Conspiracy

Fighting Misinformation with Caustic Misinformation

It seems that anger goes far these days. In fact, it crops up in just about every part of the ideological spectrum on a wide variety of topics. On masks, vaccines, racism, and of course, politics, we find people who see things in very polarized ways. The only thing they have in common is anger. White hot anger. So it’s unsurprising to find a top-rated health and fitness podcast brimming with anger – fighting misinformation about wellness with factoids and caustic misinformation.

This podcast, called Maintenance Phase, received a glowing review in the New York Times this week. Fat activist Aubrey Gordon and journalist Michael Hobbes host the show.

Taking on the Wellness Industrial Complex

The concept of this podcast has a lot of merit. Gordon and Hobbes say their purpose is debunking the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams, and nonsensical nutrition advice. Hobbes told the Times:

“Most of us have confidence that we understand these wellness issues, but we don’t realize that we’re literally just regurgitating things that we saw in a Nike commercial. And wellness is the perfect encapsulation of that. A lot of the things under wellness are just rebranded or misconstrued data being sent back to us by a company, basically.”

Many wellness scams seem utterly fact free, so the effort to correct the record is a worthwhile pursuit.

Passionate About Weight Bias

Hobbes and Gordon are clearly passionate about weight bias. Under the pseudonym of Your Fat Friend, Gordon has written for years in multiple publications, including Self, to advocate for erasing weight stigma. We’ve written here about the compelling case she makes for the harm that childhood obesity campaigns have done. Hobbes has written insightfully about obesity and weight bias.

Factoids and Conspiracies

However, when these two get together for podcasts about obesity and BMI, their conversations lean heavily on factoids and conspiracy theories. Gordon explains why BMI criteria for overweight and obesity are untrustworthy:

“The fucking fact of the matter is, most of the budget of this international task force that’s focused on defining who is and is not overweight and obese is funded by drug companies that absolutely have a stake in this outcome.”

They explain that treatment for obesity is all about weight loss and weight loss is next to impossible:

“The data is more consistent on the fact that people cannot lose weight and keep it off than it is about fat being bad for them.”

“People can’t lose weight. Why are we talking about this? Everything else is secondary to that. We should just learn to live with the big people we have.”

“Even if we have effective strategies for weight loss, how do we deploy those strategies? Unless and until we have those strategies, every fucking thing we do around this is punitive.”

The tough part about listening to this (apart from the caustic tone) is that it so freely mixes important ideas with misinformation and conspiracy theories. Obesity is not a problem because drug companies are out to get us. Seeking out competent obesity care is not futile. But it’s not easy to find. Someone living with obesity will indeed run into incompetent and horribly biased providers along the way. That omnipresent bias is destructive.

So the anger that Gordon and Hobbes express is understandable. Nonetheless, it is caustic and ultimately unhelpful.

Click here for the glowing review in the Times and here for the podcast itself.

Conspiracy, photograph by George Seeley / WikiArt

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September 11, 2021

27 Responses to “Fighting Misinformation with Caustic Misinformation”

  1. September 11, 2021 at 8:02 am, Allen Browne said:

    Ted,

    Once again you have a great way of putting things in perspective.

    Thanks.

    Allen

    Reply

  2. September 11, 2021 at 8:43 am, L said:

    So the science is correct but you think they’re not nice enough. Ok, sure.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 10:30 am, Ted said:

      Nope, L, not all of the “science” presented in these podcasts is correct. In some cases, Hobbes and Gordon make good points. In others, they are simply repeating misinformation from HAES talking points.

      So far as being nice, facing bullies can make a person into a bully. It can make a person bitter and caustic. But it doesn’t really make anything better.

      So no, I’m not in favor of venting more anger into the world. I’m not in favor of mocking people.

  3. September 11, 2021 at 8:59 am, mara said:

    What exactly are you claiming is “misinformation” in those pull quotes? Every word of it is true. There is no such thing as “competent obesity care” because there is no weight loss program that works permanently and all “obesity care” is just dieting dressed up under different names. Saying drug companies push obesity as a disease to sell more drugs to people is not a conspiracy, it’s a for-profit healthcare. Lastly crying about tone is the most pathetic critique and the refuge of someone ashamed to admit they are wrong.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 10:34 am, Ted said:

      Mara, we disagree about obesity care. I know some very competent and caring providers. I have many good friends who have found good care to be life changing. I have benefitted personally. But seeking medical care is a very personal choice. Bullying people to seek obesity care or to reject it is wrong. Period.

  4. September 11, 2021 at 9:02 am, Kat said:

    I really love how you say that it is caustic and unhelpful without saying, at all, how.
    “They explain that treatment for obesity is all about weight loss…” Of course obesity “treatment” is all about weight loss. Obesity is literally defined by weight. If we know that weight loss doesn’t work, it is also a valid criticism to say “hey, why are we even doing this then?” We use “obesity” as this weird catch all diagnosis like hysteria was used for hundreds of years. “Well this woman isn’t behaving correct so she is hysterical” is fundamentally the same of “this person is large, so they are obese.” Did some of those women have actual anxiety or depression issues? Probably! But lumping them all together into a single bucket diagnosis is entirely unhelpful. You end up with a misdiagnosis of a large number of people and a cultural pathologization of a person merely existing in the world. Pointing out that “obesity” is inherently a useless term when it comes to health isn’t “unhelpful and caustic,” it is just one step closer to us getting out of this absolute pit we’ve created for ourselves.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 10:37 am, Ted said:

      Thanks Kat. But obesity is not defined by weight any more than an infection is defined by body temperature. Obesity is defined by excess adipose tissue that harms health. It usually occurs at higher body weights, but every person is different.

  5. September 11, 2021 at 9:07 am, Larissa Werhnyak said:

    This review relies almost exclusively on quotes taken out of context and unsupported assertions (especially regarding tone.) For example, Hobbes and Gordon offer a thorough exploration of the flaws of the BMI metric and its use on the individual (rather than population-wide) level. To reduce this analysis to an anti-big-pharma screed is inexcusably misleading.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 10:43 am, Ted said:

      Fortunately, Larissa, you and everyone else can click on the link I provided, listen to the podcast yourself, and reach your own conclusion. Perhaps you find the derisive laughter, the language, and the sarcasm to be entertaining. I find it to be caustic and intolerant of people who might have a different point of view about this very challenging and personal subject. Thanks for sharing your view.

  6. September 11, 2021 at 9:15 am, Kathryn said:

    Perhaps you need to interrogate your internalized fatphobia. You did not indicate any misinformation present in the maintenance phase podcast, you simply tone policed the hosts.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 10:45 am, Ted said:

      Since you don’t know me, Kathryn, I’m not sure how you can presume anything about fat phobia I may or may not harbor. However, I am sure of this. All of us harbor biases. Most of us have a hard time facing them.

  7. September 11, 2021 at 9:37 am, Lynn said:

    What specifically is the misinformation in their podcast? If you’re going to make that claim you should be providing and refuting at least one (1) example. Vague negativity is, as you say, unhelpful.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 10:52 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for asking, Lynn. Two false assertions are woven in throughout these podcasts. One is the idea that obesity is not problem for personal health and that a Big Pharma conspiracy is the main reason some of us have been persuaded it is. The other is that the only treatment for obesity is weight loss and it is futile.

      Obesity does harm personal health. Competent obesity care can help a person improve their health without chasing impossible weight goals.

  8. September 11, 2021 at 9:50 am, Anne said:

    Uh oh, looks like the tone police has logged on! God forbid two people who recognize and have intimate experiences with the trauma of weight prejudice and decades of pseudoscience approaches to codifying that prejudice be angry about it.

    This is a laughable excuse for a review that ignores the academic approach taken in this podcast to debunking shoddy ‘science’ that ultimately vilifies anyone who isn’t visibly thin. But, what would anyone expect from an anonymous post on a website that looks like it was designed in 1997. Totally credible, way to go.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 11:02 am, Ted said:

      Anne, I’m sorry you think I’m policing here. Quite obviously, Hobbes and Gordon are free to express themselves in whatever tone they wish and I don’t expect them to change. As I noted, they have some good things to say.

      However, I am also free to say that I’m not a fan of mocking and deriding folks who disagree with one’s point of view. Mocking and derision are tactics used daily against people living in larger bodies and anyone who is viewed as the other for a wide variety of reasons. The world needs less of this. The prevalence of anger lobbed casually between people who disagree with each other is dismaying to me.

  9. September 11, 2021 at 9:55 am, Health writer said:

    Yes, weight stigma is a real problem worth talking about and combating for people’s well-being. But the fact that these journalists focus so much on this rather than systemic issues is deeply frustrating. While weight stigma causes stress, we have to look at the bigger picture. The reasons for obesity are often not just personal choices —they’re poverty, inequity, and the chronic stress that comes with it, the lack of access to affordable nutritious food in food deserts yet ready accessibility of hyperprocessed foods in Dollar Generals—the only excuse for a “grocery store” some can walk to, no time to prepare home-cooked meals while working multiple jobs, horribly poor living environments without green space and sidewalks and gyms, with violence and despair. American history, anti-health policy, and structural racism should be at the center of this conversation. When they aren’t, you are obscuring the biggest, most pressing piece of this story. These podcast hosts know all this. They’re just more interested in being en vogue and controversial than addressing the everyday banality of it all. Their bias is showing.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 11:04 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Health Writer.

  10. September 11, 2021 at 11:07 am, John Hoffman said:

    As others have noted, you are accusing others of misinformation without substantiating this claim. If there is a mix of valid and invalid information, surely you could explain a few examples?

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 3:40 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for your feedback, John. Regarding misinformation in the podcast, two major themes come across that fit that description:
      1. Obesity is more of a conspiracy than a real health problem.
      2. Obesity treatment is exclusively about weight loss and it is futile.

  11. September 11, 2021 at 11:26 am, MK said:

    “Mocking and derision are tactics used daily against people living in larger bodies and anyone who is viewed as the other for a wide variety of reasons.”

    Are you saying that the hosts of a podcast that [finally!!] shines a light on fatphobia are…..using tactics of people who are fatphobic to make their points about fatphobia?

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 3:34 pm, Ted said:

      Marisa, I’m simply saying that I think mocking and derision targeted at the other is not good. Regardless of who that other might be.

  12. September 11, 2021 at 1:03 pm, David said:

    Extremely bad faith review, and then you come into the comments and continue the bad faith. Very disappointing.

    I do at least appreciate that you admit you’re biased in the response to Kathryn.

    Reply

    • September 11, 2021 at 3:44 pm, Ted said:

      David, what I wrote, both positive and negative, was sincere. I’m sorry you thought it was written in bad faith. Thanks for giving me credit for noting that all of us, including myself, harbor biases.

  13. September 12, 2021 at 12:47 am, Harry Minot said:

    Very sad to have read this.

    Reply

  14. September 17, 2021 at 3:06 pm, Natasha Wiebe said:

    Fat people and allies have every reason to be caustic as do racialized and colonized folks and many many others. Fatness both correlates with disease and inversely correlates with death. Fatness cannot be randomized therefore in order to show that fatness causes disease, you must show that it meets the Bradford Hill criteria. It does not. Metabolic researchers need to come to grips with the fact that fat growth is a protective symptom of disease and start to focus on what is actually causing disease. There is more than enough evidence. Move on and stop stigmatizing fat people.

    Reply

    • September 17, 2021 at 5:27 pm, Ted said:

      Natasha, thank you for your comments. I agree that weight bias gives people living with obesity plenty of reason to be angry. It makes me angry. One way to express anger is through caustic (bitter and sarcastic) speech. Sometimes that’s quite effective, sometimes it’s not.

      However, the suggestion that obesity “is protective” of health is false.

      Obesity clearly causes cardiovascular disease:
      https://doi.org/10.1016/j.metabol.2018.10.011

      It also causes type 2 diabetes:
      https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1104342

      Obesity causes NAFLD and NASH:
      https://doi.org/10.1111/joim.12719

      Obesity causes osteoarthritis:
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18438470/

      These are but a few of the complications of obesity. For a further review, I recommend this:
      https://doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcx152

      To be clear, not everyone who has obesity has every complication. But it does cause people to have more risk for these complications. And people can also have any of those conditions in the absence of obesity. Human health is neither simple nor linear.

  15. September 19, 2021 at 3:47 pm, Amy said:

    Apologies for being a little late to this discussion, but I was busy listening to the Science Vs podcast episode last week, “Weight: Is Fat Unhealthy?” I think they got it right on the tone, science, and discussion of stigma. It’s chock full of credible citations and advisors and, at least to this listener, free from causticity. Listen or find the transcript here: https://gimletmedia.com/shows/science-vs/76h644b/weight-is-fat-unhealthy

    Keep up the great work, Ted!

    Reply

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