Saturday, July 28, 2007

Holy crap...

Unfortunately I'm getting to this a bit late since we had company this week, but in case you haven't already seen it, you can check out this article that claims you will get fat if your friends get fat. It is based on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that attempted to track weight gain within social networks, and it found that among men, those whose friends or relatives became "obese" (i.e. their BMI changed from below 30 to 30 or above) were more likely to become "obese" over a 4-year period. The effect was apparently not found among women (though most of the articles I've seen about the study don't mention this).

There are so many potential problems with the study (like the fact that the "social networks" in question included blood relatives, when it has already been pretty well documented that fat runs in families), and yet the major media outlets are trumpeting the results as if they prove that having fat friends makes you fat. The headlines are mostly variations on "Fat is Contagious!". Here are a links to a few of the stories:

Washington Post (this one is great because it likens being obese to a "fad" -- yeah, I hear it's the next big thing)
New York Times
Time magazine

Most of the articles I've seen have mentioned the fact that one might interpret (the inaccurate media reports of) the study to suggest that you should dump all your fat friends, and then they say something along the lines of, "No, don't really do that, that would be mean." (It would also not make sense, because the "findings" of this study, such as they were, were that men are more likely to become fat if their friends and family *become* fat, not if they already *are* fat.) But here is one article (already posted by Aditi a couple of days ago in a comment about my "Be Afraid" post) where this asshole William Saletan actually comes right out and says you should dump your fat friends: "To resist a fattening norm, you need willpower. To reverse it, you need to promote responsibility, which implies blame. You almost certainly need stigma. And realistically, to add normal or underweight friends to your circle, you have to relegate others who are overweight. That may be bad for your fat ex-friends, who will lose your friendship as well as your thinness. But it's fine for you, since you'll have just as many friends as before." Where to begin? First of all, Asshole. Secondly, in order to make "normal" friends, you have to make room by dumping your fat friends? Like there is some maximum number of friends you can have? Thirdly, you need stigma? As if there isn't one already? As if it's perfectly acceptable in our society to be fat and we all have to be vigilant against that? Another thing that is really galling about Saletan's article is that he starts out by saying how terrible it is that the spin on all the articles about this study have been so biased in favor of fat people. Huh?! This sounds to me like a tactic of the right wing: claim that the media is biased towards the other guy when the reverse is actually true, and that way any outrageous bullshit you want to spew out will be perceived as being reasonable. Yeah, we live in this world where it's so cool to be fat and everyone wants to be fatter, and the media is telling us it's great to be fat, but William Saletan is here to cut through all that PC nonsense and tell you how it really is.

Just to get that nasty taste out of your mouth, here are a couple of great responses to all this from the blog world:

Peggy Elam

Kate Harding


Natalie said...

You know what bothers me the most? The suggestion that it might be to one's benefit if they find "underweight" friends.

Yeah, because ya know, I want to start sprouting peach fuzz all over my body and having heart failure.

Mary said...

Hey Natalie, let me know when you start sprouting that peach fuzz and having heart failure, because that is totally going to influence me to have a healthier lifestyle!