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Fat as a Moral Issue

For years, we've been told that Americans getting fatter (which is definitely true), and that's because of our bad eating habits and lack of exercise. But what if They are even in the least bit wrong ? After all, the subtext for our anguish over fat is that fat is the symptom of some kind of moral failing. If the science is not there, it's no longer possible to bully people into doing the right thing for their bodies because somehow they need to be shamed into doing so.

A friend of mine who works in the epidemiology department in a large city has also noticed that activists and advocates for public health also try to bowl over opposition by trying to reinforce their arguments with morality. For example, there's a school of thought in vogue that asserts that even the smallest amounts of organically active or mimicking chemicals in the environment are responsible for hormonal imbalances and especially cancer. It's as if there have been no public health improvements since the beginning of the 20th century (when, after all, there were far fewer man-made chemicals in existence). Of course, this goes against common sense, because overall, people live longer and look better at any given age than the previous generation; but optimism is the enemy of the activist. All those people who grew up on sugared cereals and Wonder Bread will be jogging around in their 60s soon.

This is not to say that there are still serious public health issues in this country, especially among the poor. However, political agendas interfere with our understanding the real issues involved, and serve only to heal the consciences of those who trumpet them



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 9th, 2002 10:05 am (UTC)
You're right. There are loads of genuine public health issues (tuberculosis, AIDS, air pollution, etc) but the basics of public health, dietary advice, and health education haven't changed since the turn of the century. The current dogma changes, but the moral tone remains, and it all makes me highly suspicious of the propaganda. Whether the enemy is alcohol, fat, "refined sugar", "carbs", "starchy food", or some other behavior, the real context is a kind of ascetic morality in which some struggle has to be carried on against sin.

We'd probably all be better off just following kosher or Hindu dietary laws if we're going to be religious about it, instead of trying to call it science.
Jul. 9th, 2002 10:20 am (UTC)
One thing I left out in my screed that throws a monkey wrench in the health-as-morals juggernaut was the possibility that many forms of heart diease are actually infectious in nature — there was a good article on this in the Atlantic magazine a while ago. Links have been noticed between dental problems and heart problems, so maybe plaque buildup on the arteries is actually due to the same or related factors that cause plaque in the mouth ! The problem with cholesterol as a determining factor is that it has been really hard to fit the data to the actual incidence of heart disease, which is usually a sign the research has been looking at the wrong variables.

But of course, such a theory is a threat to both the moralizer and the makers of those expensive cholesterol-lowering drugs. The US tends to go for expensive health solutions whenever possible, it seems. For example, metabolizing meat consumes calcium as significantly as ingesting it replenishes calcium, but women are sold on milk, supplements, and calcium-enriched orange juice instead of a sensible diet that is lower in meat.

My motto on all this: Eat right, exercise, die anyway.
(no subject) - all_askew - Jul. 9th, 2002 10:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - all_askew - Jul. 9th, 2002 10:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 10th, 2002 08:33 am (UTC)
Re: Fat as a moral issue.
Those fat acceptance people are crazy. One might not have moral duty to stay within healthy guidelines, but then the morbidly obese should not expect to conduct their lives just live everybody else when it comes to thing where size does matter.

If there are environmental and social causes for non-congenital obesity (and I'm open to those ideas), it is up to the individual to care and for society to make improvement possible. It's a two-way street.

By the way, where can I sign up for the knitting needle benefits ?
(no subject) - all_askew - Jul. 10th, 2002 09:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 10th, 2002 10:03 am (UTC)
Re: knitting needle benefits
For me, add being immersed in My Bloody Valentine's impression of fifteen minutes inside a jet engine when they performed "You Made Me Realise" at Avalon (with J. Mascis doing the live mix).
(no subject) - all_askew - Jul. 10th, 2002 10:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 10th, 2002 07:16 pm (UTC)
I see. As with a lot of other imperfections we all have, I don't beleive that one should be beat oneself over being overweight, and that no matter what, we all deserve respect. What I find hair-raising is the dangerous notion that there's nothing wrong with being morbidly obese. It's just as bad as the shocking number of pre-anorexia websites out there (which I haven't the guts too look at).
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 10th, 2002 08:27 am (UTC)
Doritos ?
Aww, now you've made me hungry ! I used to like the generic supermarket kind that had too much flavoring on them, but now Frito-Lay has coopted that with their "Extreme" varieties.

I think that introducing morality into the equation doesn't help solve the problem, and only induces reaction like fear of failure, misguided rationalizations (like "fat acceptance"), and, for people who just can't resist being contrarian (anybody here fit that description ?), something innocuous to "rebel" against. As if eating a box of Yodels at one sitting is going to bring down the techno-marketing-military-industrial mediaplex, right on !
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


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