Obesity is not an Epidemic, Fat-Phobia is

by Lauren Dubravec
August 5th, 2021

It's time to talk about the discrimination that even the most "woke" among us are participating in. The World Health Organization defines obesity as "abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health," or a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. The American Medical Association officially named obesity a disease in 2013 and the CDC labeled obesity an American epidemic in 2011, claiming that 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children are obese. There are constant campaigns waging war on fat. Children are shipped to camps to "cure" them of obesity, shows like "The Biggest Loser" use dramatic fat loss as entertainment, and social media is plastered with "before and after" photos of fat people whose lives were "saved" by a diet or workout trend.

Fear of fat influences what we eat, drink, and wear.

Fear of fat determines how we spend our time and who we spend it with. People with more fat are less likely to be hired and promoted. They are discriminated against by doctors and insurance companies and harassed and bullied for most of their lives. The obesity "epidemic" didn't inform our fat-phobia— our fat-phobia created the obesity epidemic. The American Medical Association decided to name obesity as a disease against the advice of its own Council on Science and Public Health, which argued that obesity does not meet the medical criteria for a disease and that BMI, a ratio of height to weight, is overly simplistic and not a reliable indicator of a person's health.

Think about it — obesity has no symptoms and its effects on the body vary widely from person to person.

Our bodies need fat to survive. For naturally lean bodies, more fat could be harmful, whereas, for bodies that tend towards more fat storage, more fat is efficient and protective. The assumption that a thin body is automatically healthier than a fat body is completely unsupported by medical evidence. Health is holistic. It cannot be reduced to a number, statistic, or ratio, and yet, it has been utilized to shame and discriminate against fat people for decades.

The war on drugs was not started by drugs and, likewise, the war on fat was not started by fat.

American fat-phobia began with American slavery. When skin color alone became insufficient to maintain a racial hierarchy, new categories and characteristics were attached to whiteness and blackness. Black bodies were stereotyped and fetishized as lacking in self-control, particularly in relation to food and sex. Fatness, previously a symbol of wealth and prosperity, was newly branded as immoral and lazy. White women started dieting to maintain their outward "morality" and racial superiority. All of the stereotypes associated with fat people are rooted in anti-blackness. We cannot participate in fat-phobic dieting and so-called fat-blasting workouts without participating in a historical pathology of racism.

It was never about health and it still isn’t

We cannot claim to be socially aware when we continue to tell a massive portion of the population that they need to fundamentally alter their bodies to be welcome in our society. Using "fat" as an insult against ourselves or others is not just offensive, it's actually nonsensical. Until we accept and understand this as fact, our culture will remain a bigoted and discriminatory one.