Tag Archives: health

More Evidence that Fat Stigma is Killing Us

Today, I got an email pointing me towards some new research on fat stigma.  There has been an ever increasing pile of evidence indicating that weight stigma is making us miserable and sick.  We know that weight stigma makes us fatter,  increases inflammation, increases disease burden and decreases quality of life, increases the chances that we will engage in risky behaviors and may contribute significantly to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. We know that weight-based discrimination increases blood pressure and reduces our ability to think clearly. Now we have further proof that weight stigma is shortening our lives.

It has always been supremely frustrating to me that concern trolls are so ready to tell us that they beat us up about our weight because they are concerned for our health.  But as a person who has been on the end of concern trolling, I can tell  you that it doesn’t feel anything at all like genuine concern.  It feels like people relishing the fact they have an excuse to be a bully.  It feels like having a license that allows some people to spew hate under the micron-thick veneer of caring.  It feels like complete B.S.

And this new study indicates that the results of this hate can be profound and life-threatening.  The study states:

The ultimate cumulative effect of these hostile social interactions may be lower life expectancy. The present research examined whether the harmful effect of weight discrimination reached beyond morbidity to mortality and whether common comorbidities and health-risk behaviors accounted for this association. We also compared weight discrimination with other forms of discrimination (e.g., age, race, sex) to examine whether they share weight discrimination’s association with mortality risk. Finally, we examined whether the association between discrimination and mortality varied by sex, ethnicity, age, or body mass index (BMI). We tested these associations using data from two large longitudinal studies, the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and Midlife in the United States (MIDUS).

After reviewing the data from both the HRS and the MIDUS, the study group came to some rather startling conclusions.  It appears that weight stigma can increase risk of mortality by a significant amount:

Weight discrimination was associated with an increase in mortality risk of nearly 60% in both HRS participants (hazard ratio = 1.57, 95% confidence interval = [1.34, 1.84]) and MIDUS participants (hazard ratio = 1.59, 95% confidence interval = [1.09, 2.31]). This increased risk was not accounted for by common physical and psychological risk factors. The association between mortality and weight discrimination was generally stronger than that between mortality and other attributions for discrimination. In addition to its association with poor health outcomes, weight discrimination may shorten life expectancy.

If people are truly worried about the health of fat people, they are going to have to give up on concern trolling.  Outside of the fact that you can’t hate someone for their own good (thank you Marilyn Wann), there is hard statistical evidence that it just may be your hate that is making fat people sick and giving them a shorter life.  Not to mention the horrible effect you have on their quality of life.  The study goes so far as to suggest that the harm of weight discrimination may be more harmful than any other effects of being overweight:

The present findings indicate that the harmful effect of unfair treatment that is attributable to body weight is not limited to psychological distress and morbidity: It also extends to risk of mortality. This association was apparent in two independent samples that covered different periods of the life span, and the association persisted after we accounted for behavioral and clinical risk factors. The effect of weight discrimination on mortality was generally stronger than that of other forms of discrimination but was comparable with that of other established risk factors, such as smoking history and disease burden. Moreover, the association between weight discrimination and mortality risk was in sharp contrast to the protective relation between some of the BMI categories and mortality risk. These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight is more harmful than actually being overweight.

This type of research can have a profound effect on the lives of fat people around the world.  But just because it can doesn’t mean in necessarily will.  The media doesn’t jump to report these stories.  For many reasons, these articles aren’t popular with media outlets and are especially unpopular with advertisers.  If we want these studies to have an impact, we have to make sure that people in the world at large know about them.  We need activists.

That’s why I’m so excited that the Fat Activism Conference is starting tomorrow.  It’s not too late to get your tickets.  We have dozens of amazing speakers lined up ready to share ways that you can be an activist and an advocate for people of all sizes.  We’ve got speakers talking about activism and medicine and activism and art and activism and sex and many other topics.  I hope you’ll consider joining us for the conference.  This study indicates that activism against weight stigma may do more than just make us feel better and feel better about ourselves.  It just might help to save our lives.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Paradoxically(?!) Fatter Diabetics Live Longer

A few days ago a new study was released which indicates that of people living with type-2 diabetes, those in the overweight category live the longest.  They even live longer than those in the “healthy weight” category.  Newspaper articles like these (TRIGGER WARNING FOR UBIQUITOUS HEADLESS FATTY SHOT) are quick to cite this as another example of the “obesity paradox”.  In case you are unfamiliar with this term, the obesity paradox refers to the fact that despite the fact scientists arbitrarily chose to name a lower weight category “healthy weight” or “normal weight”, the pesky fact remains that those of a higher weight on average live longer.  And while people in the “overweight” category are more likely to contract certain diseases than those in the “healthy weight” category (such as cardiovascular disease) they are more likely to survive these diseases for a longer time.  It’s vexing.  Because, not only does this mess up the whole color scheme of the pretty BMI charts, it also means that we’ve been telling people to slim down to a weight that just might not be in their best interest.

One wonders how long the medical establishment is going to cling to this description of the “obesity paradox”, when the solution is so very simple.  Change your labels.  Change your definition of “healthy weight”.  In fact stop saying “healthy weight” altogether.  Because while certain weights have some advantages over others in some arenas, they are more dangerous than others.  For example recent research indicates that the fattest people are the least likely to suffer from dementia at an early age.

The medical establishment and world at large are unlikely to change these labels any time soon however.  The reason?  Cash.  Money.  Cabbage. Moolah.  Being able to charge over and over again for obesity treatments that don’t work is big money.  Adding the word “obesity” to your research proposal increases the chances of getting funding and increases the amount of funding you are likely to get.  Heck, as Harriet Brown’s excellent article in the Atlantic states–even mentioning the word “obesity” in a medical exam might mean you are able to collect more money for that patient.  That’s why we classify obesity as a disease, even when expert panels in the medical establishment recommended against it.

I wonder when we are going to publicly accept the real obesity paradox.  That we have a situation that occurs naturally in a certain segment of the population, that in some cases is potentially harmful and in some cases is potentially beneficial.  Yet we label it a disease and focus billions of dollars towards trying (unsuccessfully) to change it, without any evidence that changing it will in fact, make people healthier, happier or live longer.  That, to me, is the quintessential definition of a paradox.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

Want to book me to speak at your event?  Click HERE to learn more.

New study says weight stigma signficantly reduces Quality of Life–and water is wet.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am deeply glad that they are studying the negative effects of weight stigma.  But I am wondering when this will finally be considered obvious.  I am waiting for the moment when somebody says, “shaming fat people is bad” and the primary response is, “well, duh”.

I recently read this study which was released as an online precursor to publication in Obesity magazine.  The study seeks to understand the affect that weight stigma and discrimination on conditions like depression and overall quality of life.  As the study states:

Weight stigma is often cited as a potential mechanism leading from obesity to poorer psychological well-being [4, 5, 7, 9]. Prejudice against individuals with obesity is pervasive and rarely challenged in Western society [10]. As a result, many individuals with obesity, and particularly those with severe obesity, report being discriminated against because of their weight in their everyday lives [11, 12]. Given that weight stigma and discrimination have both been shown to have a negative impact on psychological health outcomes, including well-being [10], depression [13, 14], self-esteem and self-acceptance [13, 15], and body image dissatisfaction [13, 16], this might explain why people with obesity suffer psychologically.

You would think that this had been studied in depth before.  However, according to the introduction of the study, this hasn’t previously been explored in a lot of depth.  According to the study:

Only one study to our knowledge has tested the mediating effect of weight-related discrimination, showing a significant reduction in the association between obesity and self-acceptance after adjusting for perceived weight discrimination [15]. None have examined the role of discrimination in relation to more global indices of psychological well-being, such as quality of life or depression. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate the extent to which perceived weight discrimination mediates associations between obesity and three markers of well-being: quality of life, life satisfaction, and depressive symptoms.

In other words, many studies have suggested that fat people experience a lesser Quality of Life (QOL) than thin people.  However, this study seeks to determine whether that reduction in Quality of Life is simply because of person’s body size or whether it is caused by the world’s reaction to their body size.  I won’t keep you hanging too long.  The study determines that 40% of the person’s reduction in QOL is from perceived discrimination.

We used mediation models with bootstrapping to test the proposition that associations between obesity and well-being are mediated by weight discrimination and found that approximately 40% of the total effect of obesity on psychological well-being could be explained by perceptions of weight discrimination.

This is I think an important distinction.  So much in the “War on Obesity” suggests that the solution is for all fat people to simply lose weight.  The study suggests that the reason fat people are depressed might be–in large part–the “War on Obesity”.  As Ragen Chastain frequently states in her blog, Dances with Fat, “The way to deal with oppression is not to remove people from the oppressed group.  The way to deal with oppression is to fight the oppression.”  And I have to wonder to what extent this 40 percent takes into account the internalized oppression experienced by people of size.

I hope that this, along with so many other studies regarding the harm caused by weight stigma will finally convince some of the folks in the Obesity War to consider the harm they are causing–the millions of lives ruined by “friendly fire” in this war that makes people sadder and sicker rather than healthier or happier.  And  I hope that those proponents of “tough love” and “the ends justify the means” will reconsider their stance.  Because in the case of weight stigma, love is indeed very tough to come by.  And when the ends are actually worse that the starts, it’s time to carefully consider some new means.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S.  Want to hear me speak about weight stigma at your school or organization?  Learn more about me here.

The Health Continuum

continuum.039-001

The day before I woke up in excruciating back pain, I gave a keynote address at a health conference.  And during that keynote I talked a lot about how we need to make the ideas of health and wellness more inclusive.  We need to have a bigger tent where every BODY can participate.  We need to imagine a spectrum where we can all experience health.

I asked people in the audience to close their eyes and envision health.  What does a healthy person look like?  Then I asked them, if by any chance, their vision of health looked like a skinny white woman eating yogurt?  How about salad?  Does she look like she’s feeling orgasmic over these food choices?  Several people in the audience smiled or laughed.  Yup, that was exactly what their vision of health looked like.  But I told them they shouldn’t be surprised.  As a culture we are taught by marketing and advertising and Photoshop that this is what health looks like.  But what happens, I asked, if you are not white, or a man, or not thin, or not conventionally beautiful? What if you really, really hate yogurt?  Do you not get to be well?  Do you not get to experience health?

Yogurt.037-001

At this point, I took some time to define health and wellness.  I suggested that there is no particular state that a person achieves that call be called healthy or well.  While tons of money is spent convincing us that if we just buy this thing, use this product or service or spend money in a particular way, we will arrive at the ultimate hereafter picture.  There is a place that is nirvana.  We call this place perfectly healthy.  Except there is no such place.  If we are alive, we are aging.  If we are aging we are headed towards our ultimate demise.  No matter what product or service we use, we are still, in the end, mortal.

So I went on to describe health as a continuum.  Or you can call it a spectrum.  (I like continuum because it’s one of the only words in the English language that has to letter “u”s back to back, and like the word banana, it’s nearly impossible to stop saying once you have started.  You know, like continuuinuuum…)  A continuum is a scale.  It is a line with no beginning and no end.  The scale increases in a particular value as we go one direction and decreases in a particular value as we go the other direction.  As we move along the scale towards healthy or well, we get more capacity and energy to do the things we need to do as well as the things we enjoy.  We feel better.  We have more energy.  We sleep better.  We are able to relax sometimes and experience peace.  As we move down the continuum away from health and wellness these things (like energy, enjoyment, peace, sleep) are more difficult for us to access, or we experience them less often.  But again, the line has no beginning and no end.  There is no destination called perfect health where we get to arrive.  And there is also no perfect place which we cannot access.

This is important for a lot of reasons.  One reason is that we are all born at different points on the continuum.  Based on genetics and parenting and socioeconomic status and friends and other family and cultural values and lots and lots of other stuff, we all land at different points on this continuum.  And as we go along and live, circumstances will change our location on the continuum.  We will experience stress.  We will get sick.  We might win the lottery.  We might lose our jobs.  We might get married or be in a car crash or fall down the steps.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes that stuff is wonderful and eases the way towards increased health on the spectrum.  Sometimes stuff is downright catastrophic and vaults us towards decreased health on the spectrum.  Were we to look at health and wellness as a state of being or as a location, most of us just wouldn’t be able to get there, let alone stay there.  Most of us would be on the outside looking in.  And most of us have been taught that we should be consumed with guilt and self-loathing for not being there or staying there.  But if we look at health and wellness as a continuum, there is a sane and guilt-free place for everybody.

continuum.040-001

No matter where you land on the continuum, there are things you can do to help ease the way towards better health.  Those things you can do might be wildly different from what somebody else can do.  You might be creeping along towards health at a very different point on the spectrum than somebody else.  But everybody can play.  And we can play with the knowledge and understanding that sometimes fate rolls the freakin’ dice and we land in a different spot on the continuum that we neither desired nor planned for.  But from every place, we can strive.  We can move towards the healthy/well side of the continuum with whatever resources we have at the moment.  This is with the understanding that sometimes those resources will be very low.  Sometimes the movement will be very slow or even imperceptible.  And sometimes, it’s okay to just rest there at our spot on the continuum until we have the resources and/or the desire to strive again.  Sometimes we can be there and just breathe out and in for a while.

You know it’s funny, in a physician heal thyself sort of way, how I gave this talk the day before I found myself tossed violently to a very different spot on my own continuum.  As I woke up, dazed and in pain, I looked around.  Oh, so I’m here now?  This is my spot on the spectrum today?  Okay.  I’ll just have to see what I can do.  Maybe tomorrow.  After I take a pain killer and watch some telly and gather my forces.  It has made all of this a lot easier to bear.  And I offer this in the hopes that it will be a useful visualization tool for you as well.  Or not.  Because we’re all different.  And just as there is no place called health, there is no single immutable path towards wellness either.  There’s just all of us, muddling along in our own way, as best we can.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick

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Making Fitness About Fun, Not About Weight Stigma

Today, I’d like to direct you to the blog I wrote for Weight Stigma Awareness Week.  BEDA is doing absolutely amazing work in this space, and I am very proud to be called to participate.  You can read the blog post here.

Thanks so much for your support!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Dear Abby, Let The Fat Chick Give you a Little Advice

Abby

So I don’t know if you’ve been following the kerfluffle regarding Dear Abby’s terrible advice regarding a fat woman and her mother’s reaction to the crime of wearing a bathing suit while fat.  The whole thing started in August when a woman wrote to Dear Abby saying:

DEAR ABBY: I’m a 24-year-old plus-sized woman (60 or 70 pounds overweight), but very comfortable in my own skin. When swimming in public, I wear a one-piece bathing suit because it doesn’t attract a lot of attention. When I’m home, I have a bikini top and shorts I prefer to wear. This is because I don’t like being covered up like it was in the 1950s, and I feel good when my curves are properly accentuated.
When I go back to see my family and swim, I wear a bikini top and black shorts. Recently, my mother said, “When the family comes over, you can’t wear that. It makes people uncomfortable.” I was shocked, and we had a huge argument. Most of my cousins are fine with my attire, as are my aunts. Only Mom has a problem with it. I asked if she’d feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. She said it’s different for women. Am I wrong for wanting to be comfortable in my childhood home? Mom should be proud to have a daughter who accepts herself as she is. Who is wrong here? — OFFENDED DAUGHTER IN CHICAGO

And here’s Abby’s assumption-ridden (and apparently clairvoyant) response:

DEAR OFFENDED DAUGHTER: You are not wrong for wanting to be comfortable. But please remember that when you visit someone else’s home, that person’s wishes take precedence — even if it used to be your childhood home. While you say you are comfortable in your own skin, it would be interesting to know what your physician thinks about your obesity. I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.

Oh. My. God.  This response has problems on so many levels.  On the one hand, okay.  When you are visiting someone else’s house, it is a good idea to keep their wishes and their “rules” in mind.  It is their house.  But then, after that we slide off a deeeeep dark cliff into nonsense land.  Why would it be interesting to know what her physician feels about her obesity.  I suspect it’s not interesting at all but rather a sort of boring restatement of the “fat bad, skinny good” trope played out in doctor’s offices everywhere.  The only way this would be interesting is if this doctor were one of the few medical professionals aware of the significant evidence showing:

1.  Weight is not in and of itself a health risk.

2.  Focusing on healthy behavior is more effective than focusing on weight loss for long term health.

3.  Stigmatizing people based on their weight is likely to make them sadder, sicker and fatter.

But that’s not what Abby meant at ALL.  Abby thought, “Hmmm, I’m not a doctor, but if I vaguebook that hazy potential future health threat thing that doctor’s often do towards fat people, maybe I can get away with sounding sort of medical.”

And then we get to the real kicker line of the whole “advice” thing.  Abby says: “I suspect that your mother would be prouder of you if you were less complacent and more willing to do something about your weight problem.”  And I suspect that you, dear Abby are an @ss.  Here’s how I know.  First of all, you are basing this next bit on on assumptions and everybody knows that an assumption makes an @ss out of u and me.

First of all, who says this woman is complacent?  She says she is comfortable in her own skin.  It does not say whether or not she is trying or has tried to lose weight.  It does not say whether or not she exercises or eats well.  It does not say whether or not she actively works to be healthy or not.  It says she doesn’t hate herself for the way she looks.  Well here’s a news flash dear Abby.  Hating yourself is bad for your health.  Period.  Being comfortable in your own skin helps you do the things that give you a more healthy and productive life.  And living your life caught in a cycle of weight cycling to make your Mom proud of you does not even bear discussion.

But wait, it gets “better”.

Not surprisingly, thousands of people wrote Abby letters telling her that she was insensitive, inappropriate and off base.  This presented Abby an opportunity for a “growth experience”.  She could accept that if thousands of people told her she was being an insensitive jerk, perhaps she could reflect carefully on what she wrote.  Maybe she could learn from this experience.  Maybe she could do a little research about the unsubstantiated assertions she made about fat and health.  Maybe she could seek to make amends to the people she hurt with her ham-fisted response.

Did she do this?

Nope.

Abby responded with an even less informed, more hateful response.  And clearly she felt proud of it.  She presented just one of the thousands of letters that called her out and then responded thus:

DEAR LINDA: Thousands of readers in newspapers and online wrote to tell me how angry they were about my response to that letter, accusing me of “fat-shaming.” If anyone was hurt by my reply, I sincerely apologize, because my remarks were not meant to be rude or disrespectful. When I called the young woman after that column ran to apologize if I had hurt her feelings and read her my response to her letter, she told me she was not offended.

When I answer questions, it is my responsibility to be honest and direct. As anyone who has read my column knows, I am not always politically correct. When I saw her statement that she was 60 to 70 pounds overweight — which is obese — and “comfortable in her own skin,” my reaction was alarm. If she doesn’t become proactive now, by the time she’s 35 she could be far heavier.

Everyone knows the many health complications associated with obesity, so I won’t list them. And while not everyone develops complications, in general, the greater a person’s weight, the greater the likelihood of developing them. While losing weight may be challenging, as I know from personal experience, it’s important to make beneficial lifestyle changes to promote healthy weight, just as it is important to have healthy self-esteem.

That young woman needs to have a frank talk with her doctor about what’s causing her to be so heavy. I told her that when I talked to her. I also suggested it might be helpful to consult a nutritionist.

As to my comment about her mother, I strongly suspect what I said is true, and I’ll stand by it until I hear from the woman telling me different.

Oh. My. GOD.

I could honestly write fourteen blog posts about how terrible Abby’s response to the response to her response is, but I have to get my fat butt over to teach an exercise class now.  So let me just move on to offer our dear Abby just a little advice about taking criticism.

1.  If thousands of people take the time to write you a letter to say they are offended, chances are, you said something pretty darn offensive.  This is an excellent time for you to start listening.  In order to do that you will need to STOP TALKING.

2.  If thousands of people take the time to write you a letter to say they are offended, it’s a little silly to say “if anyone was hurt by my reply”.  Yes they were.  And they took the time to tell you so.  If you’re not sure about whether or not they were hurt, some cognitive impairment may be at work here so you should probably STOP TALKING.

3.  Saying you sincerely apologize because you didn’t mean for your remarks to be rude or disrespectful and then continuing for SEVERAL PARAGRAPHS to be even MORE RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL just makes you look hypocritical and foolish.  If you want to apologize, say I’m sorry.  Say you’ll try to do better and then STOP TALKING.

4.  Saying that somebody who is fat and comfortable now is only going to be fatter down the road is just stupid.  You don’t know that.  You are not psychic.  So this means you should STOP TALKING.

5.  Saying everybody knows the health problems associated with obesity so you won’t list them is lazy.  Literally hundreds of studies contradict the notion that health problems are caused by obesity and a lot of those studies indicate that the real problem is the sort of B.S. stigma you are perpetrating here.  So maybe, as I said before, you should STOP TALKING.

6.  When you insult an entire group of people to the point that thousands of them take the time to write you letters, and then you call one person in that group for absolution.  Even if that person says they are not offended, you are not absolved of your infraction.  You are guilty and that means you should STOP TALKING.

I could go on and on.  But I think I will take my own advice now and listen to what you all have to say.  So I’ll STOP TALKING.

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Does Eating Margarine Cause Divorce? Correlation is not Causation.

There’s a lot of buzz on the list serves about a new website that just launched called Spurious Correlations.  The site reports a new “correlation” each day.  For example, the site points out that the correlation in Maine between eating margarine and divorce is over 99 percent.  Does this mean that Maine residents who want to maintain their matrimonial bond need to switch right on over to butter?  I mean 99 percent seems pretty darn compelling, right?  There are lots of other important correlations listed on the site including:

Per capita consumption of mozzarella cheese and civil engineering doctorates awarded–95%

Honey producing bee colonies and the marriage rate in Vermont–93%

US domestic price of uranium with accidental poisoning by alcohol–97%

Spurious Correlations is a wonderful tool for demonstrating that oh so important axiom, “correlation is not causation”.  This means that just because two things tend to happen together does not necessarily mean that one causes the other.  They might have a third agent which is causing them to happen together or they might have no relationship to one another whatsoever outside of a random statistical similarity.

I think that Spurious Correlations is a fascinating site.  I’ve spent way too much time tooling around in there.  But I also think it is an important tool for helping us understand our world.  Because so many of the people writing and talking about science on websites and blogs, on television, in magazines and newspapers get this relationship between correlation and causation so very wrong.  I think in some cases the writers and speakers don’t understand the difference.  But in other cases, I think the writers are very clear about the difference and simply report correlation as causation because it makes better headlines or sells more product.  Take this blog post for example.  I don’t have any proof that buying margarine causes a single divorce in Maine.  But I imply that there might be a cause by asking the question in the headline: “Does Eating Margarine Cause Divorce”?  It’s easy to see why I did that.  “Per Capital Margarine Consumption in Maine Closely Correlates with Divorce Rate” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  But I think most people would agree that even though butter tastes a whole lot better, eating oleo is unlikely to be the cause for divorce.  Either something else is going on to connect these two statistics, or they are completely unrelated.  So the difference between correlation and causation here is pretty easy to spot.

But what about the correlation between the total number of computer science doctorates awarded and total arcade revenue.  These two facts correlate at over 98 percent.  And it would be pretty easy to formulate a theory about how these two facts are related.  Maybe when there are more computer science students, it means there are more nerds that love to play arcade games.  Maybe more computer science doctorates means there are more nerds qualified to design and implement great arcade games.  With just the tiniest whiff of a potential relationship, our minds naturally leap to find ways that one of these facts could cause the other.  But there remains the very distinct possibility that there is no causal relationship whatsoever between these two statistics.

I find this particularly relevant in our current national hysteria over obesity.  It seems every week there is a new study claiming that this thing or that thing causes obesity.  And everywhere you look you see “proof” that obesity causes this problem or that problem.  But I think it is important for us to keep our wits about us and take a look whether these studies can sufficiently demonstrate that two correlated facts have a causal relationship.  For example, people are spending more time in front of computer screens than ever before.  Some have suggested that increased screen time causes obesity.  But do we know that is true?  Or are these things simply happening at the same time.  We also have more 24 hour gyms than in the previous century.  Is it reasonable to suggest that the increase in 24 hour gyms causes obesity?  Maybe dieting causes obesity, or exposure to certain plastics?  Heck, based on the correlation, one could easily suggest that talking about obesity increases obesity levels!  And how about the rise in medical insurance costs and the rise in obesity.  Does a larger number of fat people cause higher insurance rates or is there something else going on?  The question of the rise in health insurance rates is detailed and complex but how many people have simply jumped to the conclusion that the fatties are making their monthly premiums higher.  How many of us take the time to understand: the only way that we can prove that one thing causes for another is through careful experimentation where as many other variables as possible are ruled out and a causal agent is ultimately found.

So when you come across studies that demonstrate a relationship between say obesity and heart disease or obesity and cognitive function, I urge you not to just jump blindly onto the causation train.  Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Has this study adequately controlled for other causal factors?  Has it controlled for diet, physical activity levels, socioeconomic status, access to good healthcare, education, etc.?
  • Has this study identified a causal link that demonstrates why these two things are happening at the same time?
  • Is it possible that these two statistics are simply randomly related with no causal relationship whatsoever?

That is not to say that correlation never go together.  All causal relationships are also correlations.  But not all correlations contain causation.  These are important facts to keep in mind the next time you read a headline screaming about the causes of obesity or harm caused by obesity–or the next time you decide to buy margarine in Maine.

Love,

Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S.  Want to go on a virtual vacation?  Ragen and I over at the Fit Fatties Forum are launching Virtual Vacations that allow you to exercise while virtually visiting some of the world’s most fabulous cities!