Fire and Ice

A Dichotomy of Extremes on Obesity: Bigotry and Denial

These are times that present us with extreme but false choices. Lives versus livelihoods. Chaos versus oppression. Add to that list an extreme, false dichotomy on obesity. At one extreme, we have two fat acceptance advocates advocates arguing that concern about obesity is nothing more than an expression of racism. At the other, a conservative British politician disparages doctors and teachers with obesity as “bad examples” for patients and children.

Do we really have to choose between bigotry and denial?

“They Know What Makes Them Fat”

Lord Robathan, a Member of Parliament from 1992 until 2015, addressed his peers to say:

I’d particularly like to home in on health professionals and teachers because for too long there has been, I regret to say, a large number of very overweight people in the NHS and in our schools setting a very bad example to children and people in hospital.

They know what makes them fat and … dare I say it, they need to be shamed from eating and drinking too much.

Though it is totally counter-productive, we have seen that shame and blame is more common in the UK than in other countries.

Obesity as an Expression of Racism

At the other extreme, Sabrina Strings and Lindo Bacon write in Scientific American that fighting obesity has its roots in historical racism. They explain:

In the eyes of many medical practitioners in the late 19th century, black women were destined to die off along with the men of their race because of their presumed inability to control their “animal appetites” – eating, drinking and fornicating.

They go on to say that changing the conditions of Black women’s lives is essential for improving their health.

Truth and Lies

It’s hard to find any truth in the extreme that Robathan presents. It comes across simply as vile bigotry based on body size. In the writing of Strings and Bacon, some fragments of truth can be found. Certainly, social and economic factors can make good health impossible for many Black people – and for that matter for many people with obesity. As if racism is not bad enough, bias and discrimination based on size and weight is rampant and devastating. Robathan presents a perfect example of it.

Reducing racism, weight bias, and discrimination will help. But it will not cure obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and myriad other ailments that result when a human body does not regulate its metabolic functions well. For that, people need good, evidence-based medical care. Suggesting otherwise sets up a false dichotomy on obesity.

A strident political agenda is a poor substitute for needed care.

Click here for the essay by Strings and Bacon and here for the rant by Robathan.

Fire and Ice, photograph © Luca Florio / flickr

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June 5, 2020

One Response to “A Dichotomy of Extremes on Obesity: Bigotry and Denial”

  1. June 05, 2020 at 9:45 pm, Allen Browne said:

    I just finished day 2 of the Blackburn Obesity Course. Dr. Kaplan’s opening lecture should be required viewing for all. Obesity is a disease, We have tools to make people with the disease healthier. It is an equal opportunity disease – black, brown, white, young, old, rich, poor. Racism and ignorance are no excuses.