Chocolate Cheesecake

Connecting the Dots: Cheesecake, COVID, and Obesity

Bias about obesity is funny. Because some of the smartest people say the dumbest things when they aren’t thinking. That’s when implicit weight bias comes into view. For example, Governor Andrew Cuomo connected the dots yesterday between cheesecake, COVID, and obesity. But it’s pretty hard to figure out what in the world he was thinking.

In truth, he probably wasn’t thinking at all. For just a moment, he let his implicit bias do the talking. One minute he was talking about the value of masks and social distance for preventing COVID transmission. Then suddenly, he jumped to cheesecake:

“If you didn’t eat the cheesecake, you wouldn’t have a weight problem. It’s all self-imposed.”

It’s hard to believe that this came from someone who governs a state famous for New York cheesecake. Take it back, governor.

Twitter Is Offended

This moment of stupidity sparked a swift response. One tweet captured the feeling: “Hey Cuomo? F*** you, I’ve been staying home since March 1st. Now I want cheesecake.” A restaurant seized the moment, tweeting “We’re offering half price cheesecake if you vow not to re-elect Cuomo.”

Then came a cogent observation about causality: “I don’t eat cheesecake and I still have a weight problem. Checkmate, Cuomo.”

Implicit Bias Exposes Itself

Implicit BiasThis is how implicit bias pops up with regularity. People are getting a clue that they can’t just come right out and shame people based on their physical size. As we’ve reported, explicit bias is waning. More people understand that the cheesecake theory of obesity is false and unhelpful.

However, implicit bias is another matter. Data from Project Implicit tell us that it’s been rising for a decade now. And that’s where Cuomo’s dumb cheesecake comment came from. In a stress of a media briefing, Cuomo accidentally let his implicit bias slip out – that false assumption that obesity is merely a behavioral problem. This very assumption ignores the biological and environmental basis for this condition and leads us to policies that simply don’t work.

Failed Policies of Personal Responsibility

Over a period of four decades, we learned the hard way that obesity is not a failure of personal responsibility. But we still haven’t shaken it from public policies to address obesity. Bias has people implicitly assuming obesity would not be a problem if only people could be coaxed into making better individual choices.

Likewise, communities that failed to adopt requirements for mask wearing are now living with the consequences. COVID-19 is soaring, hospitals are running out of capacity to deliver lifesaving care, and thus people are dying needlessly. Some governors who resisted mask mandates are changing their tunes. Better late than never.

We look forward to the day when people realize they also need to let go of their stupid ideas about obesity. It’s a real health problem that has its roots in our biology, triggered by the food supply and an environment that triggers it. Blame and shame only makes it worse.

For more on Cuomo’s cheesecake, COVID, and obesity briefing, click here, here, and here. For more about the failure of personal choice and responsibility as a public health policy, click here and here.

Chocolate Cheesecake, photograph © pepperberryfarm / flickr

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November 19, 2020