A major part of the movement toward "fat acceptance," at least in the United States, is the exposure of one simple fact:

Although doctors and researchers have tried very, very hard, they haven't been able to prove any links between fat and illness or fat and death rates.

Apparently, the New England Journal of Medicine called the data that "obesity researchers" use "limited, fragmentary, and often ambiguous," and did their own study which "found no correlation between increasing weight and decreasing lifespan."

There was one exception, apparently - one correlation they did find. They found that the "people in the study who were the fattest had double the risk of death." (All these quotes are from a Fat!So? article on the study, not from the study itself.) However, they also found that:

"This particular group of fat people had about a 5 percent death rate, versus the 2 percent death rate of the comparison group.... Inequities in the health care of fat people (or any other number of factors) could easily account for this small variation in death rates.

....Let me put the statement that fat people are 'twice as likely' to die into perspective. Medical studies will also tell you that men who smoke are twenty-two times more likely to die - from lung cancer alone - than men who don't smoke."

There are a lot of things linking fat with bad health and death in our society. There are the subconscious links, like the increasingly, almost supernaturally skinny models in commercials for health food, the commercials that hype "low-fat" products and equate calories with guilt instead of with a unit measuring energy. Even here, most of the fat-related links -- heck, even nodes like this with supposedly fat-positive titles -- are full of vitriolic and unresearched writeups about how fat people are self-harming, secretly despairing, just not trying hard enough, and, of course, sluggish.

And there are the more conscious links, the doctors who see fat patients coming in with a cold or a rash and recommend that they lose weight instead of listening to their symptoms. Or the news stories, over and over, about how we are now the fattest nation in the world - based on an arbitrary and recently changed cutoff line for obesity. And then, of course, there are the doctors, journalists, and researchers who get funding and attention by making spurious statements about fat.

We could look at the BMI as an example. But surely everyone knows by now that a BMI is a useless number for determining anything about one's body, not least because it fails to distinguish between fat and muscle.

Or we could look at the equally flatulent ideal weight charts. I'm 5'3", I have a small frame, and I weigh about 135 pounds. According to the chart which I handily removed from the wall of my doctor's office (twice) I'm considerably overweight... if I'm female. If I'm male, my weight is perfect. Either way, they've failed to take anything about my health, diet, or exercise into account - anything, in fact, except the shape of my genitals. How odd.

But best of all, we could look at some of their own propaganda. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release on March 9, 2004 announcing that "Citing 'Dangerous Increase' in Deaths, HHS Launches New Strategies Against Overweight Epidemic."2

My god, it really is true! The government itself is telling us that there's an epidemic of obesity and that fat is killing us! But wait... there's a subtitle.

"Study Shows Poor Diet, Inactivity Close To Becoming Leading Preventable Cause of Death."

It's interesting how they've managed to choose a cause of death that people equate with obesity to make it seem like obesity is the cause of death, isn't it? I'm inclined to ask "who profits?" and follow the money back to the $40 billion/year diet industry and the obesity researchers who (like former surgeon general C. Everett Koop) accept huge grants and consultant's fees from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers.

But I'm probably too cynical.

If you believe, as they do, that fat people are lazy - in fact, that fat people are fat because they are lazy - this press release probably makes perfect sense. You are fat therefore you are not exercising and you are not eating right. You are, possibly, too stupid to know that you should maybe have a salad once in a while and go for a walk sometimes. Don't worry! The Department of Health has a press release that will solve all your problems!

But if you know that body size and weight can have very little to do with exercise, that in fact one can be fat, thin, pear-shaped, apple-shaped, or shaped sort of like a bunch of grapes, you know, without that little stem on the top, for many reasons including genetics as well as activity levels and hormone levels and overuse of run-on sentences, the links they imply in this press release become far less sensible.

And, perhaps more importantly, then you can see the source of some of these assumptions about fat.

The press release goes on to say that is based on a study by the CDC which found that "400,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2000 (17 percent of all deaths) were related to poor diet and physical inactivity." Yes; as Super Size Me, among others, has pointed out, we eat very badly here as a general rule. We watch too much television when we could be working out. These are good things to explain to us all. But neither of those things necessarily has any correlation to fat.

I never exercise, I don't eat well, I probably need to hear everything they have to say about diet and inactivity. And I don't think that I would be considered fat by most people, or that my doctor has ever thought to inquire about my diet and exercise levels. I'm sure there are people reading this and thinking, "Sure, it isn't NECESSARILY correlated to being fat. But obviously fat people are going to mostly be the ones dying from this stuff. They're the ones with the problem. The fact that it's not literally the same as being fat means nothing at all. I mean, everyone knows when you're fat you get diabetes and heart disease and stuff all the time!"

Well sure. Except that:

  • It's only "obvious" because it's what we've been told by these same people all our lives. It's extremely difficult for many people to even consider the possibility that all of this information about fat is wrong, because we're saturated in it.
  • According to Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., who wrote "Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health," there is no correlation in fifty years of medical literature between body fat and atherosclerosis (fat building up in the arteries). That is, fat and thin people are equally likely (or unlikely) to have (and die from) clogged arteries.
  • Gaesser also found that the link between diabetes and fat was dubious. The situation is supposed to be that obesity leads to adult-onset diabetes. Gaesser found that when people with insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol improved their exercise habits and their diet, their diabetes and their health improved - even though they lost no weight at all. (Given the fact that 95% of people who lose weight by dieting, at least, gain it back, it may not be entirely surprising that people who exercised regularly did not lose weight.)
  • Best of all: the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research's ongoing 30,000-person study found that "those who are fittest live the longest. Fat people who exercise regularly live longer than thin people who don't."1 That quote is from Fat!So?, but they subsequently quote the Institute's research director, Steven Blair, as saying that "If you are a couch potato, being thin provides absolutely no assurance of good health, and does nothing to increase your chances of living a long life."

    In short, fat does not matter. Fat is beautiful, fat is nice to hug, you need fat to survive. Worry about your physical health, if you must, and leave your poor fat alone.

    1. Fat!So?: Because you don't have to apologize for your size! Marilyn Wann, ed. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California, 1997.
    2. http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2004pres/20040309.html