Tuesday, August 12, 2008

No shit

This article came out today. And it's about time.

Question: if it turns out that all that bad stuff "associated with obesity" isn't really caused by being fat at all, but rather by some mixture of unlucky genetics, poor diet, and lack of exercise, do you suppose we could just do away with the term "obesity" altogether?

Nah, probably too much to hope for.

More on the AP article here.

12 comments:

meg said...

When I heard this on NPR this morning, I figured I'd read about it here by dinnertime...

Anonymous said...

How does having no adverse health effects make someone less obese?

Mary said...

"Obese" is a medical term that implies pathology. If it turns out that being fat does not cause ill health effects, then we should just use the term "fat" as a descriptor, rather than giving it a medical name.

anonymous said...

According to the physician's desk reference:

Medically speaking, obesity is not just another word for "fat." To be considered obese, you must weigh at least 20 percent more than the norm for a woman of your height and bone structure. What's more, there are four grades of obesity. If you are 20 percent heavier than your ideal weight, you are slightly obese. At 40 percent above normal you are moderately obese; at 50 percent, morbidly obese; and at 100 pounds or more over the weight you should be, you are hyperobese.

No health associations are in the definition.

Mary said...

The health associations are implicit in the use of a scientific label. If there were no assumed health associations, then the four "grades of obesity" that you described would be utterly meaningless (which I believe they are). They also assume a "normal" weight that you "should be" (your words). If not for some pre-supposed health-related reasons, why else "should" a person weigh a certain amount?

anonymous said...

Just for the record: not my words. :) It's a quote.

There are many reasons for labels that have nothing to do with health. For example, there's short hair, medium length hair, long hair, and really long hair. Why have four names if there's no health effect? How about just a point of reference?

If it becomes widely accepted that are no ill health effects are associated with obesity, the negativity associated with the word as it relates to health will dissipate on its own. You'll still be faced with the same prejudices with regard to aesthetics but everyone has their own idea of perfection (Thank God or we would all be total outcasts everywhere!) so that won't go away no matter what. It's the same as dealing with someone who hates short hair on women. It's a stupid prejudice but that doesn't change the fact that the hair is short.

Anonymous said...

Oops...ignore the typo, please.

Mary said...

I think we agree on a lot of things, but your analogy isn't quite right. If you want to relate the "obesity" terminology to hair preferences, it would be more like giving dark hair a diagnosis like "overpigmenticity", then having varying grades of "overpigmenticity" that are determined by how much more pigment you have in your hair than the ideal or "normal" blonde color that everyone "should" have. There would be one degree called "morbidly overpigmented" which would mean that you have dark brown hair (but with no implied associated medical problems, of course, despite the modifier "morbidly"), and then one called "hyperoverpigmented" for people with black hair.

Now do you see why I'm saying that applying a medical term to a normal parameter of human variation (fatness or hair color) implies pathology?

Anonymous said...

I do see what you're saying and I understand it, but I think that you might be reading negative connotations into the definition when, in fact, the negative connotations are societal (ignorant sect of society, but stil....). I read a lot of medical records for my job and when I read "obese" or any of the levels of obesity, I think only "heavy-set". I'm usually looking for health problems that I can use against the person so if I saw a veiled term for unhealthy, I would jump on it. It seems to me that you're equating the word with, say, "big fat french-fry-eating blob". Those who believe "obese" equates to "extremely unhealthy/poor diet/lack of exercise" may think that way, but I'm surprised that you would strive to eliminate the word rather than revising the erroneous belief as to what it means (which would be accomplished by a wide-spread acceptance that obese people are not necessarily more healthy or less healthy than anyone else).

BTW, I read an interesting article today about how "good fat" can be used to combat "bad fat". It still had a lot of lame assumptions in it, but I liked the acknowledgment that there is indeed GOOD fat.

Mary said...

One last point about the terminology, then I'll quit arguing: The word "morbid" is defined as "characteristic of disease". So I don't see how you can read the label "morbidly obese" in a person's medical records and not see that as a blatant (not "veiled") claim that the person is unhealthy because of their fat.

Anonymous said...

You're right. I should have qualified that. Are you saying that you believe a MORBIDLY OBESE person can be healthy? I disagree with that. The lack of mobility associated with that level of obesity results in serious circulatory problems that affects both the appendages and the vital organs. Of course, if all levels of obesity are deemed to be healthy, then the word "obese" could stay but the category "morbid" would necessarily be eliminated.

Mary said...

Yes, I am saying that. What's your evidence for the lack of mobility?

I think you'd be very surprised to find out what a "morbidly obese" person looks like, based on the picture you apparently have in your head. Check out some photos on the BMI project and you'll see what I mean.