When Indiana teen Ryan White contracted HIV through blood-based products used to treat his hemophilia, he never imagined that his life would give voice to thousands of people with HIV/AIDS who only wanted to be treated with respect and compassion.
White’s courageous struggle with the disease, and his battles to lead an everyday life, helped educate against AIDS-related discrimination around the world.
Now, it appears as if a new disease has replaced AIDS as the cultural whipping boy: Obesity.
A new study alleges that for many with HIV, but not full-blown AIDS, obesity has overtaken “wasting syndrome” (defined as the uncontrollable loss of more than 10 percent of body weight) as the top concern. This new research generalizes that nearly two-thirds of the HIV population may be overweight or obese, a statistic which researchers say mirrors that of the U.S. population.
The study attributes this rise to the emergence of powerful drugs that help keep the virus at bay. These drugs, researchers admit, also boost the body’s immune system, resulting in HIV patients living longer than their counterparts two decades ago.
But instead of equating obesity as perhaps an indicator of overall better health (like the fact that Americans are taller than past generations thanks to better nutrition), researchers write it off as a case of fat people overeating or eating poorly and/or not exercising. Which, while it may be true for some, certainly isn’t indicative of the population as a whole.
Before the obesity doomsayers break in with “Zomg, but obesity KILLS,” let’s put the actual results of this study into a much-needed perspective:
Patients gained an average of 13 pounds over a decade.
Yes, that’s right. 13 pounds. The equivalent of a two-month old baby. Am I the only one sitting back and questioning the great cause for alarm?
Let’s just conveniently forget that these patients have HIV – a disease that while now manageable, still doesn’t have a cure – and focus instead on obesity, despite volumes of evidence that show fat isn’t necessarily unhealthy. Because isn’t that so much more effective than concerning our talents and efforts on, oh, a CURE for HIV/AIDS?
Ryan White showed the world that HIV/AIDS isn’t something to be feared, that more than promiscuous gay men contracted the disease, and that it didn’t mean one had to live like it was a death sentence.
Here’s hoping the emerging fat acceptance movement can capture the same spirit of Ryan White in deference to fatness.