‘Benign Obesity’ Myth Crashes and Burns

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The Fat Acceptance Movement is one of the more puzzling and problematic societal currents of the past few years. Many strange theories are afloat. Some people think that recognizing the health hazards of obesity is the moral equivalent of condemning obese people. Those who see the obesity epidemic as a disaster are charged with prejudice and discrimination, societal fat phobia, and “weight hate.” Since so many people are now overweight, it has become de facto normal, and anything that’s normal must be good. And besides, this is America, where everyone has the right to gain as many pounds as they like.

There are more sophisticated arguments, such as the idea that worrying about obesity causes people, especially kids, to plunge into the hell of anorexia and bulimia. A publication called Fat! So?, whose supporters inhabit the world-encompassing “fatosphere,” encourages not only size acceptance but fat pride. It has been suggested that the correct way of dealing with the obesity epidemic is to just roll with it, and enlarge everything from school desks to airplane seats.

One unfortunate side effect of the obesity epidemic is the increased opportunity for “fatsploitation,” a bandwagon onto which many media outlets have hastened to climb. More bizarrely, in the same solemn academic spirit with which they have included gender studies and race studies, some colleges are said to have introduced “Fat Studies” curricula.

Pop star Lady Gaga gained weight and started both the Body Revolution and the Born This Way Foundation, whose philosophy can be interpreted as including fat acceptance. Then last summer she moderated her position somewhat, according to The Huffington Post, and started eating better and working out five times a week. This may have some connection with her new job as model for the Versace line of designer clothing. Then in December, the Daily Mirror gave the world a sneak peek at Gaga’s upcoming Fashion magazine interview from which this quotation is lifted:

I want to remind everyone that people who win Nobel Peace Prizes and cure diseases are not supermodels. Your legacy does not need to be a perception of beauty that’s not realistic.

Every word of that is true, and a bit more reasonable than some of the singer’s other pronouncements. There is a distinct difference between advocating on behalf of people who struggle with obesity, and advocating (or being perceived as advocating) for obesity itself. There is also a difference between recognizing a widespread problem and branding it with such misleading terms as “benign obesity” and “healthy obesity.”

There is no such thing as healthy or benign obesity, according to a recent metastudy that crunched data derived from the health records of 60,000 people. The University of Toronto’s Dr. Ravi Retnakaran says “increased body weight is not a benign condition even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities.” Here is the bottom line, spelled out in more detail:

The main finding is that metabolically healthy obese individuals are indeed at increased risk for death and cardiovascular events over the long term as compared with metabolically healthy normal-weight individuals. These data suggest that increased body weight is not a benign condition even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities.

So, there goes another myth.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Lady Gaga Dons Bikini, Reveals Weight Loss On Mexico Vacation,” HuffingtonPost.com, 06/07/13
Source: “Lady Gaga tells fans they don’t need to look like ‘supermodels’ if they want success,” Mirror.co.uk, 12/27/13
Source: “Being healthy and obese is a myth, researchers say,” TheConversation.com, 12/03/13
Image by Ludha Ketslekh, Diet Detour Installation


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