Big Fat Hate Speech

No fat people need apply

From Sue, with comments by me


In late June the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched its LEAN Works Web site, a clearinghouse of information on the health costs of employing fat people replete with recommendations on how to prevent and control obesity. The site uses an “obesity cost calculator” to determine the added price of employing somebody with a body-mass index (BMI) of over 30, the threshold for obesity. The calculator asks employers to fill out a company profile including type of industry and location, employees’ BMIs, and their wages and benefits. The software then estimates the “costs for medical expenditures and the dollar value of increased absenteeism resulting from obesity.”

But is the federal government’s endorsement of a device that essentially demonizes the 72 million Americans who fit the official definition of obese justified by the science? Dr. William Dietz, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, defends the site as one weapon in the larger war on fat. “We see this epidemic as a serious threat to health and serious medical cost,” Dietz says. “We didn’t feel like we could wait for the best possible evidence, so we acted on the best available evidence.”

[Sounds like junk science to me, as in making the facts fit your predetermined conclusion. — Bob]

Other experts, however, say BMI is a crude tool that fans fears of an obesity epidemic even as it fails as a reliable measure of an individual’s health. “We made everyone fat by framing! That is the real epidemic,” says Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado who coauthored a controversial study questioning whether obesity is a true health crisis or a moral panic.

Is hate speech against fat people …. “Just look how much money these evil fat people are costing you!” …. the best way to deal with obesity? I’m sure there is a better way.

What’s interesting about this is that most fat people I know (including myself) work too much and rarely go to the doctor. Why go where you might be ridiculed and despised (as I have been)?

I think that the CDC needs to learn that employers lose much more from theft than “absenteeism resulting from obesity”. And thin employees cost them more in terms of salaries and benefits, because they have higher self esteem and greater market value, and won’t take poor pay or workplace abuse. So I’m going to argue that a study of fat people in general might show that they give a lot of value for their employment dollars, compared with thin people.

Here’s one thing I’ve noticed by being fat … it’s not so much that I categorize myself by this label, but that others do. I generally think of myself as just a middle-aged woman, with an average variety of interests and abilities , trying to improve myself as best I can. But clearly, many other people see me as just a Fat Person.

If I haven’t seen folks in a long time, one of their first comments will be about my weight … that I’ve gained or lost or stayed the same. Similarly, this is what I hear from people about their other fat friends, and that topic will dominate the conversation. As if that’s all they or I do in this life, is gain and lose weight.

I pointed this out to someone recently, asking why weight would be a first and foremost attribute and topic of discussion, and the result was a lot of anger. Why shouldn’t weight loss be commended, this person asked, and gaining weight be condemned?

And indeed, given the CDC’s example, why not?

Here’s why not: I’ve been fat, medium and overly thin in my adult life. I cannot overstate the dramatic difference in how I was treated by the majority of my fellows at each weight. Being hated and despised for being fat — in its essence, hate speech — did not help me, in any way, to lose weight. But it did convince me about the cruelty of humanity.

[Sue is a CPA, a Certified Fraud Examiner, and just got a Masters in Taxation. She seems way above average to me, both in business and multiple other ways too! However, fat bigotry most emphatically exists and is just as mindless and nasty as any other form of bigotry. Maybe worse, because it’s still socially acceptable, as witness the CDC director who apparently feels it’s ok to demonize overweight people. I’m guessing he wouldn’t do that with, say, absenteeism from sickle cell anemia, because it often affects African-Americans and he’d probably get fired for saying so.

As for that supposed absenteeism, where’s the control group? Is the data being run against all types of ailments and conditions to see where it happens, or just against fat people compared to a mythical norm?

Worse, there’s a complete uncomprehension here about the causes of being overweight and of the simple fact that overweight people grapple with this all their lives. They aren’t weak-willed at all, but that’s the assumption. In the 1930’s and 1940’s, most doctors thought alcoholics were spineless jellyfish who just needed to show some will power and stop drinking. Today, alcoholism is accepted as a disease, there are treatment centers, and no overriding moral stigma.

That’s the real problem. The moral stigma and condemnation about being overweight. That’s what needs to go. — Bob]


  1. It’s a complex issue. During the last five years I was a practicing alcoholic, I missed only three days of work– by far one of the best attendance records in the company. At the time, I would have told you there’s no reason to discriminate against alcoholics in employment. (Until I hit bottom and, though physically present, couldn’t do my job anymore.)

    What you say about junk science is absolutely true. According to at least one weight chart I’ve seen in a doctor’s office, the upper limit for my height is 170 pounds, and at 190 I’m obese. But at 170 pounds I look, quite frankly, like a junkie or a very sick person. A healthy weight for my frame is 185 – 195, which the chart says is obese. (That chart, BTW, was published by Slimfast.)

    Is there a medical cost associated with being overweight? Yes. Does the employer often carry those costs throuigh higher insurance rates? Yes. Same is true for alcoholics and addicts. Does the employer have a right to seek to minimize its cost of employment? Put another way, should an employer be required to hire someone who quite likely will raise the cost of doing business, which could in turn force the company out of business? The alcoholic in me has one answer, while the employer in me has another.

    But we might start to wonder why our government subsidizes, to the tune of billions of our tax dollars, high fructise corn syrup and hydrogenated soy oil, which make possible ever-cheaper and thus unfairly competitive (and ever more fattening and less-nutritious) fast food. Levelling the nutritional playing field by throwing out those subsidies, along with dietary education (which got thrown out as irrelevant during the Reagan years) would go far toward prevention. It won’t eliminate obesity completely, but it look how much the rate has increased since those two factors (high subsidies and less education) came into play! Logic says this is a trend that can be reversed.

    • If we’re going to start allowing employers to base hiring decisions on what their employees do to the group insurance premiums why stop at discriminating against fat people? I’m pretty sure I was fired for being fat and pregnant. Just fire all the pregnant ladies. Hell, don’t hire any female unless they’re past childbearing age, only hire single men! Don’t hire anyone with a poor driving record. They might crash and need an ER visit. There were a buttload of hardcore nicotine addicts at the company as well. They can’t be doing anything good to the cost of the insurance. On at that note, employers might want to stop offering useless health benefits since they’ll apparently just fire you when you need to use them. I can’t believe people are against UHC.

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