January 16, 2003 Episode 31:  Health At Every Size

A regular listener to First Person Plural might think that our stance on science and medicine is a negative one, that we do not support scientific research as an important endeavour.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  What we are most disappointed with is bad science and junk medical advice.  People's lives are damaged and cut short from such science.  This week we join Francie Berg in celebrating Health Weight Week and ask you to consider alternative points of view on weight loss, fatness and dieting.  Below are some links that can help you with that journey.  We didn't concentrate on the science as much as the culture, but if you investigate these links, you'll find great information about the problems with obesity research as well as the possibility of fat acceptance and fat positive spaces.

http://www.healthyweight.net/index.htm This is Francie Berg's website which has a considerable amount of information regarding dieting, health and fat acceptance.  Also look for information of Berg's books.

Health at Every Size Journal (formally Healthy Weight Journal) As of January 2004, the journal's new editors are Jon Robison,Ph.D. (Michigan State University) and Wayne Miller, Ph.D. The journal continues to be published by Becker Publishing.  So far this year (2004), the journal has addressed protecting children, diversity and recovery from childhood sexual abuse.  The first 2 issues of 2003 (Jan/Feb and Mar/Apr) Healthy Weight Journal were devoted to Health at Every Size with great articles by many of the scholars and activists working hard in this movement.  It is an expensive journal to acquire, so ask your librarian about getting a copy.  It will be worth the effort.

http://fycs.ifas.ufl.edu/any_size_files/frame.htm This is a presentation given by a University of Florida nutritionist outlining the Health at Any Size approach, a growing view among nutritionists who want to promote health rather than weight-loss.

http://www.radiancemagazine.com/fall99_health.htm An article by registered dietitian, Joanne P. Ikeda, M.A., R.D. outlining the Health at Every Size approach.  (Note both Health at Any Size and Health at Every Size approaches are similar in their emphasis on physical fitness and health rather than weight loss).

http://www.culturalconstructioncompany.com/campos.htm  Paul Campos graciously allowed us to reproduce his January 13, 2003 article in The New Republic to make it easy for you access.  This is one of the most concise and yet thorough examination of obesity research and the complexity that is often missed by a fat-hating press.  Highly recommended.

http://amplestuff.safeshopper.com/178/cat178.htm?233 Big Fat Lies by Glenn A. Gaesser, PhD is one of the best treatises on how obesity research has been left unexamined and skewed.

http://www.salon.com/sneaks/sneakpeeks970116.html  Want to know why the diet industry persists in spite of the science not being what they had hoped.  Laura Fraser's Losing It:  America's Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds on It is a must read in understanding the pressures the market places on us to diet.

http://www.naafa.org/documents/policies/dieting.html The National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance's policy statement on the diet industry.

http://www.fatso.com Do you want to change your attitude about weight and health, but figure it will be difficult to do in a society saturated with fat hatred?  Marilyn Wann's Fat!So?:  Because You Don't have to Apologize for your Size! is a great place to start.  Visit the website, get the book and find out how flabulous fat acceptance can be.

http://www.bigfatblog.com Paul McAleer has provided a daily dose of fat acceptance as he taps into fat and culture in current events.  He offers a place for people to comment and some very interesting conversations evolve.

http://www.fatshadow.com Tish doesn't limit her blog to fat issues, but she does offer some wonderful links into fat acceptance and other people posting about fat issues on the web.  She also gives you a daily peak at her life, letting you truly understand that fat is just an adjective. 

http://culturalconstructioncompany.com/ampletraveler.htm (updated April 2004)  We are promoting accessibility for people of all sizes in travel.  Check out our projects dedicated to fighting fat stigma.



Medical research is often constructed as being above or beyond cultural context. Medicine is based upon objective study, right? Scratch the surface of this narrative, however, and you find that the history of medical advice is riddled with well-meaning, but inaccurate guesses, reinforcement of prejudices, and out and out social control mechanisms. Read the history of how medicine has treated women or people of colour and you read a history of junk science, the assertion of cultural beliefs and colonial attitudes shrouded in the language of objectivity and science. One would like to think that western medicine has grown past that point, but an examination of the current research on obesity is a case in point that medicine remains firmly within the boundaries of culture and is susceptible to the same economic, political and social forces it always has been.

A great deal of press is given to any research that asserts any kind of connection between being fat and having poor health. Little press is given to the funding of such research, which often comes from the diet industry. In fact, little or no critique is ever made of this kind of research. The relationship between fatness and disease is such a given now in medical discourse that few people even question the validity of the assumption. However, the researchers who have questioned obesity as a factor in health have found some interesting and seemingly counterintuitive results. Many of the studies indicating the fatness is related to a number of diseases and early death do not control for important factors such as physical activity, dieting, weight fluctuation, diet drug use, and poverty. In studies where these factors are taken into consideration, the relationship between being fat and illness and/or early death disappears or sometimes even becomes a positive one where fatness enhances health.

If you've ever taken a basic undergraduate statistics class, you've probably heard the example of the researcher who quote, proved, close quote, that smoking among teenage girls caused pregnancy. There is a statistically significant relationship between smoking in girls and pregnancy. Further examination shows that girls who engage in smoking behaviour are often the same girls who engage in sexual relations. Having sex, not smoking, is what causes pregnancy and the quote, scientific evidence, close quote, is a lot more rigorous on this point than on the rhetorical precepts underlying the attacks on fat people. Being fat might be statistically related to illnesses and/or early death, but correlative links cannot conclude that causality exists, only suggest connection of some unspecified sort. Some studies have indicated that fat people who are active and eat well live longer and have fewer diseases than their thinner but less active junk-food eating counterparts. Other studies have indicated that dieting itself may be leading to illnesses and early death. The so-called cure may be more dangerous than the so-called disease.

So why is the diet industry a multi-billion dollar industry? Why did 40 -50% of North Americans start a diet on New Year's Day and make the resolution to lose weight this year? This week on First Person, Plural we spoke with Francie Berg, a nutritionist who is trying help us question dieting, weight-loss schemes and the damage we are doing to ourselves and our children with our fear of fat. To highlight her message, Berg helped start Healthy Weight Week, celebrated annually the third week of January. Her message is simple: We should be promoting Health at Every Size and that is what we called this episode of First Person, Plural.

copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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