Why language is important

Can we laugh at this quote a quick moment?

Some experts say these new findings raise questions about the effectiveness of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods. Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data.

The language of the so-called obesity epidemic has become so unquestioningly ingrained in journalistic circles that the writer of this article can’t see the contradiction between an obesity rate that hasn’t ‘budged over the past decade,’ and stating in the previous sentence that we’re in an ‘obesity epidemic.’

George, you old bastard, you’ve won this round. Now please stop haunting us with your lessons about propaganda. It’s getting eerie to see doublespeak in the news as a matter of course rather than a soon-to-be-retracted error, or a sloppy intern-level mistake.

The article from which the quote is pulled is worth a read: Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity

It’s a report on the findings of a study that conclude there’s no relationship between poor urban neighborhoods and lack of access to ‘healthy’ foods, and then concludes that increased levels of obesity in poor urban neighborhoods mustn’t be connected to what people were eating. Well, no kidding; it’s been known for a while that fat people in general don’t eat differently than thinner people in general. So blaming relative fatness on the assumption that fatness is related to what poorer people eat compared to what richer people eat doesn’t make sense in the context of what we know about how fatter and thinner people eat, in general. Still, the food desert argument has been used to stigmatize poorer fat people under the guise of concerned progressivism, especially on sites like Jezebel, for a long time. It probably has its root in some book by Pollan or one of those folks — I wouldn’t know, I don’t read that stuff.

10,000 Big Liberty points to anyone who guesses the next trend in weight-control-by-nannying via the vaunted elites (of both the governmental and corporate variety) of our respective societies. Tax breaks for weight loss surgery and fat camps for the kids? ‘Sin’ taxes on sugar and carbs (since everyone’s nuts about Paleo these days)? Required ‘extra’ PE or after-school PE/sports for kids who ‘fail’ on their BMI ‘report cards’? (sorry for all the single quotes, but I can’t stand talking in the bastardized language of the bigoted panic-drivers)

EDIT: withoutscene pointed out to me on Twitter that the writer of the article is no other than Gina Kolata of Rethinking Thin fame. Rethinking Thin got me to quit dieting. About six months after I read it I stumbled across the fat acceptance movement. I can’t believe I didn’t notice she wrote it. Chalk it up to cynicism, but I don’t even check author names of articles anymore — I expect them all to be anti-fat biased, no matter their credentials.

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A Bad Day for Fat Liberty

And liberty, everywhere.

In Dundee, Scotland, fat kids from a non-neglectful household are being put up for adoption by the state because their parents failed to ‘slim them down.’

Seriously.

Fuck.

I’ve written a few times about how the loss of the individual right to body autonomy and the moral panic over fat can lead to such an outcome, that it was one of the many steps on the road of divesting fat people of their civil rights — that is, in criminalizing fatness.

For everyone who thinks fat hate and fatphobia is no big deal, and is just a personal health issue, please read this and think again.

Quick Hit – Does Your Body Belong to You?

An essay by A. Barton Hinkle on Reason.com

Does Your Body Belong to You?

Some nice quotes:

“Perhaps you’ve noticed the trend among certain people these days,” wrote Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times the other day, “to decide that certain other people are not living acceptable lives and must be reformed.”

Yes. There certainly is a lot of that going around.

And when you finished reading Genzlinger’s column of page A16 in last Sunday’s Times, you also could see the trend he wrote about just a few pages further in—on the front of the Times’ Sunday Review section. “What will it take,” asked the paper’s Mark Bittman, “to get Americans to change our eating habits?”

This is a subject of great concern to progressives today. Many of them are deeply distressed that—despite incessant lecturing on the subject—too many of their fellow citizens continue to eat what they like, rather than what progressives think they should eat.

….

The progressive campaign against obesity relies on the assumption that the individual no longer owns his or her body—rather, society as a whole does. This has some profound implications for, say, abortion. And Bittman’s contribution to that campaign should serve as a warning: Anyone who thinks it would be “fun” to use government power to dictate everyone else’s choices—from sex partner to dinner menu—should not be allowed anywhere near it.

Read the full article, it’s worth it. As per usual, read the comments at your own risk.

I love this comment by Dagny T.:

This fetishism over “healthy” (whatever the fuck that means to the individual doing the bleating) food has really become tiresome. Food is a necessary fuel, not a goddamn religion.

EDIT: Also, this is a good read (though not perfect): Meddling in Other People’s Diets is ‘Fun’ and ‘Inspiring’

But the weakest part of Bittman’s argument, since paying the taxes he proposes won’t be optional, is his justification for using force to change people’s diets. The government simply would be “fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good,” he says. Treating diet-related diseases costs money, he adds. “The need is indisputable,” he avers, “since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet.” Furthermore, “look at the action government took in the case of tobacco.” In short, “public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit.” So many assumptions, both fiscal and moral, packed into so little space. Bittman does not pause for a moment to consider the vast expanse of human behavior that is subject to government manipulation under his theory of public health.

Big Calorie Brother is Watching You, Fat Kids

In the annals of creepy monitoring of calorie counts, this expensive taxpayer-funded measure to study the calorie intake of children via photographing their lunch trays and ‘their leftovers’ is way up there:

Calorie Camera: Schools Photographing Students’ Lunch Trays

Health officials trying to reduce obesity and improve eating habits at five San Antonio elementary schools unveiled a $2 million research project Wednesday that will photograph students’ lunch trays before they sit down to eat and later take a snapshot of the leftovers.

Parents will receive the data for their children, and researchers hope eating habits at home will change once moms and dads see what their kids are choosing in school. The data also will be used to study what foods children are likely to choose and how much they’re eating.

Okay, fine, so this is just a study, right? Surely this isn’t about trying to socially engineer a marginalized class of people to conform to the ‘better’ characteristics of the elites, right? Wrong:

Researches selected poor, minority campuses where obesity rates and diabetes risk are higher. Among those is White Elementary, which is just off a busy interstate highway on the city’s poor east side, on a street dotted with fast-food restaurants and taquerias.

I like how they say “obesity rates and diabetes risk” are higher. You know they wanted to put “incidence of diabetes” is higher, but instead they had to use a redundant statement to get the word DIABETES in there. Because we all know that despite a very low real incidence of Type II Diabetes in children DIABETES is the bread-and-butter scare-word used to frighten parents and get concerned public activists in a righteous huff over the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’ (which isn’t confined to childhood, nor does ‘obese’ have much meaning since the growth charts are all comparative, and which isn’t an epidemic by any stretch of the imagination).

However, the article does have this refreshing insight which, in the context of the article, would seem to suggest such an expensive taxpayer-funded project in these dark times of deep deficits is short-sighted to say the least:

Researchers warn that obesity is not always the result of children eating too many calories. A previous study by the nonprofit center reported that 44 percent of children studied consumed calories below daily minimum requirements, but nearly one-third were still obese. Seven percent screened positive for type 2 diabetes.

If you as a parent don’t want to consent to having your child’s food photographed and nitpicked? Well, you’re just stupid and ignorant, says the school’s principal (who was very sure to get his name/school in the national news, I’m sure):

Mark Davis, the school’s principal, said getting consent from parents hasn’t been a problem. He suspects the small number of parents who withhold consent don’t understand the project, perhaps thinking it limits what their child can eat at school.

My prediction: next study will be recording the BMIs of students as well as the contents of their eaten lunch.

More on the irrational obesity crusade

I saw a great piece out of Cato not too long ago that I’ve been meaning to link. It also references an upcoming book by the authors Patrick Basham and John Luik: Diet Nation, Exposing the Obesity Crusade.

How the War on Obesity Went Pear-Shaped

One gem in particular, which should get you to want to read the full article:

Strangely, the obesity crusaders remain unaware that there is an absence of scientific evidence to support their assertions: firstly, that overweight and obesity increase one’s mortality risks; and secondly, that the overweight and moderately obese should lose weight because such loss will improve their health and lower their risk of heart disease.

In fact, the obesity crusaders’ assertions about weight and longevity ignore 40 years’ worth of international data that suggest obesity is not a cause of premature mortality. Many studies for different disease outcomes have demonstrated that the effect of both diet and physical activity are independent of the effect of BMI or various measures of body size or fat.

Oh, and in case that only whetted your appetite, here is another lovely article from the authors – Healthcare for All! Unless You’re Fat

And a teaser (please read the full article):

An NHS health trust now proposes to stop sending obese people and smokers for certain operations. NHS North Yorkshire and York is planning to stop patients who smoke, and those with a body mass index of more than 35, from having routine hip and knee surgeries because their unhealthy lifestyles allegedly lower the chance of the operations’ “success.”

….skip

Such discrimination on the grounds of lifestyle is illiberal and encroaches on individual rights, and is arguably beyond the legitimate function of the state. Refusing medical treatment to an individual who not only requires it but who has has financially contributed more than the average to its funding, as a means of coercing him or her toward healthier behaviour, is undemocratic and borders on tyranny.

Woo-hoo (sound of BL cheering at her screen)!

Here are some other great obesity-related articles from Cato (note that there are a lot of great science-related citations in the articles, so if you’re a collector of such things, do take that into account):

On the 1% increase of obese and overweight in the US

If you haven’t yet seen the article from Reuters: More than 70 million US adults obese, US agency says

And here’s a link to the actual CDC report

Hey look, the obesity level in the US is remaining steady!

Oh wait, the article didn’t say that? The carefully timed flood of press releases on a ‘report’ from the CDC, an agency already over-reporting the levels of ‘overweight and obesity’ as well as stocking their site with all sorts of scare-graphs and claims of an ‘epidemic’ (and not to mention the same folks that claimed 400,000 deaths per/year were ‘attributable’ to obesity when it was found later that the figure was closer to 30,000 deaths/year) seemed to say:

WE’RE IN AN EPIDEMIC FATTIES OMG OMG CHILDREN WILL DIE ETC!

Or, what the CDC actually said:

Over the past decade, obesity has become recognized as a national health threat and a major public health challenge. In 2007–2008, based on measured weights and heights (1), approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States were obese (CDC, unpublished data, 2010). Obese adults are at increased risk for many serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death (2,3). Adult obesity also is associated with reduced quality of life, social stigmatization, and discrimination (2,3). From 1987 to 2001, diseases associated with obesity accounted for 27% of the increases in U.S. medical costs (4). For 2006, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at as much as $147 billion (2008 dollars); among all payers, obese persons had estimated medical costs that were $1,429 higher than persons of normal weight (5). In 2001, the Surgeon General called for strong public health action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity (3). [EMPHASIS MINE]

A few things:

  1. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. The public health dollars scare tactic was calculated by taking the sum of ALL diseases ‘correlated with’ obesity and adding them together. That means there was a crapload of thin people with heart diseases, diabetes type II, certain cancers, and who suffered strokes that have been lumped in with all the fatties to make that percentage look as high as possible. Misleading.
  2. I don’t see a margin of error stated in the report, except a very narrow confidence interval of 0.7 – 1.4 percent. Really that — that — is what’s getting shouted from the rooftops of every science news agency and crappy local evening news station in the country? Really?
  3. Again, it bears repeating: A 1% increase over two years does not an epidemic make. Nor are we currently in an epidemic by any reasonable definition of the term. The fact that the CDC is bearing down on us with these imprecise scare-words means this is about politics and keeping themselves in the green, NOT about the actual fucking health of Americans. Anyone who hasn’t read Greg Bear’s brilliant Darwin’s Radio, please do.
  4. How is obesity a major public health threat again and, if this is true, how in the world has it just ‘become’ so, given that obesity rates have been leveling off for the last few years (isn’t it something like 5 or 6 years now, since 2004)? I smell a press release.

Methinks the CDC is working to ramp up anti-obesity fervor for something. To garner more support for the “Let’s Move” anti-obese kids program? To garner more support for some kind of new, wider initiative (since my guess is that “Let’s Move” hasn’t been generating any real results, surprise surprise)?

And then there was this lovely gem from the NY Times busting open the current HHS anti-obesity funds and focus: Antismoking Efforts Lose Ground to Obesity Fight

Shortly after the first lady kicked off the “Let’s Move” program, the administration awarded more funds to fight obesity than tobacco through two big new money sources for preventive health. The funds, totaling $1.15 billion, came from economic stimulus and health care reform legislation. They still provided more than $200 million for tobacco-use prevention, but much more to grapple with obesity.

Scary. Nice that part of the economic ‘stimulus’ package was funds to stimulate hate! Oh, dearie. It’s so funny I forgot to laugh.

Scarier still: apparently the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is involved. For extensive analyses of some of their anti-obesity initiatives, check out this link.

What do you think of all of this?

BMI of Every US Citizen to be Tracked

Obesity Rating for Every American Must Be Included in Stimulus-Mandated Electronic Health Records, Says HHS

New federal regulations issued this week stipulate that the electronic health records–that all Americans are supposed to have by 2014 under the terms of the stimulus law that President Barack Obama signed last year–must record not only the traditional measures of height and weight, but also the Body Mass Index: a measure of obesity.

Obviously this is both an affront to freedom in general and the liberty of those with ‘unacceptable’ BMIs (mostly fat people, though some very thin people) more specifically. This isn’t about releasing any more information than would have been released before — heights and weights were already set to be included in the electronic health records — but rather being specifically classified by some health index number that can be used as a justification to grant you different treatment than others.

A couple things are clear to me here:

  1. When others believe they have the power to make health decisions for you (for instance, they control your access to healthcare) then you lose your body autonomy. Full stop.
  2. A government is going to act like any other self-interested body with a lot of power—it will exert its political will on the populace in order to remain in power. Right now it is popular to blame certain groups of people (including fat people) for willfully using more scarce health resources than ‘normal’ people. So classifying people into groups that would allow such a body to ‘punish’ those groups in the name of the ‘normal’ people is politically expedient (in that it will likely do no political harm and might even scrape together a few extra votes).

What do you think of this? Do you think it will happen? Besides refusing to be weighed, how can you personally combat the threat of potential classification based on BMI? What do you think the implications including BMIs on everyone’s electronic health records will be?