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December 17, 2007

Obama on obesity

Meowser takes exception to a recent comment by Barack Obama's claim during a recent Democratic debate that that "[i]f we could go back to the obesity rates of 1980 we could save the Medicare system a trillion dollars."

In this election season, Meowser has some questions about how far this crop of Democrats is willing to go to control obesity:

[W]e have an election coming up next year, and strictly from a fat perspective, I worry about who is going to replace [Bush]. When I found out Barack Obama (much like Hillary Clinton, who has made similar remarks in the past) wanted to disappear me solely because of my weight in order to save the government money, I had to ask: Just how far are they willing to go to make that a reality?

I find this rhetoric offensive. The United States government really is disappearing untold numbers of people, and not because they're fat. (Cf. Stephen Grey's Ghost Plane, an outstanding book that I plan to review soon.)    

Meowser continues:

But I still think I have a right to know just how much agency they are willing to remove from people—and especially fatasses like myself—in the name of "health care cost containment." You'd think the Democrats would be all about personal agency and individual freedom. They damn well ought to be. But I'm afraid that when it comes to nosing around in people's body autonomy, they're just as guilty as the people they want to replace; they just want to nose around in a different part of our bodies, that's all.

Here are some questions I'd love to see asked during Presidential debates (and not just of Democrats):

"Do you believe in reducing the number of fat people by any means necessary? What if people really make an effort to exercise and 'eat right' but are still 'obese'? Do you favor requiring them to have bariatric surgery, or putting them in weight-reduction prisons, or having a police state in which people get their homes broken into and their pantries cleaned out and forced at gunpoint to work out until they drop, or being barred from all restaurants and grocery stores and all public places until they slim down? How far are you willing to go?"

Who said anything about stripping people of agency, let alone disappearing anyone?

If politicians are making hateful or false statements about fat people, they deserve to be called out on their prejudice. However, Meowser hasn't offered any evidence that Obama or Clinton is doing any such thing. She's railing at Obama for an empirical claim about the relationship between health care costs and obesity, and assailing Clinton because she voted for nutrition grants and exercise promotion.

These candidates haven't said anything about people who are already fat needing to diet, much less to disappear. Clinton's bill was aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles across the board. We don't know what Obama has in mind, but we shouldn't assume that he's calling on anyone to diet. He was talking about reducing obesity rates to what we saw in the 1980s through prevention. That could mean preventing obesity through healthy school lunches, phys ed, and grants for bike paths.

As far as health policy is concerned, it would be a mistake to fixate on obesity itself as the primary threat. The rapidly increasing prevalence of obesity is just one very visible symptom of much more widespread public health problems, including poor nutrition and insufficient excercise.

Experts disagree about the extent to which excess body fat itself causes health problems
However, there's no doubt that high calorie, low nutrient diets will eventually cause weight gain in a large percentage of the population. We know that poor nutrition and inactivity are harmful, even to those who don't gain weight. What isn't showing up on your abs may very well be collecting in your arteries.

So, the increasing prevalence of obesity is genuinely worrisome, if only because it appears to be linked to deteriorating diets and declining activity levels on a societal level. Weight isn't a good indicator of individual health. However, it is troubling to see entire populations getting heavier, at younger ages.

Clearly, the answer isn't to identify people who weigh "too much" and harangue them to lose weight.  If individual bootstrapping worked, the burgeoning diet and fitness industries would have already addressed the problem one consumer at a time.

We often talk about obesity as if fat people have a problem and everyone else is A-OK. That's a dangerous form of self-delusion. We're ignoring the ways in which our entire society has become less healthy since the 1980s. As a society we're driving more and sleeping less. We're awash in high fructose corn syrup because we subsidize too many Iowa corn farmers. Schools are shortening recess and cutting out PE while adding vending machines to generate badly-needed revenue.

Politicians should be encouraged to talk about public health issues. Their health policies should be judged on their merits. If Obama and Clinton are scheming to deprive fat people of their agency, let's see the evidence.

[NB: I don't want to hear any hateful comments about weight or body shape. Take that bullshit somewhere else.]


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Disdain and loathing for the obese has been pervasive as long as I can remember. (Ah, for the days of President Taft.) And it's easy for fat to become another identity-politics device. But claiming that the fat farms are about to be replaced with concentration camps isn't doing the arguments any good.

The state of school nutrition is a nightmare. Who ever thought Mrs. Eebeer's chicken surprise in the 1960s would come to seem like health food?

But something else that deserves some sort of crackdown or official regulation is the proliferation of phony fad diets. For far too many people dieting, period, is a dead end, even counterproductive.

"I find this rhetoric offensive."

I still can't believe how common that type of rethoric is. I would have thought people were still at least a little concerned about appearing outlandishly stupid and/or dishonest, but there you go.

I'm offended that Barack Obama referred to a trillion in savings without giving use the time period.

A trillion dollars saved in a year? Ten years? A thousand years?

Because of that vagueness, I don't know if he was speaking literally about a trillion, or just picked a random big number. In the latter case, he should have said "a tremendous amount" instead, for clarity.

>I'm offended that Barack Obama referred to a trillion in savings without giving use the time period.

Or any source at all. I agree that's bad. Won't even do the usual thing and point out how it's less severe than other lapses on the trail.

I agree that "disappearing people" is a terrible choice of phrase in America, 2007; I also agree that the obese are being made scapegoats. This would be my wish list for any candidate to propose on this issue:

1. Get rid of the insane testing regimen in our public schools. It not only takes time from recess and P.E. (sorry, any child who isn't drugged can't get by on one 15 minute recess), it gets in the way of much actual learning.

2. More funding for parks, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, and so on, especially in urban areas (where they've decayed in many places into being almost unusable).

3. Elimation of corn subsidies, and the elimination of all that bullsh*t about ethanol while we're at it.

4. Bicycle lanes/ trails.

5. Strict regulation, or simple outlawing of food advertising aimed at young children. (One of those necessities that every first-world country, save us, takes for granted.)

Some of these sound utopian, I know, but they should at least be introduced into the conversation. And if we adopted all these points, I see no reason why the obscenity of Cookie Monster eating vegetables couldn't be banished from our TVs right away.

It's hard to blame the patriarchy for this sort of idiocy, but it is pretty easy to see the connection between the "patriarchy blaming industry" and this sort of idiocy.

Is anyone surprised this showed up on a so called, alleged, self-identified, feminist site?

>I see no reason why the obscenity of Cookie Monster eating vegetables couldn't be banished from our TVs right away.

Right on.

>It's hard to blame the patriarchy for this sort of idiocy, but it is pretty easy to see the connection between the "patriarchy blaming industry" and this sort of idiocy.

This seems to be a sentence in English. But I can't determine the sense. And I speak English. Since I was hatched.

From a public health perspective, are the obese any different than smokers or alcoholics. It seems to me that they are all people with a behavior- related health problem that is not amenable simply to being told to stop.

"The Hatter's remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English."

I agree that in the days of Guantanamo Bay and secret interrogation rooms, Meower’s use of the words “disappear us” could be taken as an affront to the real victims of government sponsored disappearances. However it’s also true that many fat people are treated with such contempt on a daily basis for having the nerve to exist, it’s not hard for me to understand where she was coming from in thinking some people wish she and other fat people would simply disappear.

Barak Obama’s statement about obese people costing the health care system “a trillion dollars” more is not only unproven, but panders to the worst talking points of the right in shifting the burden of health care away from the government and onto the always convenient shoulders of “personal responsibility.” That’s what Meower was taking issue with and I support the spirit of her post even if I wouldn’t have used such extreme language to make the point.

There are real people behind the so-called “very visible symptom” of an unhealthy society and they resent being related to as symbols of anything, let alone everything from poor nutrition to a lapse in standards, and even global warming! Your warning to fat haters suggest you know that “fat is unhealthy” can quickly descend into “fat people are (insert hateful word).”

There’s no reason why advocating for a healthy environment, including greater access to nutritional foods, means supporting politicians like Obama in scapegoating fat people while largely ignoring corporate greed as the greatest culprit in rising health care costs.

You know, there can be obese word use. Which destroys points.

Don't tell this person about the reality show The Biggest Loser; she might have heart failure.

Lowering obesity rates is a good thing right?

This Meowser person has issues...

"And having someone holding the highest office in the land who would rather kill me than treat me like a human being is not going to do wonders for mine."

Hyperbole much? I'm fairly certain that Obama is not advocating death-camps for anyone. This seems like an example of someone who enjoys having hurt feelings.

Feministe is praising the post. Ugh. The entire thing is predicated on the notion that politicians want to forcibly eliminate fat people, which is pure invention.

"But we have an election coming up next year, and strictly from a fat perspective, I worry about who is going to replace him."

Who the hell approaches anything "strictly from a fat perspective"? Wow. The whole thing is terrible.

"You'd think the Democrats would be all about personal agency and individual freedom."

You would?

A good LOL is in order here.

Telling everyone to eat right and work out more is not a replacement for a functioning health insurance system. What does he plan to do. Seriously. I could care less how he feels about diet and exercise.

oh, all this blathering about agency and autonomy reminds me of the nonsense embedded in the Take Your Laws Off My Body slogan. Government routinely regulates what we can do with our bodies. I think it would be a fair and reasonable exercise of government power to give people some incentives to get into shape, and to even employ the threat of penalties for failure to do so. If some fat person is driving up the cost of health care in America, I see nothing wrong with making them shoulder some of the incremental costs. And as usual, you people clearly have no clue about law, government, policy, economics.

Of course feministe is praising the post. That's what our top tier feminist bloggers do. They take one self-victimizing statement and pass it around and everyone clutches their pearls and rails at the patriarchy and at each step along the way everyone feels empowered. A pew of church ladies.

It would be nice to get back to some sensible feminism....

Could someone clarify what parts of the suggestions Cass had where utopian, are any other than nr 3 utopian?

Milo, you’ve probably been around long enough to have some experience with dogs and cats. A dog, you must have surely noticed, will take a great deal of abuse –kicking, cuffing, etc.- from its owner and yet (seemingly inexplicably from a human perspective) remain loyal. A cat on the other hand, tolerates no abuse at all and can only be trained with positive incentives. Follow me closely here Milo: people are more like cats than they are like dogs. When you say things like “And as usual, you people clearly have no clue about law, government, policy, economics”, you don’t persuade anyone. You won’t even attract the approbation of the people who might agree with you, as your bizarre misunderstanding of basic human nature with respect to the means of persuasion (to start with, but no need to digress) is so arrestingly weird that no one pays attention to what you’re saying. Imagine a political candidate that is cogent, logical, and glib, but shows up for campaign speeches with his/her face painted blue: no one will ever get beyond the blue face.

I’m not a psychologist. I have no idea what the etiology, treatment, or prognosis for such surpassing weirdness is, but as one human being to another: please get help.

"Could someone clarify what parts of the suggestions Cass had where utopian, are any other than nr 3 utopian?"

I would say number 5 is pretty far-fetched, in the context of our politics today. Call it the Franken-Berry effect; an industry with a baleful effect on society grows so lucrative and politically powerful over a few decades that it seems progressively more unthinkable to abolish it, or at least bring it back under control.

Good lord, I'm 20 pounds overweight and am in the worst shape I've ever been. I feel burdened by the fat I'm carrying. I know what I need to do about it, I know what caused it, I know it's not healthy to carry this much fat on my body. It's NOT HEALTHY. I'm risking heart failure, heart disease, cancer, and type two diabetes.

A doctor - or a politician, for that matter - pointing out the fact that carrying excess weight is bad for my health isn't calling me a name or discriminating against me.

"A doctor - or a politician, for that matter - pointing out the fact that carrying excess weight is bad for my health isn't calling me a name or discriminating against me."

He's not adding to your store of knowledge either. You've got the intellectual part down, as I'm sure 98% of the population does as well. The question most people who want to lose weight find hard to answer (and you can substitute any number of other human issues here) is how its done.

Oh, fucking hell. Why is my comment being tagged as spam?

Katherine, a doctor who is refusing to treat you because you're fat or who's refusing to treat you until you've lost weight is, in fact, discriminating against you by not providing the same standard of care he or she provides to others presenting the same symptoms.

An example: my sister visited her ob-gyn late in her pregnancy because she felt that something was wrong. She was maybe 40 pounds overweight, but she's 5'11".

The doctor bitched and moaned the whole time about how fat she was and how he couldn't do a proper examination, and how she needed to lose weight because he couldn't feel anything through all her fat, and sent her home.

She, however, insisted on seeing another doctor. This one determined without any trouble from interfering fat that she was leaking amnotic fluid and rushed her into the hospital. Had she listened to the first doctor, or been cowed by his fat-shaming, my nephew Henry would have died in the womb. Instead, he was delivered just in time.

BTW, people: when Meowser says that Obama is disappearing people like her, she is not referring to black sites or Guantanamo. She's referring to the kind of thing that Republicans do when they gripe that if only black people didn't vote, they'd win more.

I don't think Obama was scapegoating fat people. Here's the quote from the debate:

OBAMA: Well, just to emphasize how important prevention and cost savings can be in the Medicare system, it's estimated if we went back to the obesity rates that existed in 1980, that would save the Medicare system $1 trillion.

So many of the reforms that I've suggested in my health care plan will reduce costs not just for the overall system, but also for Medicare.

Obama is talking about prevention in the context of his health care plan. He doesn't talk about state-sponsored dieting in there, AFAIK, but he does talk about access to regular medical care--which could help prevent and treat many common contributors to weight gain, such as poorly controlled diabetes. FTR, I think Obama's plan is weaker than those proposed by Clinton and Edwards--but there's no particular reason to conclude that he's scapegoating fat people.

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