Biology and physics don’t care about your body image. Obesity is a killer according to science, but that isn’t enough to prevent a burgeoning movement championing everything from letting children eat whatever they want to envisioning a science fiction future populated by the morbidly obese.
Many Americans struggle with their weight, fighting what appears to be a losing war against food for much of their lives. We should sympathize with these Americans and certainly we should not shame or bully them, but neither should that prevent us from clearly understanding and stating the numerous health risks that accompany obesity, much less actively promote it. How you feel about your body and whatever self image you may have, biology and physics do not care, and will take its toll because there is no doubt that obesity is a killer. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions maintains a library of the “Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity.” They begin with a simple, irrefutable statement, “People who have overweight or obesity, compared to those with healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions.” These risks include premature death from “all-causes,” high blood pressure and hypertension, high LDL and low HDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and breathing problems, “many” types of cancer, low quality of life, mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and “other mental disorders,” and body pain and “difficulty with physical functioning.”
The CDC concludes, unequivocally, that obesity is a “common, serious, and costly chronic disease. Having obesity puts people at risk for many other serious chronic diseases and increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Everyone has a role to play in turning the tide against obesity and its disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minority groups.” During the pandemic alone, the CDC estimates that 30.2% of all hospitalizations for COVID-19 were attributed to obesity. Further, obesity is most prevalent in minority communities, where 41.7% of black adults report being obese, the highest of any group, followed by American Indian or Alaskan Native adults at 38.4%, Hispanic adults (36.1%), white adults (31.0%), and Asian adults (11.7%). The Journal of the American Medical Association has studied the reduction in life expectancy across these groups, and their findings are striking. Severely obese white men can expect to live 13 years shorter than their healthy counterparts, a 22% reduction in their life span, white women can expect to live 8 years shorter. The sample size for blacks was smaller and they appeared to fare better if they gained weight as the age, but the impact was significant the younger a person is when they become obese. A younger black man with severe obesity can expect to live an incredible, devastating 20 years less, a black woman 5 years less.
These are the facts, making encouraging obesity akin to encouraging smoking, drinking, drugs, or any other dangerous activity. Obesity, however, is the only one of these health hazards that has the support of a rapidly burgeoning movement that increasingly glorifies overweight people and champions the bad behaviors that lead to it. We saw this at the end of last year, where the desire to be fit and healthy was proclaimed part of the white supremacy project. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports on a “more-permissive approach to meals” that “some dieticians say” “helps children learn to self-regulate.” “Crystal Karges celebrated her youngest daughter’s fifth birthday last month with a gooey chocolate cake covered in white frosting and rainbow sprinkles. The next morning, she served her five children the leftover slices at breakfast alongside fruit, eggs, sausage and milk.” Ms. Karges, who is also a dietitian, believes children should have “more [control] over what they eat including, at times, high-sugar, high-fat and highly processed foods.” This approach is said to help “children develop healthy dietary habits and protect against disordered eating.” “We are trying to control our kids when in reality, they need autonomy,” explained Ms. Karges. Further, this new trend among dieticians asserts that “parents shouldn’t consider weight when deciding what to feed their children,” meaning even if your child is gaining weight you shouldn’t ask them to stop eating cookies and drinking soda. “It’s incredibly traumatic for a child to be given the information that because of their body size or the way they look, or their weight, they can’t be trusted with food,” said Sumner Brooks, a dietitian and co-author of How to Raise an Intuitive Eater: Raising the Next Generation with Food and Body Confidence. Diana Rice, a dietician in Oklahoma City, tells parents “children [should] follow their own tastes and hunger signals to fullness. Eventually, even sweets-loving children will tire of junk food and gravitate toward fruits and vegetables, she said.” “We have to trust children to meet their biological needs,” Ms. Rice noted. “Pack cookies in their lunch box. Serve ice cream after dinner. Make it a regular part of their life so kids learn to self-regulate around those foods,” she continued. At her house, she regularly serves caramel corn, cheese, sugar snap peas, Doritos, Hershey kisses, and as much dessert as they want, believing, “They need to have that trust that the food is going to be available.”
At moments like these, one has to wonder if these so-called experts are delusional, ignorant, some combination of the two, or maybe they are simply actively trying to promote obesity. Whatever the case, it seems clear that a degree in dietary science must somehow erase all memory of your own childhood. As an adult, I am a reasonably healthy eater. I eat a little too much meat, consume a bit too much alcohol, and have an ice cream sundae once a week on Sunday itself, but otherwise my wife and I cook mostly fresh foods, use little fats, almost no sugars or soda, and a lot of vegetables. This is what I do as an adult, however. Left to my own devices as a child, I would have consistently made the opposite choice. Back then, I would have existed on a diet of chicken nuggets, soda, and twinkies, frequently consumed until I threw up, right before I started the cycle again. The problem is twofold, a palette that craves sweets and fats for energy to support the rapid growth of the body, and a lack of impulse control. Simply put, children are not capable of regulating themselves in anything resembling the manner these dieticians are describing. If they were, they would not be children in the first place. People are not born with the ability to control their urges, emotions, or desires, or to understand the consequences of their actions. These skills develop as a person ages, and are reflected as changes in the brain. Children under 4 years old exhibit almost no control at all and can’t perform some mental tasks that adult apes and chimpanzees do easily. The frontal lobe, for example, significantly grows between 5 to 7 years and the myelination of nerve fibers occurs gradually, that is the process by which our neurons become more insulated and more able to carry out their key functions. The brain continues to develop throughout the first two decades of a person’s life, hence why we have restrictions on driving, voting, signing contracts, drinking, and the like. The idea that eating is different, and children can magically self regulate in this sphere is completely unsupported and has no evidentiary basis. It is wishful thinking masquerading as an expert opinion, or perhaps dangerous thinking would be a more accurate description given the rise of obesity in children over the past few decades and the serious health risks involved. After all, barely 10 years ago this was a signature issue for none other than former First Lady Michelle Obama, whose Let’s Move campaign aimed to foster healthy editing happens to prevent it.
Regardless, there are now those who believe promoting a positive body image is more important than positive health outcomes, which to me at least means that they are happy to consign people to shortened, troubled lives for the sake of political ends. This thinking has not merely penetrated the dietary field. It has begun to abound in culture at large, affecting all things including our vision of the future. Hence, Cheyenne M. David, writing for Buzzfeed News, recently proclaimed “These AI Artis are Creating the Fat, Black Characters So Sorely Lacking in Mainstream Sci-Fi And Fantasy.” In Ms. Davis’ view, “Fat, Black people deserve to be main characters capable of anything.” The problem, you see, is that “Mainstream sci-fi features Black characters like Morpheus from The Matrix, Mace Windu from Star Wars, and Lt. Commander La Forge and Nyota Uhura from Star Trek. But in general, Black characters aren’t afforded the same prominence and screentime as their white counterparts. And when Black people are present, they tend to be cishet assumed and conventionally attractive. Fat, Black bodies are a rarity.” In addition, fatness in general is seen to be a sign of villainy in much of science fiction regardless of race and ethnicity. Ms. David quoted Alex Smith, the “Black, queer” artist blazing a trail for the obese. “It just astonishes me that fat people in general are treated and depicted as second-class citizens in science fiction works, or they’re made to represent something like greed, lust, or villainy,” he said, such as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune. “I used to do a queer sci-fi reading series called Laser Life,” he added, “and when I was on the hunt for guest readers, the very first story I received depicted a villain who was fat. The character’s fatness was described in loathsome terms and was considered an obvious indicator of their villainy. It’s really disappointing.” His solution? Create a range of morbidly obese black women to rule his imaginary universe. “Among them was Marcus, whom Smith brought to life using Midjourney and D-ID, an AI platform that creates talking avatars. Marcus heads up a division of the Electric Afro Science Institute, which Smith called ‘a superhero-led independent afrofuturist organization that works in biomechanics, cosmic engineering, nanotechnology, medical alchemy.’”
Of course, Mr. Smith can create whatever vision of the future he likes and Ms. David is likewise free to promote it however she likes, but back in reality the underlying premise is ridiculous. The problem is that fat people – especially the morbidly obese vision captured in this artwork – are not “capable of anything.” They lead severely restricted lives, full of aches, pains, and effort simply to move around, and they on average die young. Denying this reality by promoting a falsehood, does not change it. You can have whatever body image you like, and obesity will still be a killer. Moreover, whether you’re fat and black, or thin and white, no one is “capable of everything.” All of us, whatever our ethnicity, body type, or brains, have our limitations. I, for example, am thin and reasonably fit, but far from athletic, strong, or quick. There is no one that is going to mistake me for a hero and the same is true of 99.9% of people that walk the planet. This doesn’t mean I do not have my strengths or a role to play that adds meaningful value to my personal and professional relationships, but a clear eyed acknowledgement of one’s weaknesses and how to overcome and improve upon them is necessary to lead a fully, happy, and productive life. Pretending otherwise either in science fiction or in dietary choices for children, or promoting fitness as white supremacy, does not help anyone in the long run, though it might well consign many to an early grave and the increasing frequency certainly suggests we are looking at the beginning of a long term campaign.
2 thoughts on “The future is fat and that’s not good for anyone”
Yeah. I think, like most things, it’s about money and power. Watching live sports on TV and one is bombarded with fast food and snack commercials. It’s obscene. And then the health and drug commercials to “fix” you. “It’s not your fault” is the message. We’ve got what you need.
Dan Draper in MADMEN, I think the first episode says, “Advertising is all about making the consumer happy. We sell happiness.” Something like that. Yeah.
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Hahaha! Very true, I am a huge fan of Mad Men myself. 🙂