Friday, September 27, 2013

Fun Fact Friday: ...but Fat is SCARY!

Here's some stats for you to chew on from the hosts of Fat Talk Free Week:
  • 54% of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat
  • More than 90% of girls ages 15 to 17, want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest
  • 81% of ten year olds are afraid of being fat
  • 1 out of 8 adolescent girls reported starving themselves to lose weight
  • 67% of women 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities like giving an opinion, going to school and going to the doctor because they feel badly about their looks
  • 40% of moms tell their adolescent daughters to diet; 45% of these are of average weight
  • 70 million people worldwide struggle with eating disorders
  • In the US, as many as 10 million are suffering from anorexia or bulimia; that's more than are suffering from breast cancer
Why are we SO afraid of fat? So afraid that we would rather be hit by a truck rather than be fat?? Or engage in life-threatening disordered eating patterns to avoid being fat???

This is a harder question to answer. I can tell you where all the messages of body and fat hate are coming from, what incorrect facts they state, the ways in which fat bodies are punished for being fat, and how hard it is to keep a brave face in the midst of it all...but WHY everyone is so scared of fat is much harder to grasp.

Some people will point to the erroneous belief that fat means unhealthy means chronic disease and death, but even that is an incomplete picture. When people are degrading fat people in social situations it's rarely about their health. It's often about the prejudices, stereotypes and bigotry people hold towards fat bodies.

There are commonly held ideas that fat people are lazy, gross, lacking in willpower, dumb, ugly, awkward, survivors of trauma, and the list goes on and on. Social norms have led us to cement these stereotypes with fat bodies to the point that many of us forget that these are TOTALLY MADE UP and that we as a society created these labels and they do not actually reflect reality. There is no evidence that being fat means you're lazy. Or ugly. Or gross. However, this perception of this made up reality is important. Because once we start to believe this reality our brains will do anything it can to avoid being associated with these negative characteristics. Who want's to be called lazy, gross, dumb, etc.? No one! So step one to avoiding being called those names would be to get rid of the first "easy" association people have, e.g. a fat body. Now you might still be all of those things, but people won't be able to necessarily tell if you at least have a thin body!

People think (theoretically) that they can change their bodies, even if they can't change many other things about themselves. Anyone who has been discriminated against based on visual cues and information probably have wished at times they could change those visuals. I've heard countless friends of color express times in their lives where they wished they could wake up with white skin, even if just to experience blending in and not having to experience discrimination for one single day. Luckily, I have rad friends and they move past that or it's only a temporary thought, because they have been surrounded by communities of people that tell them it's ok to be black, Asian, Mexican, etc. Unfortunately we don't have that overwhelming source of body loving pride...YET. But that's why the fat acceptance and radical body loving communities that are emerging are so important. There will always be hate directed at people for their differences, but if we can continue to build communities that love and support ALL sizes and really embrace the belief that bodies not only come in different colors and abilities but also in a diverse representation of sizes we might start to win this war against bodies. The first step is disentangling these negative stereotypes about fat bodies that we hold. Fat people are no more likely to be lazy, stupid, gross or any other negative characteristic than a thin person. The only thing a fat person is more likely to be is fat. That's all. And there is NOTHING wrong with fat. It isn't poisonous. It doesn't make you dumb. It doesn't make you sick. We have to shift the focus away from bodies and how they look and start dealing with reality!

Next week I'll tell you why you're losing the battle against your body and plant the seed on why you should work on loving and accepting it instead!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fun Fact Friday: Fat Does Not Mean Unhealthy, Fat Means Fat

In this week's installment we're going to start the transition from LABELS to HEALTH. In the past two posts we've talked about the history of the BMI chart and the Great BMI Chart Scandal of 1998, but now it's time to focus on meaning and interpretation which is often glossed over by (some of) the medical community, the media, and just about everyone else. 

The popular conception is fat = high BMI = unhealthy = chronic health conditions. Everyone basically takes this to be a true correlation. But it is NOT. So let's break it down. 

What does a BMI chart measure? Oh that's right, a BMI chart is simply "a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women." Otherwise stated, it's a mathematical formula that takes two numbers to create a new one. Sort of like a multiplication table! In fact look at a BMI chart without the standard "judgement" labels put on it:

 Now look at a standard multiplication table:


Hmm...strikingly similar no? The BMI chart is simply a table of numbers that hold no inherent value. It is derived from taking your weight in lbs divided by you height in inches multiplied by 703. Just like a multiplication table is taking one number times another number. Simple math. If only we stopped there...but of course, we don't.

We decide to place value and judgment on those numbers so that we have a chart that looks like this:

So following our analogy we should look at our multiplication tables like this:

And even further, let's start making judgments about our multiplication table:

  •  4 times really should eat a cheeseburger. You're too small. Stop being so small. 
  • 11 times 4...if you would just work a LITTLE bit harder you could be green ya know. Join the gym and you'll get there. You can do it. 
  • 8 times're kind of gross. You should be ashamed of yourself. Really, how did you let yourself get that way?
  • 5 times're just flat out disgusting. You should pretty much just go away. Forever. No one should ever multiply 5 times 25. Gross. 
Sounds completely ridiculous right??? SO WHY DO WE SAY THESE THINGS TO PEOPLE?  Why do we do simple arithmetic and then trash people's sense of self and worth by assigning a label to their bodies and then allow all of society to use these labels to degrade and demean? 

"BUT IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE'S HEALTH! I'm just helping them live a long, healthy life! They may not know that their FAT is KILLING them!"


Complete and utter bullshit. 

I've never seen a BMI chart that looks like this:

Know why? It doesn't exist! Because body fat is not a measure of health! BMI simply "measures" body fat and actually doesn't say anything about your health!You cannot use a BMI chart to predict someone's health or longevity of life. Because that's not what it measures. It measures fat. Only. Pure and simple. Furthermore, even researchers and doctors that believe in using the BMI chart for body shaming when pressed will tell you there are not CAUSAL studies that predict people's health and life longevity. There are some correlational studies, but even those are often flawed and often later retracted as BAD science. And just because something is correlated, it doesn't mean it that one causes the other. Fat does not cause poor health. Poor health habits, genetics, and other unknown factors cause poor health. Fat causes fat. We accept this in all other areas of science yet we suddenly are rendered stupid when it comes to talking about weight and health.

Are some people who are fat unhealthy? Of course. Are some "healthy weight" people also unhealthy? YES. Do all fat people have chronic diseases? No. Do some "healthy weight" people have chronic diseases? Yes. Do some fat people die young? Yes. Do "healthy weight" people also die young? Yes. 

BMI charts can't predict your health or how long you are going to live. 

So why do we keep using them? We'll investigate that next week

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fun Fact Friday: The Great BMI Scandal of 1998

So last week I introduced you to the history of the BMI table & its usage and left you with the cliffhanger of the Great BMI Scandal of 1998, so without further ado, let's delve into some mind-blowing controversy.

Another introduction needs to be made: The National Institutes of Health is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research. Let me reiterate an "agency of the US government" that is "responsible for biomedical and health-related research." You would think this agency would be good stewards of health research for the good of US society, yes? Well you'd be wrong in this case...

In 1998, a so-called "expert panel" convened by the NIH decided that the current BMI chart was "too generous" and that in an effort to "inspire" the nation to be "healthier" they must shift the BMI chart rating scales down so that more people realize they are fat and therefore know that they will DIE of the evil FAT. Now of course they didn't phrase it this way and made it seem like it was all about your health using a few (flawed and sometimes bogus) studies linking weight to health outcomes. The result quantified? 29 MILLION people woke up the next day now being considered overweight when the day before they were considered to be a healthy body weight. They didn't gain a pound, they didn't eat 47 cupcakes before bed, they didn't do anything besides do normal life things and all of a sudden woke up with a giant shaming label placed upon their bodies. That's some deep shit yo.

As we know, medical advances and new knowledge occur every day. So maybe this shift was warranted based on new scientific findings? WRONG. Let's take a look at two powerful FACTS:

Fact 1:

  • The people in charge of making this shift at NIH perhaps maybe aren't your friends.
"Eight of the nine members of the National Institutes of Health task force on prevention and treatment of obesity have ties to the weight-loss industry, either as consultants to pharmaceutical companies, recipients of research money from them, or advisers to for-profit groups such as Weight Watchers."(Source)

  • SAY WHAT?!?! You mean people who stand to gain money (probably LOTS of it) from more people thinking they are fat and going to die and therefore need to do anything to lose that weight are the ones responsible for telling you that you are fat?!?  Well isn't that fucking convenient...for them! Let's give 29 million people new complexes about their bodies! YAY! They're all gonna run out and join gyms, diet programs, and diet pills and we'll be rich! And people who have nothing wrong with them will suffer.

Fact 2:
  • If this were really about HEALTH then we'd expect that to mean that people who are in the "normal" weight category to live the longest since long life = health in popular social terms. But guess what? Statistically speaking, the people who live the longest are people who measure in the "overweight" category of the BMI.
"Overall, people who were overweight but not obese were 6% less likely to die during the average study period than normal-weight people. That advantage held among both men and women, and did not appear to vary by age, smoking status, or region of the world." (Source)

  •  HOLD UP. I thought this was about health? I thought we wanted people to live long healthy lives? Now you're telling me that I can live longer if I am actually NOT following your advice to be "normal" and instead choose to be the evil "overweight?" Huh. What's a fat lady to do? Follow your "expert" advice and possibly not live to my fullest longevity or be stigmatized by the medical community and therefore the rest of society in the hopes I'll live the longest life possible? That's a fucked up choice to have to make. Now there are alllll sorts of apologists who are quick to explain why this data isn't GOOD data and why it may means all sorts of other things other than the NIH panel is a bunch of greedy liars, but I'd like to point out that the same critical eye isn't given to all the studies THEY used to convince of this farce in the first damn place. It's hypocritical and wrong and it's causing a lot of harm to a lot of people. 

Conclusion for today's Fun Fact Friday: don't believe the hype. Especially when the hype was created by people who stand to profit from you thinking there is something wrong with you when evidence to the contrary actually says something different.

Next week we'll turn this debate around and start to think about the popular belief that fat = unhealthy = health conditions. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fun Fact Friday: BMI is a Joke

I decided if I had some hybrid activist-academic purpose to my writing I might actually DO more writing. SO my goal for the rest of the year is to bring you useful information that is readily available but OVERLOOKED by damn near everyone, but especially the media.

Right now I'm really, really energized about fat politics and activism, particularly because it has direct affects on my favorite topic which is radical body love. So for the next couple of weeks I'm going to do some deconstructing of our common "knowledge" about health, fatness, dieting, and body shame. This is nothing new. Lots of people have written about this before but many of my non-fat-activist-academic friends probably won't read 783 books, articles and blog posts I give them as references but they WILL (hopefully) read my words here on my blog. Also I'm only going to tell you the shit I find most compelling and in the order I feel like it makes most sense. Others may think other things are more important or may tell you things in a different way, but this is my blog so I'm going to do it my way. And now, with my signature voice and style, I'm about to break some shit down for you.

On today's menu...

The history of the modern day BMI chart! I know, titilating. But we have to start somewhere and before I can start blowing your mind with ideas that go contrary to everything you hear on the news every day about fat & health we have to start with a little history lesson. So pour yourself some coffee, water, alcohol, or any other beverage of your choice. Let's get started shall we?

BMI charts were first consistently linked to health outcomes in 1912 by life insurance companies (though they were called something else). Uh what? Over a hundred years old and thought up by insurance companies and not doctors? Need some perspective? Penicillin was discovered in 1928. We're using a health rating scheme that is pre-antibiotics. Sound ridiculous? It is. 

Here's a really boring article about how many ways we've measured fat over the past 100 years: If you don't feel like reading it, cool. Let's just suffice it to say that the sheer number of ways it has been done and why is mind boggling. But also, for me, points out how flawed the system has always been, and continues to be.

The modern BMI chart was conceptualized and advocated for by Ancel Keys in 1972. NOTABLE in his publication is that he says straight up that: 
Populations differ from one another and populations change. Average values for weight and height for given age and sex for a given population do not necessarily apply to other populations or even to the same population at another time. Further, there is no present prospect of obtaining for any population true average values of weight for given height, age and sex. Certainly persons examined in connection with application for life insurance are far from being a random sample of the population.
Additionally he notes: 
In recent medical literature the so-called ‘ideal’ or ‘desirable’ body weight is often used as a basis of reference, the relative body weight then being expressed as percentages of values in the tables published by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company [42]. Those tables take no account of age; in effect they simply list the average weights of insurance applicants of given sex and height at age about 25 [13-161. As noted elsewhere [43], the use of ideal or recommended weight confounds age and weight because on the average weight increases with age until the fifties while increase in height is over by the early twenties at the latest. The general trend to continue growth in weight may be undesirable but it has no relevance to the question of providing an objective description of relative body mass; it is scientifically indefensible to include value judgement in that description. The characterization of persons in terms of desirable weight percentage has resulted in attributing to ‘overweight’ some tendencies to ill health and death that are actually only related to age [43]. 
SO, the person who created the modern BMI scale is basically saying given the best measurement we can come up with for BODY FAT (not health!) it's still flawed and not a very good measure. Additionally it doesn't give us any information on whether that fat number is good, bad or otherwise. Veryyyyy interesting.

Stay tuned for next week when I tell you about the great BMI scandal of 1998. THRILLING SHIT MAN.