Monday, June 20, 2011

Obesity in the News

The Toronto Star is currently running a series on obesity. So far, it says nothing of interest and is replete with the regular fear-mongering, blaming and shaming.

Here is the letter I just wrote to the author of Sunday's article:

There are many reasons why I found your article in the Star today on overweight teens (as well as the whole series on obesity) offensive but there was one choice comment that I cannot leave unchallenged. You state in the article: "Her weight has caused polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can cause infertility and makes it more difficult for her body to relinquish fat."

In fact, Ms. Henry, PCOS is a factor that makes weight loss harder and excess weight gain much easier, which is quite the opposite of what you state. Weight gain does not bring on PCOS--weight gain is one of the side effects of PCOS. Your inaccurate statement simply adds to the blaming and shaming that permeates this article as well as the series to date.

Obesity is the current darling of the journalistic world. The Star's series simply stokes the fires of misunderstanding, stereotyping and blaming. So far, I have seen nothing in this series that examines this issue in anything but the most simplistic terms. Of course, this is not surprising. The mainstream media has jumped on the "obesity crisis" bandwagon in a big way and is now leading the charge against anyone with a BMI of over 24.9. (By the way, I encourage you to do some research on the BMI, including the fact that the overweight cut-off was lowered in the late 1990s and that there are studies showing that the healthiest people have a BMI that falls squarely within the "overweight" category of 25-30.)

Many people find themselves grossly obese as a result of years of yo-yo dieting (losing X pounds and gaining back X + additional poundage); many others (in particular women) have been the victims of abuse (sexual and/or psychological) and use eating as a defence mechanism. Yet we continue to simplistically harp on people's eating habits and believe that if they ate properly and exercised sufficiently, they would not be overweight.

People are overweight for a multitude of reasons and permanent weight loss is an almost impossible goal. When 95% of people can't manage to keep the excess weight off, you have to start asking if the "problem" isn't simply one of willpower and wondering if it's actually true that overweight people are all slothful, junk-food eating couch potatoes.

I have been blogging about weight loss/weight management for several years now and have come to the conclusion that almost everyone, including the medical profession, is barking up the wrong tree. Rather than vainly trying to encourage people to simply "eat less and move more" (the "nightmare on ELMM street") we should be focusing on HAES (health at every size) throughout our lives. Dr. Linda Bacon is an eloquent proponent of this approach. I encourage you to look at what she has to say.

I am saddened, though not at all surprised, by the superficiality of this series. It does, however, admirably reflect society's need to find a scapegoat. We can no longer target people for their religion or their colour. Let's go after their size.

I have decided not to check my blood pressure for a few hours. It is probably way too high after writing this letter. (BP a few hours later was just fine, BTW.)


  1. Your letter is very well-written. Let's hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears.

  2. If each of us, from time to time, will allocate the time and endure the challenge to our blood pressure to write these letters, then sooner or later SOMEONE is gonna hear it! It's just gotta happen. My hat's off to you, sistah.

  3. Thanks SFG and Debra. It's good to know that someone thinks my righteous anger is worthwhile.

    The Toronto Star series continues and is actually petering off into the most bland "obesity crisis! the sky is falling" mush you could possibly imagine.

    Though I have not even received an acknowledgement of receipt from the journalist, I intend to now write a letter to the editor regarding this useful excuse for an "in depth" series.

    Stay tuned!

  4. OMG! What an awesome letter! Thank you so much for setting them straight! Keep up the great fight.
    (and I'm glad to know your BP dropped back down to normal levels)

  5. Welcome Hippo Nymph! Nice little blog ya got there!

  6. Thank you so much! And thank you kindly for coming by and commenting. I really appreciate your experience and I value your words. I look forward to your next post!

  7. well done. PCOS is a poorly recognised cause of obesity and the journalist needed to be corrected