Fat Acceptance: Recipe for World Health Disaster

W.E.B. DuBois - Mary White Ovington

We have been reflecting on such old sayings as, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and “No good deed goes unpunished,” and looking at the virtual slaughter of obesity messengers. Disney World tried out an interactive anti-obesity feature attraction, encountered a firestorm of criticism, and closed it. In the state of Georgia, the Strong4Life campaign is taking down its billboards.

It seems as if the merest hint that any child, anywhere, might possibly be overweight, is interpreted as shaming and stigmatizing. Today’s story is about how a venerable, respected college was coerced into changing its successful program. The source is “Obesity Acceptance: Recipe For A Pandemic,” written by James L. DeBoy and Sally B. Monsilovich, and published in the American Journal of Health Sciences.

This happened at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which several years ago instituted a policy under which students who qualified as obese (with a BMI of over 30) had to take a class called “Fitness for Life.” In the three years when it was mandatory, it worked pretty well. During the 15-week courses, nobody gained weight, and everybody’s strength and cardiovascular fitness improved, and the student rating system gave “Fitness for Life” high marks.

Then, outsiders got wind of it and went berserk, launching verbal assaults described as blatant, harsh, and passionate. Listen to this:

A veritable firestorm of criticism ensued when word of Lincoln’s placement policy… reached beyond the campus community. The allegations of wrong-doing were vociferous, acerbic, and unrelenting… After weathering the barrage of reproofs, rebukes, and censures for two weeks, the faculty adopted a placement policy that would simply recommend the much-beleaguered course for students with BMIs greater than 30…

Here is the worst part. This is the oldest African-American college in the world. Poet Langston Hughes went there, and so did Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Lincoln University has an unsullied reputation for commitment to justice, equality, and human dignity. All of a sudden, because of its commitment to health, the school was hit with what are described as savage attacks, for supposedly engaging in discrimination.

What inspired all the hate? The authors say:

The driving force that hastened the dismantling of a university’s well-meaning effort to address this health-related issue can be attributed to a wide-spread public mindset of obesity acceptance.

Somehow, attacks on obesity are all too often interpreted as attacks on the obese — and the condition of obesity is in some quarters embraced and even promoted. Most of us were raised with the not-totally-accurate notion that democracy means the majority is always right. Since so many people are now overweight or obese, that makes it normal, according to this mode of thought.

For a lot of people, it’s a freedom issue. This is America and we have rights, including the right to be fat. To this, the authors say:

However, the question that must be answered is when, exactly, does the individual’s right to choose (poorly) detrimentally affect the welfare of society to the extent that society (as a whole) cannot sustain itself?

One of their theories is, society went too far in warning kids about the eating disorders that make people emaciated and undernourished, namely anorexia and bulimia. So, maybe the young absorbed a simplistic, primitive message like, “If skinny is bad, then fat is good.” This kind of erroneous thought pattern is hard to fight, because it exists beneath the conscious level.

And a lot of the problem is just plain denial. Wherever it comes from, the Fat Acceptance Movement is regarded by these academics as inimical. Sure, resisting discrimination against the overweight is fine. But the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) takes tolerance too far. Advocating for people who struggle with obesity is one thing, but advocating for obesity itself is something else entirely.

Such groups as NAAFA and Health at Any Size, the authors say, mislead the public:

[…] by professing that obesity is not proven to be unhealthy (despite overwhelming information to the contrary)… Rejection of the intolerable reality comes at a cost — quality and quantity of human life are compromised.

They wind up by warning: “In short, acquiescing to obesity acceptance is anathema to any helping profession.” Dr. Pretlow adds, “Fat acceptance is a recipe for a world health disaster.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity Acceptance: Recipe For A Pandemic,” American Journal of Health Sciences, 2012
Image by dbking, used under its Creative Commons license.

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