Shock report savages ‘cruel war’ on fat people

Model size: Tess Holliday starred on the cover of this month’s Cosmo. “I love myself,” she said.

Should we be more fat positive? Yesterday, a widely shared article claimed that “everything you know about obesity is wrong.” It described a “futile war on fat people” that ruins lives.

“I have this sense I’m fat and I shouldn’t be,” a medical technician told journalist Michael Hobbes in a groundbreaking article published by HuffPost yesterday. “It feels like the worst kind of weakness.”

The article states that 40% of obese Americans experience daily stigma and discrimination for their size. Last year a survey found that 89% have been bullied by a partner. Hobbes wrote that he had “never written a story where so many of my sources cried during interviews”.

He argued that all of this is having a dramatic effect on their health. In 2015, a study found that fat people who had experienced discrimination had shorter life expectancies than fat people who had not. It is possible that “the stigma associated with being overweight is more harmful than actually being overweight,” it suggested.

What’s more, Hobbes described how, by simply telling obese patients to lose weight, doctors often missed serious health issues. “I had an eating disorder. And my doctor was congratulating me,” one woman recalled. Others avoid seeing doctors altogether, making it more likely that health problems go undiagnosed and untreated.

According to the World Health Organisation, obesity rates around the world have almost tripled since 1975. In England, 26% of adults are obese, as are one in five children by the time they leave primary school.

The situation has been described as an epidemic, as obesity has been linked to an increased risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer and depression. All of this costs the NHS an extra £5.1 billion each year.

Yet Hobbes argues that telling people to diet does not work for two reasons. Firstly, up to 98% of attempts to lose weight fail. Secondly, “weight and health are not perfect synonyms.” In other words, a fat person who exercises and eats lots of fruit and vegetables can be healthier than a thin person who does neither.

Is it time to change the way we think about weight?

Fat, fit and free

Absolutely, say body positivity campaigners. For far too long, society has bullied and shamed people for being big, then dressed it up as concern about their health. In reality, this only makes people more miserable and less likely to ask for help. It is time to change our attitudes and embrace everyone for who they are, regardless of size.

Of course no one should be bullied, but obesity should not be normalised or celebrated either, say others. Last year a study found that “fat but fit” people are still 50% more likely to have heart disease than people with a “normal” weight. Being overweight should be treated with the same seriousness as health risks like smoking or binge drinking.

You Decide

  1. Is society unfair to obese and overweight people?
  2. The Cosmopolitan cover at the top of this article was criticised for “glorifying” obesity. Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Consider the term “fat”. In one minute, write down as many words as you can that you associate with the term. As a class, write your ideas up on the board. Are most of the words positive or negative? What do the words tell us about attitudes to the issue in Britain today?
  2. Research obesity statistics in other countries around the world. Which countries have high rates of obesity, and which countries have low rates? What factors explain this disparity? How do you think obesity rates will change in these countries in the future? Present your findings to the class.

Some People Say...

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

Mark Twain

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Obesity is caused by several different factors. The most obvious are high fat and high sugar diets, especially when coupled with low amounts of physical activity. However, genetics and environmental factors also play a part. Countless studies have found that obesity increases the risk of various health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and various cancers (such as prostate, ovarian and breast cancer).
What do we not know?
How much fatness directly contributes to health problems. Some people, including Hobbes, argue that it is possible to be fat and fit at the same time; it is a matter of eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. Others argue that fatness itself increases the risk of health problems, regardless of diet and exercise.

Word Watch

Obese
For adults, obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more. A BMI of 25 or more is classed as overweight.
Survey
Published by the University of Connecticut in May 2017.
Study
Published in the Journal of Biomedical Education in 2015.
Tripled
In 2016, 1.9 billion adults around the world were overweight, of which 650 million were obese.
26% of adults
According to data from the NHS, published in 2018.
Increased risk
It is important to note that obesity itself does not directly cause these conditions. For conditions like diabetes and heart disease, it is related to diet. However, obesity does make them more likely to develop.
50% more likely
According to a study by the University of Birmingham in May 2017, using data from 3.5 million people.

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