Thursday, 12 October 2017

More on the question of obesity

On The Independent On-line via my Facebook feed a few days ago there was story of a young woman who is striking a blow against the body shamers and fat bashers.  There are loads of these stories - personal responses to the vicious trolls who swarm the Internet in search of something to be offended, disgusted or enraged by.  

We all encounter the herds of inadequate people get pleasure out of venting their splenetic personalities on social media - slithering out from under their various rocks to rant and rail - and nothing brings out the haters like a fat woman who dares expose her body. 

Trolls exist because there are usually no consequences. They operate anonymously and/or at a distance and often they congregate with a crowd of other, like-minded, malicious inadequates.  They're cowardly bullies and I have nothing but contempt for them.  They need to be shamed; people need to stand up to them and to support the victims of bullying and bigotry. 

However, it's a very short-sighted person who argues that being significantly overweight does not involve an increased risk of developing major adverse health issues. 

When a woman's magazine runs a story about a comedian who happens to be significantly overweight and includes a shot of her in a bathing suit, it's not accidental.  Either she or the magazine wants to provoke a response.  I've no idea what the magazine's agenda was but Sofie Hagen describes herself as a' fat acceptance advocate', i.e. she sees obesity as a political issue and wants to ensure that fat people are treated equally and positively.  

Hagen rejects people who express concern about her weight - telling them to 'fuck off' -  which is fair enough when it's a troll hiding behind a faux concern about the health issues of obesity.  However, trolls are easily exposed, ask any of them to explain the physiology behind their concerns and they're at a loss. 

I can understand why Hagen and others like her are angry. I'm of an age where if I exposed my body in public the age-shamers would have a field day.  But, however vile and wrong the bullies are, it is a medical fact that obese people are at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, liver cancer and musculoskeletal damage.  

Carrying large amounts of body fat - especially visceral fat - is a major health hazard with serious implications for affected individuals and for the medical and other services those people will inevitably have to draw on.  While Sofie Hagen may be relatively healthy at the moment, if she remains seriously overweight, chances are she will become steadily more unhealthy.  Most commonly, it's not a question of whether obese people develop health problems, but when, in what ways, and how badly. 

Hagen refers to the correlation between diet culture and capitalism, how the myth of thin equals beautiful has been sold to people by the beauty industry.  This is true.  But, at the same time as the corporate world of fashion and pharmaceuticals exhorts people to be thin - the corporate world of processed and fast foods is busy making trillions of dollars out of making people fat.

if the tyranny of thin is a corporate construct, it now has a twin - the normalisation of fat. 

We need to be asking why we are seeing what seems to be a trend, in both mainstream and social media, to  try to normalise obesity.   I can understand why Sofie Hagen positions herself as a social activist and argues for an acceptance of fatness but, other than those who are suffering stigma and discrimination - who has a vested interest in trying to normalise what is widely acknowledged as a growing medical and social crisis? 

I suspect that, lurking in the corporate shadows, PR companies are busily promoting the idea that being overweight - even extremely overweight -  is normal and even desirable. 

PR companies routinely pump out fake news and biassed opinion to order.  Sometimes these are straight forward opinion or human interest pieces and sometimes they're pseudo-science.

The international food industry knows it is facing a growing body of medical evidence that the food it produces is toxic.  There is the potential of litigation which could make tobacco litigation pale into insignificance and, more immediately, the potential for massive loss of revenue flare numbers of people turn away from junk food. 

The facts are that obesity is a health crisis of almost incomprehensible proportions and it has spread beyond the borders of the USA - which started it all. 

If current trends continue, three out of every four Americans will be obese or overweight by 2020 and currently almost 4 in every 10 people are medically obese.  In NZ one in three people is classified as medically obese, with the proportion in some demographics being far higher.  In the UK and Australia almost two out of three people are overweight or obese. Even the French are getting fatter and in India and China obesity is growing.

In almost all countries the percentage of people who are overweight is increasing every year. Most worrying for the future is the massive increase in childhood and adolescent obesity with the growing incidence of type-2 diabetes in children.  

Activity is a factor certainly,  as is poverty.  Things we don’t yet fully understand such as the effects, on plant and animal health, of climate change, soil depletion and pollutant levels - may be factors but the single biggest and most easily controlled factor is the ubiquity of simple SUGARS, and especially sweeteners derived from maize. 

The links between obesity and the availability of energy-dense, sugar-rich, low nutrient, processed and fast foods have been established and it’s only a matter of time before the giant corporations that have made trillions of dollars out of selling this toxic crap, will face the consequences.

In the meantime - I’ll continue to defend overweight people from vile bullies but I will not go along with the normalising of obesity. 

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