Tag Archives: weight

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)

Fitness is for ALL of Us

Ragen Chastain and I are so  very pleased to release our first video on our brand new YouTube Channel: Fitness for All of Us.  We’ve released our fight song to announce our intention to create a safe space where bodies of all shapes and sizes, ages and abilities can rejoice in joyful movement.  Here’s our first video:

For far too long, fitness has been a space relegated to those who have a certain body type or begrudgingly to those who are actively and seeking that body type.  Some have said that “Fit is the New Skinny!” without understanding that “fit” as defined by most is predominantly skinny.  It may include an extra pert rear and muscular legs.  It may include a six pack (or eight pack) and carefully-chiseled Michelle Obama biceps.  But the fit often referred to in the “fit is the new skinny” or even “strong is the new skinny” memes bounce right out of fitspiration with rock hard, totally toned, glistening, fitness model bodies.

But what about the rest of us?  Those of us who have bits that jiggle and flow?  Those of us with rolls and cellulite?  Those of us with big, bountiful bellies and big hips?  Those of us who are not exactly the slightly-upsized Barbie ideal of big boobs, tiny waist, swelling hips and tiny, pointed feet?  That is who this channel is for, it’s for ALL OF US who are interested in fitness in any capacity and at any level.

Because this is so much of what my work is and has always been about.  Fitness should be fun and encouraging and welcoming and physically and emotionally safe for all of us.  Fat and skinny, young and old, high powered athlete and folks who just want to walk their dogs.  Runners and walkers and boaters and swimmers and yogis and dancers and kickboxers and cyclers and multisport mavens.  Seasoned experts and frightened beginners.  Fitness should be for every BODY!

We should be able to get help when we ask for it and be left ALONE when we don’t.  We should be encouraged the same way as everyone else.  We should get a quiet thumbs up or even a shout of welcome for joining the posse for being part of the fitness community, not because somebody imagines that exercise is particularly difficult for us, or that we serve as some sort of weird inspiration for them and especially not because people imagine that we are forcing our bodies to comply to some ideal of shape, size, weight, or any other parameter.

Let us move.  Let us breathe.  Let us enjoy fitness on our own terms.  Above all, let us be.

Hope you like it!

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Stuff That Weighs More than Me: Columbian Mammoth

PGMU406248059410Spent a wonderful afternoon at the Page Museum next to the La Brea Tar Pits.  It was super fun and we were spoiled for choice in terms of stuff that weighs more than me.  The saber toothed cat (not tiger) pictured above fit the bill quite nicely.  As did many other critters like the sloths.  But for sheer hugeness, I have selected as today’s stuff that weighs more than me, the Columbian Mammoth.

ColumbianMammothThis bad boy (Mammuthus columbi) was pretty darn big.  He lived in North America during the late Pleistocene Era.  Ready for the stats?  Copy that!

Height:  12 to 13 ft.

Tusks: Up to 14 ft. long

Diet: Herbivore, so like salad.  700 pounds per day of salad.

Weight: 7 to 9 metric tons

Conclusion

Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

A Different Sort of Tennis Star

You’d think since being rated the top Junior player in the United States, tennis phenom Taylor Townsend would be best known for her prowess on the court.  However, aside from Townsend’s legendary on-court tennis battles, are plenty of battles of a different sort.  Two years ago, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) asked Taylor to sit out of the 2012 Open Junior Tournament due to concerns about her “conditioning”.   And by conditioning, they meant body shape.  And by body shape they meant how Townsend looked in a dress.  According to Tom Perotta of the Wall St. Journal:

Her coaches declined to pay her travel expenses to attend the Open and told her this summer that they wouldn’t finance any tournament appearances until she makes sufficient progress in one area: slimming down and getting into better shape.

“Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” said Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program. “We have one goal in mind: For her to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it’s time. That’s how we make every decision, based on that.”

But it doesn’t just stop at funding. According to Perrotta, the USTA actually requested that Townsend skip the U.S. Open, denying both her petitions for wild cards into either the U.S. Open main draw or the qualifying tournament. In the end, Townsend’s family decided to pay out of their own pockets for Taylor to compete in the U.S. Open Junior Tournament.  She was ultimately defeated in the quarterfinals by Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.

It’s clear that Taylor knows on which side her baguette is buttered.  In 2012 Townsend said:  “I’ve gotten a lot of great opportunities, great fitness, great coaching,” she said. “I’m doing everything that they ask me to do and being professional about everything.”

Nevertheless, Townsend has to be feeling more than a little gratified over Tuesday’s French Open results.  The match had some moments that seemed straight out of a movie script.  In the first set of her first match, Taylor got behind 1-5.  She then won12 of the following 13 games to win over her U.S. opponent Vania King 7-5, 6-1. Today (Wednesday, May 28) Townsend (ranked 205th) is scheduled to battle top-ranked Frenchwoman Alize Cornet (ranked 21st) at the 10,000-seat Suzanne Lenglen Court. So surely at this point we’re focusing on her playing prowess, right?  Right?

Well, today’s New York Times article on Townsend is titled “Questioned About Body, Townsend Rises and Inspires”.  Now the article goes on to say that Taylor is playing amazing tennis, and that Wednesday’s matchup promises to be very exciting.  The article contains quotes from Taylor’s new coach (Zina Garrison) talking about how Townsend is “fine”, and how she doesn’t wish her young tennis protege to suffer over criticism or worry about her weight.  So I’ll offer some slight props to the Times for inserting some body positivity into the article.  But let’s not forget that the first three words of the headline are not “Powerful Tennis Star” or “Young Tennis Phenom”.  The first three words of this headline are “Questioned About Body”.

I guess it’s not surprising.  As I’ve reported before, even winning Wimbledon does not protect you from the need to be attractive to men.  The top title in tennis does not forgive you for being less than supermodel gorgeous.

I hope that Taylor kicks some serious butt on the court tomorrow.  I hope she plays really well and ultimately triumphs.  I have to admit that I don’t hold out a lot of hope however, that Taylor Townsend will ever win victory over a public that is most interested in how she looks in her little tennis skirt.

Le sigh.

Love,

Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

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What is a “healthy weight”?

I have to admit I was taken aback when I was named one of “Healthy Weight Week’s Top-35 Healthy Weight Blogs”.  I am actually aware of “Healthy Weight Week” from many years back.  I know that Francie Berg started “Healthy Weight Week” 25 years ago in an effort to change the dialog from weight (a number on a scale) to health (decidedly not a number on a scale).  This is part of Francie’s program which includes the annual “Slim Chance Awards” which chronicles some of the dumbest, most dangerous and least likely weight loss schemes of the year.

While I am firmly behind the notion of moving away from the number on the scale as an indicator of health, and I am deeply gleeful at the notion of poking fun at some of the most ridiculous diet schemes of the year (and the epic race to the bottom that THAT entails), I have to admit a fair amount of discomfort about putting the words “healthy” and “weight” together in any given sentence.  While I think the spirit of the week is a really great thing, the name of the event still seems to imply that there is a particular “healthy weight” for each person to be.  And I think that this notion is both simplistic and dangerous.

Because, you know what?  There is no magic number.  There is not a spot on the dial of the scale that, once attained, will make you immortal or even impervious to health problems or pain or sickness.  Even if you reach that number using Health At Every Size(R) techniques or intuitive eating or super fun physical activity plans.  Even if  you attain this place by deep meditation and perfect self-love (as if that even exists) and flowers and love and light.  There is no number on the scale that will make you perfectly happy or well-adjusted or even sane.  It’s just a number on the scale.  There is no perfect weight.

And there is no perfect health.  Nobody is in “perfect health”.  We’re all crumbling away–sometimes gradually and sometimes precipitously–towards our eventual demise.  I’m sorry to be a little bit morbid.  But I think that this notion of “perfect health” is something we need to put to bed right now.  I mean right this very minute.

There are many ways to define health.  Just as there are many ways to define Health At Every Size (R).  But I favor a definition that sees health as a continuum rather than a condition.  I think moving away from health is moving in a direction where we are less able to take advantage of our current physical condition to enjoy the things we love the most.  Moving towards health is living in a way that allows us to take greater advantage of our current physical condition and squeeze more of the things we love the most out of the remainder of our lives.  It doesn’t sound super sexy.  I sincerely doubt it will sell a lot of tennis shoes or create a great bumper sticker.  However, I think this definition of health allows everybody a spot at the table.  It doesn’t separate the haves from the have-nots.  It defines health in a way that can you can keep with you for your entire life.

This is particularly important in my work as a fitness instructor.  I work with many people who are coping with many levels of physical challenges.  From joint difficulties, to disease, to chronic pain conditions to plain old aging, many of my students and readers find it difficult to identify themselves as “healthy” as it is commonly understood.  And for many of my students, the notion of “perfect health” seems so remote that it might as well be another planet.  And this distance from the notion of “perfectly healthy” can be extremely demoralizing.  “How can I even start?” or “Why bother?” they ask.

And that’s why I choose to talk about health in terms of a continuum.  I tell them, “If we can do five minutes together today, we are going to ROCK those five minutes.  We are going to count it as a success and then we are going to do a booty dance of victory to celebrate!”  Because even though five minutes of exercise can’t move them to a “perfect weight” or “perfect health”,  it can move them towards a life that contains a little more energy and allows them to fit in a little more awesome.  Even as their teacher I am neither a perfect weight nor am I in perfect health.  However, my life contains a significant amount of awesome that I am happy to share.  And to me, helping your life contain even just a little more awesome is a worthy goal.

So, I am deeply honored and deeply grateful that I have been selected as one of the unfortunately-named but super-well-intentioned “Top 35 Healthy-Weight blogs”, because it gives me the opportunity to share my thoughts on this very important topic with you.  And I thank you, as always, for listening.

Love, Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. If you’re interested in a fitness challenge tailored to your specific body and capabilities, I’d like to invite you to consider the Fit Fatties Virtual Events and Decathlon.  We’ve got all kinds of events both traditional (1 Mile Walk/Run/Roll, triathlon, 10 mile bike ride) and extremely non-traditional (romp with your kids or your dogs, engage in cheesy dance moves, shovel snow out of your driveway, tromp around a museum).  Join in the fun!

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Only Fat People Need to Walk: As Indicated by Blue Cross Program

Study showing healthy habits most important for health outcomes.

Study showing healthy habits most important for health outcomes in ALL weight categories.

Oh dear.  I think it’s going to be hard to keep up with all of the discriminatory practices being rolled out by insurance companies to punish those who are fat.  But this new announcement from Blue Cross Network is really above and beyond.

Blue Cross recently announced that its program, offering cash discounts to obese members who agreed to add 5,000 steps a day and be measured via a pedometer was a “success”.  Discounts were significant–representing a cost savings of up to $2,000 per year per family.  Apparently these “discounts” were not offered to anybody who was not obese.  But Blue Cross is claiming success, due to the fact that most of those who enrolled in the program were still walking one year later.

I particularly love the fact that despite the fact that Blue Cross of Minnesota cites this press release as its source, the headline for their online blurb reads, “Money Motivates Weight Loss, One Step at a Time”.  I went back to the original press release.  I read it twice. Not one word is said in that press release about weight loss.  NOT ONE SINGLE WORD.  Holy “make it up as you go” reporting, Batman!  It is possible that there is some mention of the press release in the study announcing the findings.  But there is absolutely no mention of weight loss in the abstract.  And in my experience, were weight loss found in the study, it would be in the title of the study and the first sentence of the abstract.  If anybody has access to the full study, I’d love to know if this holds true.  But in any case, the piece on the Blue Cross webpage did not cite the study but rather the press release as its source.

Now, all of this leaves me with a few key questions.  First and foremost, is walking only beneficial to fat people?  Why in the world are they only offering this incentive to people qualified as “obese”?  There are so many studies that show that modest exercise is beneficial to everybody’s health.  And there’s plenty of evidence showing that healthy habits and not weight loss is what is needed to improve health outcomes?  So why are only fat people singled out for this treatment?  And are these actually “discounts” or are we really talking about being rescued from “fat penalties” not being faced by other insurance network members?

It’s also interesting to note that obese members were allowed to choose between this walking program (created by online biometric site, Walking Spree) or Weight Watchers.  Look, I would clearly pick a walking program over Weight Watchers any day of the week, but I wonder if these “obese persons” were interviewed to see if they had been exercising before this incentive was offered.  Were these people actually sedentary?  What about fit fatties like me who already exercise nearly every day?  Were we offered the same price increases/incentives?  Would I be expected to add this onto my already active exercise program?  Do I have to exercise three times as much as a thin person in order for my exercise incentives to “count” and my discounts to kick in?

I also find it extremely instructive that the first line of the press release reads as follows:

It was a controversial move when a health insurer began requiring people who were obese to literally pay the price of not doing anything about their weight – but it worked, a new study finds.

Okay.  First let’s look at the “not doing anything about their weight” line.  How do we know they weren’t doing anything about their weight?  We know that diet and weight loss attempts fail most of the time in the long term.  Some suggest they fail over 90 percent of the time.  So by “not doing anything about their weight” do we mean that people refused to engage in the dangerous practice of weight cycling? Do we know that people weren’t eating well or exercising before and that they are doing those things now?  Do we know that they were sedentary before and are now active?  Or were some of these people active before and have simply shifted to a less rigorous form of exercise (walking) than before in order to receive a discount on their health insurance?

It’s also interesting to note how the release defines “success”.  Again, nowhere in the release does it state that people lost weight.  Nowhere in the release does it state that there were positive health outcomes or lower healthcare costs.  In fact the final line of the release states:

“Comprehensive evaluations are needed to determine whether participation in these programs translates to meaningful changes in health and costs of health care.”

Overall, I have to state that this press release, issued by the University of Michigan Health System is astonishingly devoid of detail, definition or real facts.  While positively gleeful about the fact that most of the people who elected to participate in this program remained participants for over a year, it really leaves us with more questions than answers.  Did people who didn’t like the coercive nature of the program leave the network for a different insurer?  What were the changes in attitude towards exercise among participants?  Did they grow to like exercise more or see it as a punishment?  What are the long term effects on attitudes towards exercise?  And finally, why are we singling out fat people for this program?  Don’t thin people need to exercise too?

Aaaaaargh!

I guess I’m pretty worked up here.  Maybe I’d better go for a walk to blow off some steam.  Because some of us fat people go for walks even without “finger-wagging”, “pedometer-wielding”, “biometric-tracking” moralists telling us to do so.

Love,

The Fat Chick

P.S. If you’re looking for a form of exercise that doesn’t come with doom and gloom weight loss messages or any finger wagging whatsoever, you might enjoy buying a copy of my DVD.  And if you are a member of the Fit Fatties Forum, you’ll receive a special discount.  Just click here to order and type FFBL in the discount code box!

Why I am NOT Shopping at CVS

Employees of "Gattica" surrender a drop of blood for analysis before starting work each day.

Employees of “Gattica” surrender a drop of blood for analysis before starting work each day.

There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about CVS and their recent decisions regarding health care for their workers.  It seems that CVS has implemented a policy that states that employees have a choice between submitting to a health screening or paying $600 more per year in health insurance premiums.  The screening (paid for by CVS) will measure several “health metrics” including blood pressure, blood glucose levels, cholesterol, height, weight and BMI.  Apparently this information will then be turned over to a third party.  What we don’t know is what the third party plans to do with this information and how the third party and/or CVS will use this information to help their employees be any healthier.  I submit that helping employees be healthier really has nothing to do with it.

Look, if you want to give your employees incentives to see their doctors twice a year–fine.  Regular checkups with your doctor make sense.  They help employees manage health and catch problems early.  But I can think of no reason why handing this information over to anyone other than your own doctor will do anything to improve your health.  Not one.

The only reason to hand this information over is so that a company–be it CVS or a mysterious “third party company” can start harassing you for being in a “higher risk” category.  That harassment may come in the form of emails or phone calls.  That harassment may come in the form of additional payments you need to make as long as you stay in a “higher risk” category.  And believe me, the quotation marks are deliberate when I say “higher risk” category.

Every single one of these metrics has a strong, and I mean STRONG genetic component.  They are not measures of behavior or lifestyle.  They are statistics about bodies.  Lifestyle may be a component of having diabetes in some people.  Some people are simply born with a very high disposition to diabetes.  So you may have two people, one diabetic and one not who engage in extremely similar lifestyles with very different outcomes.  The same is true of cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  So how is this not a Gattica style punishment of people who were born with less than perfect genes?  How much longer before, like in the movie, we will be forced to leave a drop of blood in the scanner before starting work every morning?

And then there’s the question of collecting height, weight and BMI data.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that BMI, height and weight do not serve as accurate measures of personal health, we are still collecting this data.  Why?  I’ll tell you why.  Because fat people are discriminated against in this country.  Fat people are blamed for everything in the US from rising health care costs to rising prices on airlines.  If you have to look to a socially acceptable scapegoat on which to visit higher health insurance prices, you will choose the fatties.  Don’t believe me?  Just check out the comments section of any news story covering this decision by CVS.  They are universally full of righteous thin people talking about how those fatties are driving everybody’s costs up and deserve to be punished “for their own good”.

Some argue that insurance companies already charge smokers more money.  But let me be very clear about this.  Smoking is a behavior.  You can choose to smoke or not to smoke.  You don’t need to smoke to survive.  Weight and BMI are characteristics.  You CAN NOT determine what a person eats, how much they exercise or how healthy they are by looking at their BMI.  All you know is the proportion of their height to their weight, and the proportion of extra costs and stigma it is socially acceptable to heap upon that person.

Other risk behaviors are notoriously expensive and difficult to monitor.  Behaviors like drinking, not sleeping enough, distracted driving, uncontrolled stress, not looking before you cross the street and skydiving cannot be measured with a 10 second test in a doctor’s office.

So to reiterate, why are we using weight and BMI to measure a persons health risk rather than behaviors?

1.  Unless you actually watch a person or test a person all the time, it is difficult to know whether they are telling you the truth about stated behaviors.

2.  BMI and weight, while poor proxies for real data about health require only extremely easy and inexpensive tests to determine.

3.  It is socially acceptable in our country to blame fat people for anything and everything.

This is why I will no longer shop at CVS.  They have chosen to pass insurance costs on to those who may or may not engage in higher risk behavior than their co-workers but are probably less genetically blessed than their co-workers.  And they are already passing health care costs on to those of us who are already discriminated against when seeking a job and are already payed less than those of us who are thin.  It’s not okay with me.

Love,

The Fat Chick