So being fat leads to heart disease right? Diabetes? All sorts of funk right? Well no, it doesn’t actually.
So, if we take an obese person and give him liposuction around his belly where the “killer fat” is his symptoms for heart disease should disappear right? After all if fat is the causal agent for heart disease and we’ve removed it then symptoms should clear up right? Turns out they don’t (1). So I hear you saying that it’s more than just being fat it’s diet and exercise and how many times you’ve made Pukeys wall and you’re absolutely right. But that doesn’t mean it’s about being overweight. Lifestyle and obesity are two completely separate things. We all know the fat person that’s constantly dieting and the skinny person that throws down whatever the damn hell he likes.
The importance of this distinction lies in one particular externality that results. An externality is a term an economist would use to describe an unintended consequence that has an effect on your neighbor. An externality for driving a car is the extra pollution. An externality for opening up a methadone clinic in a leafy suburb would be it’s effect on real estate value. The externality for associating overweight with heart disease is a rise in eating disorders.
Between 1995 and 2005 the prevalence of disordered eating behaviors doubled among both males and females. When did all that hoo ha about the obesity epidemic come to light? Ooh let me think around about the mid 90′s right? Also a study by Patton et al published in the British Medical Journal found that Dieting is the single most important risk factor for developing an eating disorder (3). Gee I wonder why that is? Could is be because some people are just bigger boned than others? And as it turns out those bigger bones aint so bad after all…
Most people are totally unaware that mortality for underweight is actually greater than for being over weight(4). You read correctly, you’re likely to die younger being underweight than overweight. In fact mortality only increases once someone is morbidly obese (4). Studies on “the healthy obese” those fatties that are stupid enough to exercise most days in spite of their impending doom showed mortality rates half that of unfit lean men (5).
Honestly, I don’t know who’s pulling the strings at the top of the chain, whether it’s pharmaceutical companies or medical bodies but they’re doing very well throwing the ”globesity” meat out to the dogs of the mainstream media. The media knows how much the public loves to tut tut on a glutton and we the public chow that stuff down like it were gospel. The end result is the marginalization of a group of people based largely on their genes and not their behavior. At worst it results in the legitimizing of bullying which surely fuels the growth of eating disorders.
No matter who’s at the top of the chain or who’s in the middle the fact that we as people absorb this stuff so well tells us something about ourselves. Evolutionary psychologists like to talk about how humans have an evolved behavior of creating in groups and out groups. This helped us decide who was a threat and who was a helper back in the cave. In this modern day example the fatties are the killers, so any bad press about them is welcome because it confirms our deep down “inner pig” beliefs about those in the out group. The bad group. If you don’t think its that simple, or you think you’re “better” than you’re DNA take the Harvard implicit association test and you’ll learn your a bit of a pig like everyone else.
What we can do once we’ve seen our inner pig in the mirror is to recognize that our inner instincts don’t have to dictate our behavior. What makes us human is the ability to process instincts and analyse their relevance. Hopefully after reading this post you’ll at least start questioning some of the fat press you hear and maybe even be a little more compassionate to the fatties.
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1Klein et al. (2004) Absence of an Effect of Liposuction on Insulin Action and Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease, The new england journal of medicine,
2. The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012). An Integrated Response to Complexity – National Eating Disorders Framework 2012.
3. Patton et al (1999). Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years. British Medical Journal, 318 (7186), 765-8.
4. Flegal, Katherine M et al (2005) “excess Deaths associated with Underweight Overweight and Obesity” JAMA
5.Lee CHong Do et al (1999) Cardiorespitaory Fitnessm Body omposition and All Cause Cardiovascular Disease Mortality in Men, American Journal of clinical nutriton