Oppressing Me Doesn’t Set You Free

Regarding the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy uncovering the shameful homophobic views of Dan Cathy, Chick-Fil-A’s president:

Yes, a man like Dan Cathy who donates to causes that pathologize sexual preferences he doesn’t like and spins up hate against other people for the — gasp! — crime of loving someone he doesn’t approve of should be protested and called out.

But no, Dan Cathy’s views are not somehow worse since fat people are among the patrons of his business.

And no, fatness doesn’t somehow compound the bigotry of his supporters.

And no, fat bigots who support Dan Cathy aren’t prime targets of protest any more than a thin bigot is.

And no, pointing out that some of Dan Cathy’s supporters are fat shouldn’t be met with a knowing nod or, “Of course they are.”

In other words, fighting ignorance with ignorance means you’re no better than the bigots you’re fighting. Oppressing me doesn’t set you free.

I’ve included several images here of tweets made by famous/influential/sorta-influential people that try to fight homophobia with fatphobia.

Wouldn’t it be more timely to showcase a study on how damaging homophobia is? Oh no wait, fat people are bad always, acceptable targets always.

Indirect death threat #1.

Fatties marrying is gross and reprehensible and is totally an argument against straight-only marriage somehow (though I’m pretty sure there are like, loads of gay fat people) #1.

Indirect death threat against fatties #2, also implying they’re stupid/unevolved.

Ha, cuz only fat people eat fast food and fat bigots are worse than thin bigots. Get it? So that’s why saying fat bigots is a zinger. Fat. Faaaat.

Hahaha fatties and their diet Coke, get it? This person is apparently a comedian, and she can’t come up with anything less shopworn than that?

Hahaha, fatties can’t stand for things, they don’t have values or opinions. They’re just obsessed with food, food, food. Not only are you a bigot, you’re a mcfatty fat bigot with a fat-clogged brain. Fatty!

Wow, way to both hate on fat people, fat gay people, and police gay people’s bodies at the same time. Quinto, I wish you were as logical as the character you play in the movies. Alas…

Indirect death threat against fatties #3. Whew! (can I just ask when death threats against any group are a good way to advance a cause? Anyone? Bueller?)

Who’s “we” here? Did I suddenly become a hivemind with my other fat Americans? Because I didn’t get the memo. Probably because I am fat.

Hurr, they’re fat, hurr!

Here are some excerpts of current top tweets for the “@chickfila obesity

And “chick-fil-a obesity“:

Way not to nakedly scapegoat fat people while you were trying to make your point, guys! Except, that’s exactly what you did.

Thank goodness there’s a Jezebel article by Lindy West on this: I Know You’re Mad at Chick-fil-A, But Stop Taking It Out on Fat People

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.

Fat Double Standards

Really quickly — because I’m actually supposed to be writing my novel right now — here’s a hilarious addition to the double standards in weight reporting.

Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Could Make People Lose Weight

According to EurekAlert, scientists looked at 506 people ranging from those with no memory problems to those with full-blown Alzheimer’s. They found that people who had markers of Alzheimer’s called beta-amyloid plaques in their brains — even if they had no symptoms — had a lower BMI on average than those who had no markers. This means Alzheimer’s, even in its early stages, might be doing something to make people skinnier. Says study author Jeffrey M. Burns, “These results suggest Alzheimer’s disease brain changes are associated with systemic metabolic changes in the very earliest phases of the disease. This might be due to damage in the area of the brain called the hypothalamus that plays a role in regulating energy metabolism and food intake.”

So hey though, I’m sure you remember that study done not too long ago that concluded people with higher BMI were at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Cuz yanno — fat causes ill health period. This is ignoring the fact that greater fatness is correlated with and may be causes by conditions that are known to be risk markers for development of dementia later in life (like insulin resistance, thyroid issues and diabetes). Again, we have the chicken-and-the-egg problem that plagues weight research: the assumption that weight always comes first, that it’s most always controllable, and that correlations having anything to do with higher BMI mean a prescription of weight loss.

Do you see the double standard in the above article? Thin people with a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s means that Alzheimer’s causes thinness (and researchers are willing to do all that’s necessary to prove that particular conclusion, not to mention assume it from the outset without proof as such). But fat people with a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s means that — wait for it — fat causes Alzheimer’s! And researchers (on the GlaxoSmithKline/Eli Lilly/Johnson&Johnson/etc dole) will do anything they can to prove that particular conclusion, not to mention assume it from the outset without proof as such.

Show Your Fatty Papers

Recently I got mud on my boots in a popular feminist news blog. The topic was a new weight loss drug, and far be it for me to leave that shit alone.

I mocked its promised 11% weight loss (in the short term, since that shit gives you kidney lesions and can’t be taken long term) and brought up the 40% – 80% hereditary nature of body weight (which I got by scouring Google Scholar one weekend. I suggest you try it, it’s fascinating. Turns out I was underestimating – it’s more like 65% – 85% (see here and here)).

The response? I was asked how I ‘knew’ that my body weight was genetic. Did I get a genetic test done or something? Really. The commenter really wanted to know, guys, honest.

I asked how the commenter ‘knew’ their eye color, nose shape, and height were genetic. Did they get a test done? Really. I wanted to know.

The point of this is that body weight is highly heritable, as heritable as height, and so on. We know this. We’ve known this for nigh on fifty years now. It’s not even a little in question. But this obesity moral panic is so advanced, so strong, has so penetrated popular culture with its toxic propaganda and lies, that people find the generally genetic nature of body weight so unbelievable they demand our fatty ‘papers’ before we’re allowed to say our body weight is genetic.

If this isn’t proof enough that size discrimination and fat loathing has nothing to do with facts or science, I don’t know what is.

Chris Christie’s Too Fat to be President! – Roundup

Recently Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has been attacked and concern-trolled over his weight; more specifically, that he has the utter gall to fat it around in the political arena. Even though Christie has said multiple times he’s not interested in running for president in the 2012 elections, it appears that trying to keep him out of the race he’s probably not going to enter was too much a temptation for some fatphobic concern trolls in the media.

However, what surprised the hell out of me is that after a round of attacks on Christie, came a round of defense, and not necessarily from his political allies. Turns out Atlantic columnist and economist/blogger Megan McArdle has done her homework on fat rights and size issues. Go Megan! You don’t know how rare you are, most journos and bloggers just swallow the obesity panic hype straight-up. Also, Jonathan Chait (Paul Campos’ co-author) has an article defending Chris Christie against fatphobic attacks. There are a few other defenders, some from the Fatosphere itself.

Without further ado, here’s the roundup.

ATTACKS ON/CONCERNS ABOUT CHRISTIE’S WEIGHT

FATOSPHERE RESPONSES

DEFENSE OF CHRISTIE AGAINST FATPHOBIC ATTACKS

I also have a few posts from during the NJ governor’s campaign on Chris Christie, his weight, and how it might play into his political life and the public perception of fat people:

What do you think of this hullabaloo over Christie’s weight?

Harvest the Fatties as Horse Meat, and Other Gems of the Moral Panic

Today I saw one of the most inflammatory articles about the ‘obesity epidemic’ that I’ve seen in a while. It is an article that talks about how the ‘overweight and obese’ are more numerous than the hungry, planet-wide.

What’s truly alarming is that the International Federation for the Red Cross, a well-known humanitarian group, is taking this angle in order to — I don’t know what, get more donations for hunger programs by shaming the fatty-countries about our horrible fatness? Secretary Bekele Geleta gives a statement:

“If the free interplay of market forces has produced an outcome where 15 percent of humanity are hungry while 20 percent are overweight, something has gone wrong somewhere,” secretary general Bekele Geleta said in a statement.

What, pray tell, is wrong with that? Yes, it’s horrible that 15 percent of humanity is hungry. But why bring in the arbitrarily-defined overweight-and-obese in there, except in an attempt to indirectly correlate the prevalence of fat(ter) people with hunger? That is, it would seem this article implies that fat people are taking all the food and leaving nothing for the hungry people who need it more than those fat fatties. By the way, it’s not evil ‘market forces’ driving the a portion of the current spike in food prices — the subsidization of food like corn and demand for ethanol has a substantial effect on global food prices, making previously accessible foodstuffs inflate in price:

C. Ford Runge, a University of Minnesota professor of applied economics and law, argues that ethanol from crops has many “hidden costs” that should dissuade the government from subsidies.

Runge, who raised concerns about ethanol policy as early as 2007, says his research suggests some 30 percent of food price increases come from diversion of US corn for ethanol.

Blaming the ‘overweight and obese’ on rising food prices or hunger in the world is inflammatory at bottom. There is no correlation. Fat people are not taking the food out of the mouths of hungry infants. Yet an article which talks about the statistics of both would seem to suggest that very scenario. Shame on IFRC for resorting to such inhumane strategies in order to further their agenda. Guess fat people are okay to hate on, is that right, IFRC?

But they don’t stop there. The Asia-Pacific director of the IFRC goes on to say (without any references):

Asia-Pacific director Jagan Chapagain called [more overweight people than hungry people] a “double-edged scandal” at a press conference in the Indian capital, adding that “excess nutrition now kills more than hunger.” [clarification mine]

While “double-edged scandal” has a nice ring to it, that’s all it has. Could you use more moralized language than “scandal” to describe the prevalence of fat(ter) people? And I would love to see the stats on hordes of people dying because they’re choking on their own fat. Or any article that doesn’t conflate diseases for which fat is a risk factor (and usually a much, much smaller risk factor than, say, family history) as the cause of those diseases, hence counting death due to heart disease, cancers, and diabetes as deaths by fatness (which is usually how the ‘fat deaths’ numbers are generated).

This article was meant to inflame. The words of the individuals at the IFRC (shame on you!) were meant to inflame. And that’s just what they did.

I haven’t seen such blatant hate in comments on an article…well, ever. And I’ve read a lot of comments on public sites shaming fat people. I know this is Yahoo News. I know they have some of the worst reporting and moderation in the biz. Still, I can’t believe some of the stuff I’m reading. I felt the need to record it here, so that fat-hate deniers—and don’t we all know one of those, who says we just need to buck up and there’s no such thing as fat oppression and it’s just all in our fatty fat-filled heads?—can see for themselves just how bad it is. Just how deep it goes. That fat-haters really, really do want us to die. Sometimes they want to kill us themselves.

TRIGGER WARNING. Don’t go any further if you can’t stomach some of the worst fat-hate I’ve ever seen.

Please. Turn back now, if you’re at all sensitive to this stuff.

Okay. Here goes. Quoting from the comments in no particular order, without attribution or linking. I’ll link to the original article at the bottom of the post, if you really, really want to see these things for yourself.

Fat lazy pigs will bring this country to it’s knees. When I’m in the grocery and I see a fat mom with her fat kids with a cart full of soda,chips, frozen chicken ect……… I just want to smack ’em all right in their fat faces. I am a fataphobe. My girlfriend of 11 years just decided one day to stop exercising with me and started fast food -FAST FOOD people! Who the F eats that crap? She gained weight—quickly. I dumped her ass. If she wants to get fat and lazy she ain’t gonna do it around me.

I’m glad she dodged that bullet.

The next are a collection of comments that suggest we resort to cannibalism:

1. Cut slabs of meat off the fat people, and feed it to the skinny people.

2. When things get really bad, a starving person should be allowed to eat one obese person per year.

3. Ultimate Robin Hood: Liposuction the fat to feed the skinny.

4. So, harvest the fatties; ship them to the Third World; and sell them as “horse” meat.

5. Oh good. The potential food supply (fatties) now outnumbers the hungry.

6. Let the hungry people eat the obese people. Problem solved! [there are about a dozen of these that say basically the same exact thing, not going to mention them all here]

Lovely. Let me observe that the people who make cannibalistic comments aren’t getting a thrill from the idea of eating fat people — I’m sure they think we’re disgusting and riddled with disease. Rather, it’s the murder and torture of fat people that gets their rocks off.

But remember, we’re not just good to eat. We’re also a next-generation fuel source!

In terms of Karma, maybe the obese are the poor’s food supply when collapse happens, or in light vege-oil diesel, maybe a new energy supply? I wonder how far you could drive on one fat person?

By the way, did you notice the moralistic use of “Karma” in the comment above? Fat people are sinners by virtue of existence. We have done wrong, and we’re going to get our comeuppance one of these days, isn’t that right? I suppose that implies the thin are sainted by virtue of existence. Good to know!

Goes hand in hand with a record 48 Million getting food stamps that they don’t need!

Oh yes, let’s add people to the numbers of hungry on this planet. It’s good for them. They committed the sin of fat and hence need to atone, while the sainted thin can eat as their reward for being thin.

Of course, there is the perennial tendency to conflate the stats of ‘overweight and obese’ — which are relatively large — with the prevalence of the kind of very fat people used as strawmen in pictures on these articles, who comprise far less than 10% of the ‘overweight and obese.’

I have 2 words for the morbidly obese: STOP EATING!!

Which translates to: Die, fatty! Clever.

Here are a few comments to illustrate that the inflammatory rhetoric of the IFRC, and indirect implication that fat fatties are taking food out of the mouths of hungry babies, has achieved its intended effect:

1. So if the obese cut back on eating and gave this good to the hungry we would solve two problems.

2. So the obese people are numerous and pressuring the food supplies needed by the truly hungry. food stamps is really working. How come so many so fat with no job? Wonderful.

3. Sounds like the obese need to give some food to the hungry.

And remember, there are no fat people in concentration camps:

Why can’t we do an “exchange” program with countries like Ethiopia and Somalia. We’ll send a bunch of Fat Americans to poor countries with no food so they can go on a “boot camp survivor diet” and the starving Somali’s can come here and eat McDonald’s and get fat.

Also make sure to snark the standard headless fatty on the article, and link fat people to yet another social problem, this time to the failure of the Post Office:

Hey, thats a picture of my mail lady! I can tell because her thighs always rub together as she waddles down the street at a snails pace! I wonder why the Postal system is in the trash can?

Another gem:

Force the obese people to take the positions of the hungry and the hungry the positions of the obese. Switch their jobs, homes, money, everything. The hungry could use a bit lifting up and the obese could use a very large lesson of humility instead of wasting all their money and time on food!

Those goddamn uppity fatties! Their problem is that they’re not humble enough. We need to teach those fatties a lesson. How dare they spend their own money and time on food? How dare they smugly eat while people are starving, people who deserve to have their jobs, home, money, and time more than those horrible fat fatties who are so horrible because they are fat? Skinny hungry people wouldn’t spend their money and time on food! Oh, no. They’d all go jog in the park and each single leaves of lettuce for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and think it was a feast! Goddamn fatties.

Also, did you know thin(ner) people can predict the future? It’s BMI-tastic!

Life expectancy has increased every year since 1900. It’s expected to start going down for the first time in a long time. Why? Obese people. How you can let yourself get to 300 pounds is unfathomable to me.

Everyone over 300 pounds is a broken, horrible person who is killing us all and inflating my healthcare costs. Why? Because I said so, dammit!

For those who just need to be benevolently “nudged” away from their disgusting immoral expensive child-abusing fatness:

Solution – Give doctors incentives to help patients lose weight, give tax breaks to joining a gym. Tax bad food based on sugar content, calories and trans fat. No food stamps for crackers, cookies, candy. Remove all coke machines from all our schools. Require P.E. in all our schools. Charge higher insurance premiums based on obesity level.

Finally, a few sane comments, too-few, in the din of hate:

This is great news. Finally the over fed outnumber the under fed. Maybe we will see an end to those photos of undernourished children and maybe they will be replaced with sad pictures of chunky kids with chocolate on their faces. Success!

A decent comment about how inflationary tactics taken by many governments throughout the world increase the price of basic commodities like foodstuffs:

This article is truly unbelievable. They ignorantly try to blame speculative trading and Global Warning for the rise in prices while ignoring the direct cause and effect realtionship of countries weakening their currencies. Put simply, printing more $’s without production gains is simply inflation and commodities such as fuel and grain are the first hit. I guess it just doesn’t fit their model. The heck with the logical correlation, let’s just blame global warming and speculators…. the Big bad people. Wow!

Someone finally observes that obese people can be malnourished/hungry:

Believe it or not, an obese person can also be malnourished at the same time. I am slightly obese, and prior to having a hysterectomy due to years of monthly hemmhoraging, my hemoglbin level was 10, my vitamin D, B12, folate and chromium levels were low – most likely, I was bleeding out everything but calories while I was having unstoppable carbohydrate cravings and consuming too many empty calories. Now my sweet tooth is gone, and my appetite and energy levels are normal. Now I wonder how many other women are experiencing the same thing and why doctors are not diagnosing and treating it.

The glass is half-full, not half-empty:

“Obese now outnumber hungry, says Red Cross”… Let’s think about this for a moment. We have made history… Now if this means there is less hungry people these days, then great! The glass if half full, huh?

My favorite one:

You know you live in a great counrty when people are complaining that the poor are too fat.

Word.

The original article is here. Shame on you, International Federation of the Red Cross.

EDIT: As of right now, Yahoo has been removing some of the worst comments (including some that I copied here). I’m glad I was able to capture the vitriol early-on, though I’m also glad that Yahoo is doing some moderation. Better late than never, I suppose.

EDIT 2: Nope, the awful comments are actually still up on the Yahoo article…read at your own risk. Yahoo, I take back any love I gave you.

More Healthist Doublespeak

The language of Healthism is so intertwined with notions of moral value that we tend to take its dicta as fact. This can lead to unfortunate reporting of scientific results, both by researchers in ‘conclusion’ sections, and by health reporters.

The most recent example of this is a study (h/t Regan at Dances with Fat) that shows people eat more calories after looking at pictures of larger people than say, a picture of a lamp or a person of ‘normal’ weight. This was translated by the study researchers and health reporters to suggest that people exhibit ‘unhealthy’ behaviors after exposure to fat images, with a not-too-subtle additional suggestion that fat images are harmful and fat is contagious through the power of bad example. Typical paranoid fodder for the moral panic.

Let’s just assume that the conclusions were sound, that people indeed do, in a vacuum, eat more calories after viewing pictures of larger people than they do after viewing pictures of ‘normal’ sized people or lamps. How can we deconstruct what’s going on? And how might we suggest that this kind of behavior isn’t, shockingly, necessarily a bad thing?

Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s suppose we take a group of chronic dieters who self-report to hate their bodies and fear fatness.* Subject them to a slideshow of people who are even thinner, and who aren’t shown eating. As a bonus, the imagery is presented in a way as to suggest that thinness is what makes these models attractive and worthy of love and the good things in life. Directly afterwards, ask the study participants about their feelings towards their own bodies, and see how many candies they take from a bowl.

My guess, based on the literature of similar studies and good old-fashioned logic? They’ll feel even worse about their bodies, and will tend to restrict their eating more than usual.

Then, show the same group of people a slideshow of images from, say, Adipositivity and some fatshion blogs. Show them fat people in attractive poses and lighting, in pictures meant to suggest that they are attractive, and worthy of the good things in life. Would it be any surprise if the study participants, post-slideshow, felt better about their bodies, and tended to relax their chronic restriction a tad?

What I want to know: why is the second scenario supposed to be the ‘unhealthy’ one?

The power of Healthist language and concepts is much more pervasive than we think. Its stranglehold on common sense and higher reason — its doublespeak — ties even those who make a living researching these things into knots of contradiction.

*I chose this group to make the comparison clearer. It applies to a more general group of participants since the majority of women in Western culture have dieted, and are inundated with messages about how thinness is the same as healthiness, godliness, and worth. Men are increasingly being marketed to in a similar way, and more men diet now than ever before.

Weight- and Looks-Bullied Minnesota Girls Fulfill Suicide Pact

This is so sad. Thanks to my husband for emailing the link as soon as he saw it — we’re the parents of teenage girls and are extraordinarily alarmed by the prevalence and virulence of appearance- and weight-based bullying.

These poor girls were only 14. They hadn’t even begun their mature lives, and they already decided — apparently for a long time — that they wanted nothing of this abusive world.

Settle said that her niece, Haylee, had been the victim of bullying after moving to Minnesota from Indiana with her mother and 8-year-old brother.

“She was made fun of for being overweight, her red hair,” Settle said. “She posted on my [Facebook] wall that she really wanted to come back…that the people were mean and cruel and she didn’t fit in.”

Even though Haylee wasn’t severely overweight, she was so uncomfortable about her size that she rarely ate in public at school, Settle said.

Paige was Haylee’s closest friend.

Haylee’s letter was to her mother and detailed plans for her funeral, Settle said.

“She requested everything pink and princess and butterflies,” Settle said.

“She was actually one of the most giving loving girls you would ever meet… She just loved everyone unconditionally…She couldn’t stand people to be made fun of, tortured, teased. She stood up for the underdogs and she was one herself,” Settle said.

If the Fat Acceptance movement needs to be about anything, it needs to be against a world where 14 year-olds (and 9 year-olds, and 4 year-olds) are made to feel absolutely worthless and broken for their ‘wrong’ weight.

My good wishes go out to the family and friends of these poor girls.

Food Addiction the Next Focus of Obesity Epipanic

In a study posted online that will appear in the August print issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the response of 48 healthy young women in response to cues signaling impending delivery of a highly palatable food (chocolate milkshake) vs. a tasteless control solution; and consumption of a chocolate milkshake vs. a tasteless solution.

The women ranged from lean to obese and had been recruited for a healthy weight maintenance trial. Their eating behavior was assessed using a food addiction scale developed by lead author Ashley Gearhardt, a doctoral student at Yale University.

“Similar patterns of neural activation are implicated in addictive-like eating behavior and substance abuse and dependence,” Gearhardt noted in the study.”Food and drug use both result in dopamine release in mesolimbic regions [of the brain] and the degree of release correlates with subjective reward from both food and drug use.”

Gearhardt and colleagues found that participants with higher food addiction scores showed more activity in brain areas linked with craving. “These findings support the theory that compulsive food consumption may be driven in part by an enhanced anticipation of the rewarding properties of food,” the authors write. “Similarly, addicted individuals are more likely to be physiologically, psychologically, and behaviorally reactive to substance-related cues.

The researchers said that if certain foods are addictive for some people, that could explain in part why they find it so hard to lose weight and keep it off.

While researchers have speculated that an addictive process may be involved in obesity, the authors said that this is the first study to identify distinctive neural or brain activity in people with addictive eating behavior.

In addition, Gearhardt said, ”If food cues take on enhanced motivational properties in a manner analogous to drug cues, efforts to change the current food environment may be critical to successful weight loss and prevention efforts. Ubiquitous food advertising and the availability of inexpensive palatable foods may make it extremely difficult to adhere to healthier food choices because the omnipresent food cues trigger the reward system. (PsychCentral) (emphasis mine)

First, this is clearly a press release — the article doesn’t even come out in print until August. If I know anything about scientific publishing (and I know a little from my day job), it’s obvious that the ink was barely dry on their paper before they released it online, making sure to alert the major channels as soon as they hit “Upoad Article.”

Here’s the link to the online article. Naturally, the full text is behind a paywall. Any of my Fatosphere buds out there got an Athens login?

So this is what we have to go on without even knowing anything about the methodology beyond the statements released by a co-author.

First of all — 48 women. Not a giant sample size. Second — they weren’t all overweight or obese, and they were recruited from a “healthy weight maintenance trial” (if some were obese, and obesity is considered an ‘unhealthy weight,’ then does that imply the obese and possibly overweight women were dieting?) A natural question to ask is if this is going to be another round of ammunition against obese people in the grand moral crusade, how did these addictive responses correlate with BMI? This wasn’t mentioned in the vast majority of statement press-releases (nor in the article quoted above). I dug around and found one person at Consumer Reports who actually read the damn study (shocking, I know, most science ‘journalists’ can’t be bothered to actually read studies), and she said:

The researchers also found that a high score for food addiction didn’t correlate with having a high BMI. You can be lean, but still have an addictive relationship with food. They speculated that this might put lean individuals at an increased risk of future weight gain, unless they can develop behaviors to compensate and keep control of their food addiction. (emphasis mine)

Naturally, BMI isn’t mentioned in 95% of the articles except to implicate this as some factor in the Obesity! Epidemic!

Third — well, where to start. I’ll sketch my ideas, below, my first and later impressions.

First Impressions

As long as they use this study for what it actually shows — that some women out of a tiny sample with higher “food addiction” scores have higher activity in some brain areas linked to reward — and don’t try to generalize to all fat people or fat women, we’re good.

However, it’s unlikely that will happen, given the sensational nature of the science-illiterate press. Also, the co-author herself makes concluding remarks about how this might shape efforts to make people (excuse me, encourage!) lose weight. I.e., change the “current food environment” and restrict “availability of inexpensive palatable foods.”

Well, that’s a funny thing! How would we restrict availability of inexpensive palatable foods? Oh, by levying unpopular food taxes, you say? And you say that if we create a scare, make people afraid of fatty foods by suggesting the foods themselves are dangerous addictive toxins and — horror of horrors! — these are foods readily sought after by especially children and poor people, they might be more in favor of food taxes?

Yeah. Because it’s not like we can just stand by while poor people are actually able to afford energy-dense food, and might even — gasp! — feed it to their children.

Now onto the issue of ‘food addiction’ as an actual phenomenon parallel to addiction to substances like heroin.

When it comes down to it, an “addiction” to food is a silly idea, since it’s not a foreign substance that we can just quit. If someone exhibits higher pleasure or expectations eating food, then it would seem the real root of the issue is why? That ‘why’ is what needs to be discovered and addressed.

Also, food isn’t inherently addictive because there are people who eat loads of fatty, sugary, salty, etc food without experiencing an attachment beyond that being their regular diet. The issue is much more complex than the drug-addiction model, and simplifying it to that point loses precious information about what’s really going on.

I wonder how many of the women who scored high on the “food addiction” scale were former dieters or were currently dieting? I recall items like milkshakes, pizza, etc holding MUCH more fantastic interest when I was dieting (and I’ve heard many, many other dieters talk about this food-fantasy effect, and Keyes did a study years ago that shows it’s a side effect of one’s body experiencing famine). Could it be their wiring is a bit shot, or sensitive, because they’re restricting or have restricted in the past and a bit of their ‘famine’ mindset is still at work?

Final Impressions

This is why a lot of these studies are little more than junk reinforcing cultural biases against fat people or people who overeat. There are so many obvious questions that go unanswered, because all they want to do is generate a quick correlation for a press release. The medical research looking into body size is rife with these kinds of examples.

I took screenshots of a Google News search to prove this thing was an unabashed press release, intended to be — in a very calculated way, mind you — a seminal work in the war against obese people (excuse me, obesity). Some of the article headlines:

  • Heroin vs. Haagan-Dazs: What food addiction looks like in the brain (healthland.time.com)
  • Freakonomics: Another Obesity Explanation: Food Addiction (freakonomics.com)
  • Craving a milkshake? You might be a junk-food addict (Globe and Mail)
  • Can people be addicted to food? (CBS News, 20 hrs ago)
  • Compulsive Eaters May Have ‘Food Addiction,’ Study Finds (BusinessWeek, 14 hrs ago)
  • For Some, Food ‘Addiction’ Similar to Substance Abuse (PsychCentral, 1 hr ago, complete with pic of Sad Addicted Fatty)
  • For Food Junkies, Brains React to Milkshakes Like Drugs (LiveScience.com, April 4, complete with pic of Bad Woman Inhaling Chocolate)
  • ‘Tempting foods as addictive as cocaine’ (Times of India, 11 hrs ago)

What do you think about this study?

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?