Letter to Eugene Robinson:
Dear Mr. Robinson,
I've been a fan of yours for as long as I can remember. I'm always thrilled when you guest on The Rachel Maddow Show and I tend to agree with you completely. Imagine my disappointment to read today's article on Governor Christie and find that you have drunk the Obesity Crisis kool-aid. Governor Christie may be in poor health, but no one can know that simply by looking at his weight. Scientists have known for decades that obesity is not causative of many of the diseases it's correlated with. Please do some research. If in that research you come across the data-dredged NIH "statistic" that 300,000 deaths per year can be attributed to obesity, please know that the study's author (Katherine Fleagle) has recanted the methodology and resulting findings of that study, which considered every death of an overweight person to be caused by his/her weight, no matter what other factors were present. That is, a fat person's being hit by a bus was included in that number. When all factors are considered the numbers are no more than 100,000 and more likely approximately 25,000.
A quick overview of the myths and realities of obesity are contained in Kate Harding's "Don't You Know Fat is Unhealthy" post on her former blog. You might also find her photographic BMI Illustrated project eye opening.
Check out the Ancel Keys's Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which found that healthy young men, when placed on prolonged calorie restrictions (which, by the way, at 1,560 calories per day were higher than most of today's diet recommendations) developed sluggish metabolisms and what Dr. Keys labeled "starvation psychosis." This condition includes depression, obsession with food, loss of libido, and loss of concentration, comprehension, and judgment. In one case, a man cut off three fingers, although the scientists were unable to determine whether this was an accident or deliberate. After the experiment, most of the men quickly regained all the lost weight plus additional weight. Dr. Keys and his wife were horrified by the changes in the test subjects. The study could not be performed in today's culture. It would be deemed too cruel.
Check out the Dutch Hunger Winter study, which found that prolonged starvation leads to hereditary genetic changes, including increased obesity in subsequent generations.
Check out the Vermont Prison Overfeeding Study, which is basically the reverse of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. The subjects were fed 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day in order to increase their body weights by 10% to 15%. Their metabolic rates skyrocketed. When the experiment ended, their metabolic rates remained raised until they (quickly) regained their former weights.
Check out the Roseto Cardiac Study, which concluded that the stress diseases associated with obesity were a result of weight stigma rather than extra weight.
Check out the "Obesity Paradox," the phenomenon of fat people's being more likely to survive a cardiac event. (Explained brilliantly and repeatedly by Sandy Szwarc at her (sadly defunct) Junkfood Science blog.)
All of these things and more are explained in countless books that have been on the market for years. Both Glen Gaesser and Paul Campos set out to write books about how bad obesity is for a person. Both ended up writing books (Big Fat Lies and The Obesity Myth - re-released as The Diet Myth, respectively) that explained why being fat isn't inherently bad for you. Unfortunately, Gaesser's publisher refused to publish his book without a chapter on the evils of carbohydrates, which Dr. Gaesser fought to keep out as he didn't believe that, but including that misinformation was the only way to get the book published. For a shorter read with much of the same information, you could turn to New York Times health editor Gina Kolata's book Rethinking Thin.
You should also look into the several studies published in the past couple of years that conclude that fat stigma is worse for one's health than fat itself. Or the recent studies that conclude that fitness levels have to do with diet and exercise levels, not weight. (That is, one can be fat and fit with better health indices than someone who is slender and unfit.) You could even talk to the Post's Rob Stein about his article on the subject.
Look up the redefinition of "obesity" by changing the BMI classifications in 1998. Millions of people were escalated into the "overweight" and "obese" categories overnight without gaining an ounce. You might want to research how, nationally, weights have been stable for the past decade (although you'd never know it from the media). You might want to look into how in the same time frame Americans have gained an average of 10 to 15 pounds, we've also become taller on average. (You don't hear anyone screaming about the "Height Epidemic," though, even though increased height is correlated with negative mortality statistics.) You might want to look up the mortality rates of obese women v. "normal" weight men (spoiler alert, the women have lower mortality rates). You might want to look into just who is funding all the studies that conclude that fat is evil. I'll give you a hint, the diet industry is worth about $60 billion a year and heavily vested in propagating the moral panic fueling the obesity "epidemic". Many of the entities funding obesity studies (such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) would cease to exist if the obesity panic went away.
Please Mr. Robinson, I consider you a responsible journalist, and as such I expect more of you than your spouting the party line without researching your subject.
It seems to me that if you’re going to stand up bravely for unspoken truths, the first thing to do is to find out if it’s already being blared from every television, casually gossiped about in every locker room, and yelled at random strangers from far too many cars on the road first.
Here’s a clue: if you go to your friendly neighborhood bookstore or library and there are already well over a hundred books on the shelf that reflect your ‘brave and unspoken’ opinion, if you can’t watch TV for half an hour without hearing it from the speakers, if you check Yahoo News in the morning and there are three articles all saying what you’re thinking… it’s neither brave nor unspoken.
So shut up about it.
--Twistie, from her comment on Dances with Fat
"As far as I’m concerned, one of the key requirements for a joke to be funny is that the joke not be mocking anyone with less power, privilege, etc., than the person making the joke."
--Bea, a commenter on Dances with Fat