that Pharma will hop on this (the article says as much) and we’ll have yet another unholy alliance between pharmaceutical companies that are more than happy to effectively create “diseases” for which they then offer “cures” (see: statins…I just had another mild encounter on that subject with my mother’s otherwise stellar doc who has been thoroughly indoctrinated into the anti-cholesterol club and thinks my 80-year old, 98-lb., late-stage MS, increasingly dementia-wounded mother, whose BP and heart and lung function are stubbornly perfect, should be taking a statin because she has “familial lipid disorder”–for crying out loud…). The not-so-subtle liaison between junk food manufacturers and the diabetes-treatment industry is already pretty creepy. God alone knows what sort of drugs they’re going to be coming out with to cope with food addiction…
Oh, yeah and there was more evidence about the criminally dangerous nature of HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). The fuzzy-but-powerful intersection of Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, and the insanity of our Farm Subsidy system on this one is, I would argue, fairly high on the list of What’s Wrong With Everything. Anyway, there’s a nice discussion of that here:
Meanwhile, the AMA has declared obesity a disease. This is probably a good thing, assuming that it goes pretty much the way the recognition of alcoholism and other addictions as diseases has gone–lifted some stigma and made access to treatment easier and respect for those who seek it more widespread–though there is still a lot of prejudice out there on those scores (the effing Puritans have a lot to answer for…). But I’m hesitant to assume that. Doctors are so often nearly malpractice-level ignorant about obesity as it is that I am not altogether inclined to think the new AMA designation will bring about great change very quickly. Especially since, for the most part, the treatments that actually work with the addictive diseases are largely non-medical. And it’s not like the existing medical treatments have been either safe or very successful (case in point, they’ve brought the seriously dangerous phentermine back out again with a spiffy new name–Qsymia. I’m happy to say that it appears to be selling really badly, but I doubt that’ll move the makers–Vivus– to do anything but find another way to push the crap. There’s another new one–Belviq–that sounds at least as dangerous. Both list suicidal ideation as a potential side effect. Because that’s what most fat people need–a drug that makes them hate themselves and their lives more…) Only a medical establishment that truly loathes its fat patients could buy into, again and again and again, the kind of crap it passes off as reasonable treatments for a condition/disease/state-of-being that causes patient-life-threatening panic among clueless-but-judgemental doctors.
So, no, I’m not altogether heartened by the AMA declaring that my body is a disease. i just heard this morning that it’s entirely possible that my otherwise healthy organs might be rejected for donation because of my weight. Really?! Somehow I don’t think that the AMA lumping me in with stage 4 melanoma is going to help with that.
And, finally, there is this interesting piece about the global/environmental/political nature and implications of The Epidemic:
…in which we have this trenchant paragraph on the increasingly unattractive intersection between puritanism, politics, and creeping body-fascism (a movement whose patron saint is the otherwise-often-sensible Michael Bloomberg):
Several governments now sponsor jauntily named pro-exercise programmes such as Let’s Move! (US), Change4Life (UK) and actionsanté (Switzerland). Less chummy approaches are spreading, too. Since 2008, Japanese law requires companies to measure and report the waist circumference of all employees between the ages of 40 and 74 so that, among other things, anyone over the recommended girth can receive an email of admonition and advice.
If you link to and read any of the articles I mention here, read this one. It’s full of really important myth-stomping, science-oriented material about how much more complex the issue is, how much more global (as in, all sorts of animal species whose diets are not a factor in their weight gain are demonstrating species-wide average increases…)
Here’s another kicker of a paragraph:
More importantly, ‘things that alter the body’s fat metabolism’ is a much wider category than food. Sleeplessness and stress, for instance, have been linked to disturbances in the effects of leptin, the hormone that tells the brain that the body has had enough to eat. What other factors might be at work? Viruses, bacteria and industrial chemicals have all entered the sights of obesity research. So have such aspects of modern life as electric light, heat and air conditioning. All of these have been proposed, with some evidence, as direct causes of weight gain: the line of reasoning is not that stress causes you to eat more, but rather that it causes you to gain weight by directly altering the activities of your cells. If some or all of these factors are indeed contributing to the worldwide fattening trend, then the thermodynamic model is wrong.
And then there’s this bit of brainy gorgeousness, in which an article from the American Journal of Human Biology is summed up elegantly:
I will paraphrase [Jonathan C K] Wells’s intricate argument (the only one I’ve ever read that references both receptor pathways for leptin and data on the size of the Indian economy in the 18th century). It is a saga spanning many generations. Let’s start with a poor farmer growing food crops in a poor country in Africa or Asia. In a capitalistic quest for new markets and cheap materials and labour, Europeans take control of the economy in the late 18th or early 19th century. With taxes, fees and sometimes violent repression, their new system strongly ‘encourages’ the farmer and his neighbours to stop growing their own food and start cultivating some more marketable commodity instead – coffee for export, perhaps. Now that they aren’t growing food, the farmers must buy it. But since everyone is out to maximise profit, those who purchase the coffee crop strive to pay as little as possible, and so the farmers go hungry. Years later, when the farmer’s children go to work in factories, they confront the same logic: they too are paid as little as possible for their labour. By changing the farming system, capitalism first removes traditional protections against starvation, and then pushes many previously self-sufficient people into an economic niche where they aren’t paid enough to eat well.
This sort of eco-economic-historical thinking is, I believe, increasingly important. We just keep getting into all kinds of trouble by insisting on seeing problems as simple and susceptible to simple answers. It works fine many times–if there’s a house on fire, you really don’t need folks talking about the complex implications of water-usage by fire companies. If you break a leg, you really don’t need a big discussion of the economics of medical insurance or the environmental implications of plaster. But somebody, somewhere does need to be thinking about those things in larger, more complicated terms. Because there might be some houses that need to just burn, and there might be some better things to use to make casts (in fact, plaster’s not much used in the first world any more). But most things these days do need someone–or lots of someones–thinking pretty hard about their potential implications and consequences and their larger contexts and consequences. And it turns out that the Obesity Epidemic might be one of the more important loci for exactly that sort of wide-ranging and open-minded exploration. Wouldn’t it be interesting if fat people and fat animals turned out to be some version of a highly critical “indicator species.”
All that being said, and as much as it cheers my heart to have something else chip away at my choking guilt about my own fatness, I am going to have to admit, yet again, that I eat too much. But even that may be more complex than I think…
David Berreby concludes that
Today’s priests of obesity prevention proclaim with confidence and authority that they have the answer. So did Bruno Bettelheim in the 1950s, when he blamed autism on mothers with cold personalities. So, for that matter, did the clerics of 18th-century Lisbon, who blamed earthquakes on people’s sinful ways. History is not kind to authorities whose mistaken dogmas cause unnecessary suffering and pointless effort, while ignoring the real causes of trouble. And the history of the obesity era has yet to be written.