News – Unhyped obesity associations: inequality, hunger, and dieting.

When it comes to black-box epidemiology, wherein associations and correlations are drawn between two or more conditions, but where the causal mechanisms behind those associations are left shrouded in convenient mystery, nothing seems to gratify researchers more than showing how fatness (i.e. “obesity”) is associated with a host of scary-sounding chronic diseases, while implying that fatness itself is the result of simple gluttony and sloth.

Because, you know, fat people enjoy making themselves sick just to annoy everyone, and to drive up healthcare costs. (It’s all part of the secret fatty agenda. If you haven’t been coming to the clandestine meetings, please email me.)

What we don’t often hear — because, at least up till now, it doesn’t seem to be as much fun, or get as much funding — are the other associations that can be drawn between fatness and health.

So, without further ado, I present you a few tidbits from this morning’s headlines:

  • Indeed, food insecurity (a.k.a. “not getting enough to eat”), is often associated with obesity, especially among African- and Hispanic-Americans.
  • And, at the same time obesity has been epidemicized, fad diets, and orthorexia in general, seem to have taken off. (Ignore the fact that Prof. Hawkey appears to be kind of a bonehead when it comes to “obesity,” and focus on the association he’s unwittingly drawing here, and his astute criticisms of apocryphal diets.)
  • Oh, also, weight gain in adolescents is associated with drinking diet drinks. Yeah, diet drinks. I know. And they think it’s because diet drinks mean they were dieting.

So…yeah. Something for obesity researchers to gnaw on, HUR HUR.

(ETA: Also, sorry for spamming the feed this morning — I’m adding some old posts to my archive, and they all go out over the feed whether I like it or not.)

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25 Comments

  1. Posted November 23, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    THANK YOU SO MUCH. On Friday I saw a panel (on improving access to fresh food in l0w-income neighborhoods, no less) where someone quoted the statistic that between 2003 and 2004, New Yorkers collectively gained ten million pounds. And I am STILL coming up with ways in which that statistic is so not useful, EVEN if we pretend that somehow the population of New York did not change demographically AT ALL in that year. Just wait till I dig up the population numbers for those years, but there’s basically no way that comes to more than two pounds a person on average — which is fricken measurement error on anyone except very small children. Gah.

    • lahorton
      Posted November 24, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      What did they do, weigh an entire city? Like that’s possible. They probably weighed three people each year and then multiplied their weight gain by the entire population of NYC….that makes a lot of sense!

  2. Uilleand
    Posted November 23, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Researcher at the University of Alberta debunking the idea of taxing ‘fat foods’ shows that eating a healthy, balanced diet is brutal on the pocketbook.
    http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/print.cfm?id=6812
    “…he cost of a grown male getting his daily energy needs (3,000 calories per day) from just sugar, could do so with about $1.22. If he ate only celery, however, it would cost up to $65.50 a day.”
    Inequality??
    Nooooooo…..

    • Posted November 23, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Try rice and beans. It’s impossible to get your daily energy needs from celery – it takes more energy to chew than it has calories.

  3. Posted November 23, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    It’s never mentioned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a tendency to store fat is a biological response to food insecurity. Of course, it’s always assumed that fat storage is always due to overeating and underactivity.

  4. Posted November 23, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I love this post and the basic sense it makes if you look beyond the fat prejudice. If you want a healthier society in general why not deal with real issues and stop pointing fingers. Thanks for doing the research

  5. Posted November 23, 2009 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    oops just reread my post and i did not mean there was fat prejudice in the post i meant the fat prejudice of society just want to clarify that

  6. Quinlan
    Posted November 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Everyone knows obese is just shorthand for “minority, woman, poor etc.” all your old prejudices wrapped up in a convenient and socially acceptable label.

  7. JennyRose
    Posted November 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    So diet drinks are associated with other poor eating habits and milk consumption is associated with “healthy eating” habits. I am sure this is the kind of thing that makes it into the news associating diet soda with weight gain and milk to help with weight maintenance. In the past I would have been upset with myself for drinking diet pop and no milk. I would then have cut out the diet soda for a while. After no “associated” weight loss I would quit and be on to the next great thing.

    • Posted November 23, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      …and that is a totally “reasonable” response, JennyRose, when people are led to believe that the only reason for making “healthy” changes is to lose weight. Sad, but totally understandable, given the context.

  8. lahorton
    Posted November 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    You know what really ticked me off yesterday? I happened by a talk radio show and heard this woman call into the host and proceed to rant and rave about she was sick and tired about having to pay the healthcare costs of obese people. There are some of us “obese” people who have our own healthcare and pay for ourselves, thank you very much – and you can damn sure bet that our healthcare isn’t as good as a thinner person’s because they blame every single solitary thing that is wrong with us on our weight.

    Plus, John Tesh has a show on one of the radio channels that is playing Christmas music….all he talks about is how overweight America is, how overweight the kids are, etc., etc. In fact, as I was typing this, he just hyped his next segment, where he will talk about….wait for it…why people are going to begin dying from heart disease in their 30’s. Why do you think that is….you guessed it – they’re obese kids. What the hell? We are now the pariah of the universe. Does anybody know anything about genetics? Now, I will admit that I overeat at times, just like skinny people do. This is really pissing me off today. It’s ridiculous. They are promoting hatred about a very large (pun not intended) segment of the population. Damn – can’t we talk about something else?

    • lahorton
      Posted November 24, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Well, I just emailed John Tesh’s radio show to tell him to give us all a break and lighten up a little bit (ha ha ha ha). I’m sure he’ll never read it, but at least I let off a little steam. Damn!

      • Posted November 24, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        Oh, my husband mentioned something about that John Tesh thing. I didn’t hear it myself, but he came home saying something, “John Tesh is fucking bananas! What the fuck is wrong with that guy??” So I knew it must be pretty bad.

    • Posted November 24, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Well, I was an obese kid (I wore a size 20 in 7th grade), and I’m 40 – so I guess it’s too late for me to die of a heart attack in my 30s.

      • Posted November 24, 2009 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        Go email John Tesh.

        RIGHT.

        NOW.

        • Posted November 25, 2009 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          I did- and here’s my note. Not my best piece of writing, since I typed it into a tiny “comment” field. I’m sure some people will find it “healthest,” but it’s the truth, and it’s probably what he needs to hear.

          Concerning fat kids “dying of heart attacks in their thirties,” I was a fat kid. I wore a size 20 when I was 12, and can never remember weighing under 180 lbs. Today, I’m 40 and weigh a little over 200 pounds (BMI = around 35). I don’t have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, or any other sign of chronic disease. I’ve never been on a diet, and I’ve been moderately physically active all my life. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t live into my eighties or nineties. Fat people stay healthy the same way thin people do – by staying active and eating a balanced diet. Fat kids aren’t doomed to be unhealthy adults, but body shaming and the diet culture can certainly increase the probability that they will. Fat kids shouldn’t be shamed, humiliated and singled out. They should be encouraged to take the same steps to be healthy that they’d take if they were thin – and that it’s the habits that matter, not whether or not the habits make them thinner.

      • lahorton
        Posted November 25, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        That’s right Dee….I am 47 and still alive and have never had a heart attack. Although John Tesh made me feel like I might have one if he didn’t shut up!!!

  9. Posted November 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Indeed, food insecurity (a.k.a. “not getting enough to eat”), is often associated with obesity, especially among African- and Hispanic-Americans.

    Perhaps this will get folk in the health care debate, local foods movement and the rest of the hee haw gang to get off their classist, racist, ableist high horse.

  10. Posted November 27, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I think at least one of the food insecurity effects might be the implied necessity of eating everything when food is available.

    Some of my relatives grew up food insecure, and even though they aren’t anywhere near that situation now it’s still difficult for them to leave food behind on a plate. They were carefully taught not to, and decades later the lesson holds.

    Combine that with the rise in portion sizes when eating out (particularly at places that give no clue about the portion size when ordering), and that’s a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.

    There’s no way to say “I only need *this* much” in a lot of places with menus, and I’ve watched people request items not be included with a meal as a means of portion control only to have them show up at the table anyway.

    • Posted November 29, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      “a recipe for disaster waiting to happen?” That seems a little extreme. I don’t like wasting food either, but most restaurants will wrap up the leftovers.

      • Posted November 30, 2009 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        Sorry, it was extreme. I need to figure out ways to express things that aren’t exactly ‘disasters’ but are serious enough to be past ‘annoying situation that probably shouldn’t happen’.

        Over time, it is a recipe for trouble for some, though.

        It’s not as simple as ‘not liking to leave food’. It’s more like what would happen if every meal of childhood was judged by The Clean Plate Club a restaurant I used to go to had for kids, and that’s without the ‘what’s available for the next meal’ factor. It gets trained in. It can be overcome, but it’s not a simple thing to even recognize that’s what’s going on.

        And there are situations where taking leftovers home isn’t possible, even from places with the boxes.

        • Posted November 30, 2009 at 1:25 am | Permalink

          I agree with the Clean Plate Club thing being troublesome — to me, it’s a sign of external control being places upon one’s eating in a way I disagree with.

          By both my professional training and personal convictions, I think the only “controls” that should be placed on eating are in selecting groceries, setting regular mealtimes, and doing the cooking. Not over how much gets eaten at any given meal.

  11. Posted December 1, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    One thing that I mentioned yesterday (and I get into a Whole Lot of Trouble comparing things), is that we do not automatically assume that black people have worse health outcomes simply because they are black. We assume that it is due to food, or their neighborhood, or something external to their body. Yet, we do not make the same assumptions about “obese” people.

    Ive even seen so many research studies that suggest that since overweight black women are “prouder” of their weight, they have different health outcomes.

    So, why still the fat hatred? Oh, yeah, they think we can change it!

    • Posted December 1, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      I suppose it depends who you’re talking to. And, since I’m not black, I can’t give any sort of authoritative opinion on this, but — I would think that, no, most people trying not to be racist probably don’t assume that poorer health outcomes among black people are due simply to blackness. But there are still a whole lot of people out there who genuinely believe black people are inherently defective — and not just intellectually or whatever, but physically (and they like to say “genetically,” cause it’s so much more SCIENCEY-sounding) as well.

      It’s gross, I know, and something you’re not likely to think about if you’re white, but yeah, there are those who assume black people have poorer health outcomes not due to structural inequalities, but due to natural inferiority. Which is not just racist as hell, but ableist and just generally disgusting as all fuck to think about.

      And the idea of black people being prouder of their physique, or being more accepting of fatness is, well…it’s really just not that simple. I’ve seen a couple of studies that point to the idea that (at least in adolescents) dieting behaviours and body weight aspirations may be different between black girls and white girls. But to extrapolate that to mean that black people, or black women, simply don’t worry about weight because they’re prouder of it or whatever…well, I think that’s incorrect.

      Black women (and men) feel the pressures of this culture we all live in. And black women feel the additional beauty pressures of, well, not being white — not having the “right” colour skin, or the “right” type of hair, or the “right” facial features, let alone the “right” (thin) body — when this is presented everywhere, all the time, as pretty much the only way one can be beautiful and respected and, hell, a worthy human being.

      So, you know, as far as getting into a Whole Lot of Trouble is concerned, it’s not so much that you’re just WRONGITY WRONG-WRONG-WRONG and people are leaping on you for it, but that there’s a lot of complexity missing from those kinds of statements. And people take umbrage at that, understandably.

      I mean, not even publicly professed fat acceptance advocates feel totally secure about their bodies and unconcerned about weight. So it’s kind of a lot to assume that people who don’t identify as fat accepting will have radically better attitudes about their bodies just because they happen to be black.

      Moving on, though, it’s true that someone like me (before I knew about size acceptance) probably wouldn’t make assumptions about health based on race alone, but I very well might’ve made (and many people do make, quite openly) that assumption based on size alone.

      And yes — that is problematic.

      Especially given the relative dearth of confirmed physiological mechanisms to back up such assumptions. Mostly what we’ve got at this point are correlations, drawn from a whole lot of black-box epidemiology. Not exactly damning evidence.

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