Obesity: Fact and Fiction

30th May 2007

Obesity: Fact and Fiction

BigFatBlog alerted me to a recent article by Courtney E. Martin. Martin, who just released her book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, takes on fat as Public Enemy #1, as fed by a multi-billion dollar a year “corrupt industry that keeps so many of us — women in particular — unsatisfied, obsessed and misinformed.”

In her article, Separating Fact from Fiction in the Age of Obesity, Martin writes that most diets simply don’t work because they can’t override the body’s innate “set point.” She explains:

“In our extreme makeover culture where women are led to believe they could look like Halle Berry if they just had enough will power or money, this is a powerful conclusion. Your body is genetically predisposed to exist in a certain range of weight. Your range might be higher than Paris Hilton’s, or your next door neighbor’s, or even your sister’s, for that matter, but it doesn’t mean anything about your character. In fact, you can diet with utmost determination and your body will continue to adjust your metabolism to fit its genetically determined size.”

Martin tackles the diet industry and the obsession and self-hatred it engenders within women with its deceptive messages:

“Commercials preach the gospel of thinness and equate it with success, happiness and love — the thin girl waltzes through a sunny day with a handsome man on her arm and stacks of her own money in the bank, all a not-so-subtle result of her recent weight loss. The chance to slim down becomes more than a dwindling number on the scale in the world of weight-loss marketing. It becomes an answer to all of life’s problems.”

Although happiness can never be found in the junior’s department, Martin find that “for all of our go-girling, expose-writing and finger-pointing, the diet industry marches on as lucrative and deadly as ever.”

Martin poses a provocative question: with its proven high failure rates – a 97 percent recidivism rate, according to Susie Orbach – and overall ineffectiveness (as well as the health risks yo-yo dieting poses), can the diet industry be prosecuted into warning labels and public education efforts the way the tobacco industry has been?

What are your thoughts?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2007 at 5:08 pm and is filed under Body Image, Health, Nutrition & Fitness, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 7 responses to “Obesity: Fact and Fiction”

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  1. 1 On May 30th, 2007, Elastic Waist said:

    They should carry warning labels! Brilliant idea. Every can of Slim-Fast will read “Dieting slows your metabolism, leads to misery, and contributes to dissatisfaction with ones life.”

  2. 2 On May 30th, 2007, PastaQueen said:

    I’m not convinced of the set point theory yet. I think more research needs to be done on it. I have been fat most of my life, hitting the 200s in high school and eventually topping out at 372 by the end of college. In the past two and a half years I’ve dropped back down to about 185. If I had a set point, why did it let me get so fat to begin with? Shouldn’t it have kicked into overdrive somewhere before 300? And if my set point *was* 372, how come I’m not constantly starving now? I eat when I’m hungry, exercise regularly, and I’m doing fine. For now, my own personal experiences make me skeptical of the set point theory. I do however believe that some people gain weight easier than others and thus are more predisposed to become fat. Some people are naturally thin or naturally fat, but I’m still not convinced that means they have a “set point.”

  3. 3 On May 30th, 2007, Jenny said:

    But why do other cultures/countries not have the rampant obseity that we have in the U.S. Is it nature or nuture? Those failure rates quoted are the same for any addiction; alcohol/cigarettes and drugs and makes me believe (as I always have.) that over eating is an addiction and maybe we’re predisposed to THAT.

  4. 4 On May 31st, 2007, Rachel said:

    I agree with you Jenny to a point – some fat people are fat because of an addiction to overeating. But, I don’t think this is true for all fat people. I think its around 40 percent genetics and 60 percent lifestyle.

    As for other countries… Sweden has very low rates of obesity, as do other Nordic countries. From reading Fast Food Nation, I discovered that Sweden banned advertising of unhealthy foods to children years ago. Corporations like McDonalds like to target young kids so that they develop a taste for their unhealthy food early in life. And as any overweight person who has successfully lost weight and kept it off can tell you, weight maintenance is a matter of permanently changing one’s eating habits.

    Elastic Waist: I like your thinking. In fact, it inspired me to do a little art project I will post later.

  5. 5 On May 31st, 2007, Jenny said:

    I’ll give you the 40/60 Rachel. I’ve also lost weight and kept it off for nearly four year – four years of constantly counseling myself, exercising daily and adding up what I eat. Go Sweden!

  6. 6 On May 31st, 2007, MM said:

    I do not disagree that our bodies want to be within a range of weight.
    However, how does that fit with the fact that over the last 50 years, the average weight of americans has gone up?

    The types of foods we eat on a daily basis (which were less available 50years ago) have an impact… no?

  7. 7 On June 2nd, 2007, Shoe said:

    Set-point theory isn’t a single weight. It’s generally accepted to be a range of anywhere from 10 – 30 pounds. So, even if the average weight of Americans has gone up in the last 50 years, it’s possible that they’ve just moved to a higher weight within that set-point range.

    As for Americans growing fatter, they have also become healthier and taller. Isn’t it possible that an increase in weight is a part of that and actually beneficial? Katherine Flegal’s study published in the JAMA in 2005 found that overweight people actually had a somewhat lower death rate than “normal” weight people. Perhaps there’s something a body is trying to achieve by keeping some extra fat on hand?

    Also, I kind of take issue with the idea of “rampant obesity” in the US. What’s rampant? And Americans are not the only people in the world becoming heavier on average. An ongoing study by Robert Fogel has indicated that a when populations grow healthier, they also grow fatter and taller. Maybe our bodies value function over form. Maybe fat isn’t actually an enemy.

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