An article recently released in Lancet magazine calls out some prominent researchers who presented at the Association for the Study for Obesity conference on September 16-17, 2014 in Birmingham, UK. Apparently they served up their research papers on how to “help people with obesity” with a hefty side dose of sarcasm, stigmatizing comments and downright nastiness towards people of size. I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am glad that they are getting called out on some of their nonsense.
The article stopped short of naming names, which I found disappointing. But I am glad that somebody is taking the time to point out in print that there’s not a lot of do no harm and an awful lot of hypocrisy going on at these conferences. For one thing, these “obesity researchers” know better. If they have done any homework at all, they know that stigmatizing overweight and obese people does not lead to better health outcomes. In fact, it causes overweight and obese people a lot of stress, leads to poorer health and actually tends to increase weight–the very thing they are making fun of fat people for in the first place.
Want to know what I’m talking about? TRIGGER WARNING–I’m going to share some serious fat shaming stuff here. If you don’t want to read some really icky stuff that people said, skip down until after the video, okay? As one researcher criticized a media source that suggested exercise isn’t particularly good for health exclaimed, “Exercise is rubbish? That is precisely the message obese people want to hear.” This exploits the stereotype that fat people hate to exercise and are lazy. I think many of the thousands of people in our Fit Fatties Forum, you know the ones who are training for marathons and triathlons and Ironman competitions, the ones that did TWO 5Ks over the Thanksgiving break just because, I think they might take issue with this stereotype. And if we want people to exercise more, I think a very brief search of the literature would indicate that shaming folks is not an effective tool to increase exercise adherence.
Then out of the mouth of another researcher who has published researcher on weight stigma and it’s effect on fat people, we got this little gem. She said if people lost weight, “They would have a lot of sex, which is probably good as they won’t have had it for a while.” Hmm. I wonder where in the body of research on fat people it suggests that fat people don’t have much sex? A pretty brief search indicates that some studies show that larger people, are often more attractive to the opposite sex, have more sex and have the big O more often than their thinner counterparts. But yes, the way to help people live a better life is to convince them that they are utterly sexless and unworthy of sex as they are. NOT!
Finally, we have the researcher who was receiving one of the “best practice awards”. She stated that the work they had done in reducing the weight of some of their patients, “provided more space for commuters on the London tube.” Insert rimshot here.
END TRIGGER WARNING.
Look, when we talk about “best practices” for researchers, we are looking for people who not only seek to eradicate bias from their work, but also have enough self awareness to recognize their own bias. I ask you, when researchers who are RECEIVING AN AWARD FOR BEST PRACTICES feel it’s okay to round out their acceptance talk with a cheap joke at the expense of the subjects they are reportedly trying to help, I call foul! When you have somebody who has published research on weight stigma, demonstrating some malicious and completely unfounded stereotypes about fat people at a professional conference, I think we really ought to step back and take a look. This not only calls into question the researchers who presented these horrible slurs, but also the committee that selected them to speak and the organization who decided to give one of them an AWARD for best practices in research.
This is something that I find deeply frightening. The notion that the people who claim to dedicate their lives to “helping” us, hold us fat people in such deep-seated and largely unquestioned contempt. The truth is that we all hold bias in some form or another against some group or another. But it is only when we choose to or are forced to confront it that we can move forward without damaging those we claim to wish to help.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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