Penn Jillette

I’ve liked Penn Jillette for a while. He expresses the libertarian viewpoint better than anyone else. (I’m not a libertarian as currently conceived, but have been seduced by its philosophy in the past.) He is also an atheist and a freethinker, and his and Teller’s former show, Bullshit, was excellent at debunking pseudoscience in its many forms. While that show is now over, he currently does a weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, which I listen to regularly and which covers some of the same topics (skepticism, atheism, and libertarianism).

A few years ago, Bullshit did a show on fatness (described here), saying that you could be fat and healthy, and showing Paul Campos and Glenn Gaesser promoting fat acceptance.

Unfortunately, I think, Penn has evolved on this issue. From last year to early this year, Penn lost a lot of weight. I can understand why: he was maxed out on his medication doses, and his doctor advised him that he wouldn’t need the meds if he lost weight. So he’s lost weight, and I understand that he’s off the meds. I’m not going to try to present his point of view; if you want that, look here. He has talked about this several times on Sunday School, but I skip over those parts because I don’t want to hear about anyone’s GODDAMN weight loss. Not just Penn’s, anyone’s.

I did just now look at the article linked in the last paragraph. Briefly, he’s on a diet, and diets don’t work over the long term (5 years and out) for the great majority of people. So he may learn something the hard way. Or not.

In any case, I’m glad he’s doing well, but disappointed to see him fall for a diet, especially given his skeptical background.

Behind the Curve

I’m calling this post “Behind the Curve” to acknowledge how late I am with this post. There have been a few things I’ve wanted to say, but I haven’t had the passion to drop everything and say them here.

There’s another reason for the title: I want to talk about the recently completed Season 1 of My Big Fat Fabulous Life, the reality TV show starring (and in this case, “starring” is accurate) Whitney Thore.

A bit over a year ago, Whitney Thore’s series of videos called A Fat Girl Dancing became a YouTube and Facebook sensation. I was skeptical at first because she came out of nowhere . . . actually, Greensboro, NC, but “nowhere” in that she wasn’t connected to any fat acceptance group. But I started following her on Facebook, and her posts were, and are, fat positive and inspiring with few exceptions. The one exception I can think of is that she has said she wanted to lose some weight to regain some mobility. I don’t have a problem with that statement in itself, although it could get problematic in the execution.

The TV show is a somewhat different animal. Whitney is the same person as on Facebook: fun loving, goofy, and fat positive. But the show gives a negative side not seen on Facebook. You can expect to see a long scene with Whitney crying in every episode. I do understand that the show has to provide drama and conflict, and I admit that there were scenes that I really liked, but overall this is not the show for me.

But please don’t interpret this as a criticism of Whitney herself. Whitney in the show is still someone to admire, but in the editing of the show, there’s more emphasis on stay-at-home millenial vs. parent, dating travails, flirting with The One Who Was Right In Front of You, visits to the doctor, harebrained schemes (I’m thinking of a trip to Kitty Hawk for a non-paying gig), and other stuff that I’m not interested in.

So hats off to Whitney, and good luck on her show (which is getting a Season 2).


Two researchers (R.E. Brown and J.L. Kuk) looked at the issue of weight and health and concluded that

Therefore, an emphasis on maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes a high level of physical activity and physical fitness may be a more appropriate recommendation for some obese populations than just focusing on the goal of weight loss alone.

Holy crap.

Yes Virginia, the scientists think that having a healthy lifestyle, including physical activity and fitness may be better for you than focusing on weight loss alone.

I know this isn’t perfect – they do say “just focusing on the goal of weight loss alone;” meaning weight loss should be one of the goals for some fatties, but this seems to me like a big step in the right direction.

Their conclusion also acknowledges that weight loss is not beneficial for some sub-groups of fatties, and in some cases can even be detrimental.

They acknowledge a low success rate for weight loss, and that yo-yo dieting can have negative effects!

As well, due to the low success rate for obese adults attempting weight loss, it is questionable whether the benefits of weight loss outweigh the potential negative effects of weight cycling.

If nothing else, keep the chart in the middle of the article because it gives you a list of some of the pros and cons of being fat for different groups.

I found my Google Scholar search on the two researchers interesting. I didn’t delve, but it seems to me that in their research on conditions that are often associated with being fat, they found some surprises, and this article is the result of some of those surprises they encountered.

Excuse me. I now have to go find my fat ass. It got blown away, you know.



A study from August 2013 was recently published in the Journal of Health Economics.


The study looked at the impact of “weight report cards” sent to parents in Mexico.

What they found was that the behavior of the fat children did not change and there was no reduction of BMI amongst the children.

In other words, the children were still accepted and loved by their parents and life went on.

Oh the horror!

The parents still accepted their children even after they were told their child was fat.

The audacity!

In fact, the parents of the fattest children were least likely to report their child as weighing too much relative to the least-fat children.

And why is this a bad thing, you might ask (or at least I’m asking)?


“As obesity rates increase, reference points for appropriate body weights may rise, making it more difficult to lower obesity rates.”

In other words, if larger body sizes become generally accepted they might not be able to scare, guilt, and shame people into trying to losing weight.

Can I have a big round of FUCK YOU, please?

The authors conclude to give up on the weight report cards . . . Nah, just kidding! They double down, saying that the report cards need to be combined with “a set of actions helpful for reducing obesity.” Here are my problems with that:

  1. Their example “suggested action”, portion control, hasn’t been shown to work over the long term.
  2. Fat does not necessarily equal unhealthy;
  3. Creating body shame can create health problems all by itself;
  4. There is no known way to achieve significant long term weight loss for most people (and by “most” – I mean 90%+, not 51% – okay?);
  5. Making healthy food choices and keeping active are good for everyone and the health benefits can usually be achieved without weight loss; AND
  6. The best mortality outcomes are for people who are currently in the “overweight” BMI range.

Since the best mortality outcomes are for “overweight” people, it seems logical that that range of body size should be within the “reference points for appropriate body weights”. In a perfect world, all body sizes would be “appropriate” or at very least, not anyone else’s fucking business.

It seems the parents in Mexico have it going on. They know their kids are fine as they are.

I know we have NAFTA (the free trade treaty) with Mexico, but let’s not export our own fucked up agenda to Mexican fat kids and their parents.

Blocked out seat on an airplane

Happy Thanksgiving! This isn’t a Thanksgiving post, but it might be useful if you’re traveling for the holidays, or any other time.

I recently flew an American Airlines 737, and paid a little extra to get a better seat. They have two levels of better seats, and I paid for the lesser of the two. Mostly I wanted an aisle seat, and one near the front so I could get out more quickly. And I figured I’d get a bit more legroom. I didn’t get any more legroom, but I got the other two things.

But here’s something else I got: the middle seat was blocked off. The airline left the seat in place, bolted the armrests down, and bolted a plastic tray between them. The plus was that I got both armests to myself, and didn’t have anyone else’s shoulders or feet bumping me. The minus was that I couldn’t raise my armrests to make more room. I fit in the seat OK, and it’s still a better seat than it would be with someone right at my elbow, but more room is always better.

Now the airline could have gotten more money by just selling the seat, rather than blocking it and getting a few more bucks (above the basic ticket price) from me and the window seat guy. So why do they do this? My understanding, from a half heard conversation a flight attendant had with someone behind me, is that they blocked it so that the plane would have only 150 seats and they therefore wouldn’t have to add another flight attendant to the flight. (A web search seems to confirm this hypothesis. Also, if you’re interested, the rows with blocked seats are rows 16 and 17 on Boeing 737s on American Airlines.)

But I still have to ask: why not just take out the seat? They could even leave the three seat frame, and just take off the middle cushions. Or, better yet, make the two remaining seats a bit wider. Providing more width (and not just more legroom or a better position in the plane) for a bit more money would help not just fat passengers, but would make everyone sitting in those seats happier. Hell, they could even make the upgrade fee half the cost of a seat so the change is revenue neutral. They’d sell every single one of those wider seats, thereby making back all the money they gave up by blocking the seat, and still saving on crew costs.

Why is it that American Airlines would rather the extra space go unused?


The media is all over a report by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) which claims being fat costs the world economy $2 trillion.


And if that isn’t bad enough, it is also one of those papers that predicts that in the near future fatties will be close to ruling the world. I wish. Okay, it just predicts that we will be close to overrunning the world, and implies, as a result, we will ruin the world for everybody else.

Oh, and “[m]uch of the global debate on this issue has become polarized and sometimes deeply antagonistic,” and this is “obstructing efforts to address rising rates of obesity.” So shame on the fat community and its supporters for even attempting to enter the discussion.

My objections to this current claim that fatties are expensive and high maintenance are:

First, I have a problem with any research that claims obesity is “preventable”. It may be preventable in some cases, but being fat is a really complex issue (which MGI admits) and the reason someone is fat varies – a lot. Despite admitting this is a complex issue with no single or simple solution, and they still claim “the problem – which is preventable – is rapidly getting worse.” Fuck you.

Second, two years ago the Canadian government published research that found that in overweight people, there is no significant increase in healthcare cost from not-fat people, and that the cost only becomes significant at the highest ranges of obesity. The paper also found that there is no direct relationship between BMI and mortality once age and gender are accounted for.

One of the primary arguments concerning the effect of fat folks on the economy is increased healthcare costs. However, in 2008 MGI produced a report on the Cost of US Healthcare that found:

Of the $2.1 trillion the United States spends on health care, nearly $650 billion is above expected, even when adjusting for the relative wealth of the US economy.

While many might argue that higher health care spending is a consequence of demand due to the fact that Americans are sicker than people in other OECD countries, MGI analysis suggests that Americans are collectively slightly healthier than the citizens of these peer countries.

Also you might want to check out my niece’s blog posts regarding fat people and healthcare costs, who does a great job in looking at whether fat people are driving up healthcare costs:

Third, as far as I can tell, nobody is talking about the one preventable fat-related-issue – the reduction (or dare I hope, elimination of) fat discrimination.  And of course, studies of fat-related healthcare costs usually don’t separate out the costs directly (and indirectly) attributable to ineffective (and sometimes dangerous) weight loss treatments.  Nor do they seem to take into account the mental and physical damage this discrimination can lead to.

Last but definitely not least, the MGI report is not peer reviewed. In fact, the research is paid for by its parent company, McKinsey & Company, a business management consulting giant.

Hmmmm, what could that mean?

It means that there is no way of knowing who actually funded the research and for what reason. We can’t know who paid McKinsey & Company to have the research done and the paper prepared. It creates the illusion that the MGI report is done with no conflicts of interest. Knowing who is behind a research paper can go a long way to assessing any bias the paper might reflect.

Just saying.