First, concerning studies in general, they are supposed to be science, and I think a part of good science is questioning.  No matter how carefully science is done, there are always more questions – either questions about the methods used or questions about the results and where they take us.

If a study is published in a peer reviewed journal, I assume there is a certain level of quality.  However, bogus studies have been known to slip through.  So no study is sacrosanct as far as I am concerned.

I am not a scientist.  I am not a medical professional.  I am a lay person with questions.  I am not qualified to render a professional opinion on studies.  Everyone, however, including yours truly, is qualified to ask questions and to suggest concerns regarding a study, its outcomes, the interpretation of the data made by the researchers, and how those interpretations will be used.

I am interested in two things – clarification and learning.

My focus, not surprisingly, is on studies about fat people.  That is my personal interest because I am a fat person and have spent most of my life as a fat person.

Fat people, in general, have heard over and over again all the things about being fat that “everybody knows” – i.e, fat is bad, fat is unhealthy, fat people are unlovable, fat people can’t/shouldn’t have babies, fat people are not as productive, being fat is a choice, etc.

For many years, fat people just accepted all those statements.  But now a growing number of fat people are calling bullshit; they are saying, “Prove it.”

There are many studies that show that healthcare professionals have a bias against fat people.  Also studies have shown how the diet industry lies to us.  Society, as a whole, does not accept fat people and provides the constant message that we are unworthy.  Even our government tells us that a goal of eliminating obesity (read – fat people) is worthwhile.  And there is so much money available for research that confirms that fat is bad, and even more money for anyone who assists the diet industry in promulgating the message that fat is so bad, that anything is justified if it means the slightest possibility of getting rid of fat.

And what is so frustrating is that so many of these studies recommend that fat people somehow become not fat.  Even though there is no known way for most fat people to achieve this in the long term.

Another reason I’m skeptical is because it seems lots of results either don’t match real life experience of fat people and/or doesn’t take into consideration the stresses (physical and mental) of being a fat person in a world that hates fat people.

Over and over again, fat people are told they will die young; and yet fat people persist in getting old.  We can’t help it when we die from some cause that a healthcare professional often puts as the cause of death or as a contributing cause of death “fat”.  It seems there is no point where a fat person can die of “natural causes” or “old age” – we die because we are fat, no matter how old we are or that we died from the same age-related causes that take down thin people.

Over and over again, we are told our fat is will cause or are causing diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and the only answer is to lose weight.  Not all fat people develop those conditions; and those conditions can be improved without weight loss.  Also, thin people have those conditions as well.

Over and over again, we are told that fat makes us unhealthy.  Yet, now that more and more studies are focusing on fat people (because that’s where the big bucks are), we are finding more and more protective qualities in being fat – and for once, the scientists are willing to admit that correlation does not equal causation.  Too bad they won’t apply that premise to the idea that being fat is a choice; an unhealthy choice.

I am skeptical because so many studies start with the “we all know” premise, such as “we all know the obesity epidemic is [fill in your doomsday prediction here]”.  That tells me that the researchers are starting from a biased-point of view.  They have an anti-fat agenda they are trying to prove.

I also have issues with conclusions that suggest the answer is (long term and significant) weight loss.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t report what your data shows; I’m saying that, since we DO NOT KNOW HOW TO ACHIEVE LONG-TERM, SIGNIFICANT WEIGHT LOSS, at this time, your conclusion is not very helpful because the media is going to report that science says we could solve all these problems if only fat people would stop being fat.  And here comes another load of fat bigotry.

It’s like the old cartoon with the scientist and chalk board – and in the middle of his equations he has written “and then a miracle happens”.

If your recommendation is long term, significant weight loss, sorry, but you can’t get there from here; and personally, I’m tired of people saying that we need to get “there” at all.

I am compelled to fear that science will be used to promote the power of dominant groups rather than to make men happy.  ~Bertrand Russell, Icarus, or the Future of Science, 1925



10 thoughts on “MY SKEPTICAL FAT ASS

  1. To this I can only respond in the following way: “fat is bad, fat people are unlovable, fat people can’t/shouldn’t have babies, fat people are not as productive, being fat is a choice, etc.” are qualitative statements and thus are not provable.

    As for this point: “I am skeptical because so many studies start with the “we all know” premise, such as “we all know the obesity epidemic is [fill in your doomsday prediction here]“. That tells me that the researchers are starting from a biased-point of view.” Academia is a cumulative effort. Current research is based on old research. If every older point of data suggests that being overweight is unhealthy, why not start on that foundation? What you’re describing isn’t really a bias, anymore so than saying that physicists are biased because their work essentially starts with, “We all know that gravity exists.”

    I do agree, though, that it’s useless to say “Just lose weight and keep it off,” without providing a solid plan to do so.

    • Academia may be a cumulative effort – but science marches on. Academia once believed the world was flat. The idea of fat equals unhealthy didn’t used to be accepted. To the contrary, fat meant you were healthy. Gravity has been proven. If you are going to study the effect of fat on humans, you need to know (a) the difference between causality and correlation; and (b) the human body is very complex and the functions, reactions and interactions in the body are not well understood. Therefore, starting with a biased viewpoint of “we all know” fat causes …. is not helpful. There may be a correlation of some sort, but that is not the same as causation.

      If you are interested, I would suggest taking a look at the article from kayewat.

      • As to the point that being far used to mean that you were healthy, I can only say that that was a societal value, not a scientific conclusion. Being fat in certain times meant you had access to food–not that you were healthy. As to the point of correlation versus causation…I feel this is a poorly misunderstood concept. It’s really a statistical axiom, not a scientific one. Like it or not, everything does have a cause. If we directly observe something under a microscope happening under a certain condition and only a certain condition, there’s no room for correlation. If I throw a ball, you’d say that ball is in the air because a threw it. It wouldn’t make sense to say that there’s a correlation between my arm and the ball, but that doesn’t mean my arm is responsible for its trajectory. It’s counterproductive and not very realistic to whip out the correlation argument.

      • Ryan – I refer you to the very well stated posting by closetpuritan.

        As for causation vs. correlation that only works when you are talking about something that is easily understood (like throwing the ball). Again, fat and health are not that easy to understand. In fact, there is current disagreement about fat / diabetes 2. It is (finally) being questioned whether being fat is the cause of the diabetes risk (as has been “known” for years) or if the fat is some kind of symptom of what is really causing the diabetes.

      • I don’t really know where you’re getting this idea that “fat and health aren’t easily understood.” If 1000 studies point one direct, but 3 point another, is that enough for you to question everything? I’ve never understood that point of that in science. If you’re going to use the correlation vs causation argument about everything, why even bother to do research? Using your logic, it’s impossible to every really know anything–which clearly isn’t the case practically speaking. Science is pointless if you’re going to shout “correlation!” every time you get a result, especially one you don’t care for personally.

        I guess I might ask you what the benefits of being fat are for your health. If it’s not unhealthy, then what advantages does it offer? What advantages does being 100 pounds overweight give your joints? What advantage does the effect of adipose tissue on insulin receptors give you?

    • If every older point of data suggests that being overweight is unhealthy, why not start on that foundation?

      IF there is actual research behind the “everyone knows”, sure. But unfortunately, stuff that “everyone knows” is often not seen as worth studying, or if it is studied, not all interpretations of the results are looked into because we “know” what explains the results. Often, researchers and doctors assume that these “everyone knows” facts have been studied even though they have not. See, for example, the NY Times article and NEJM article linked to by Ragen

      From the NY Times article:

      Dr. Allison [director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham] sought to establish what is known to be unequivocally true about obesity and weight loss.

      His first thought was that, of course, weighing oneself daily helped control weight. He checked for the conclusive studies he knew must exist. They did not.

      “My goodness, after 50-plus years of studying obesity in earnest and all the public wringing of hands, why don’t we know this answer?” Dr. Allison asked. “What’s striking is how easy it would be to check. Take a couple of thousand people and randomly assign them to weigh themselves every day or not.”

      Yet it has not been done.

      I’m not sure if the use of “overweight” specifically was just sloppy and used as a synonym for “fat”, but no, every point of data does NOT show that being overweight is unhealthy. Surely you heard some of the news stories about the latest meta-analysis confirming once again that overweight people (BMI 25 to <30) live longest?

  2. Pingback: 101: The difference between “everyone knows” and research | closetpuritan

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