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Science Education? No, it’s time for fat education.

This “skepticism stuff” is largely about teaching people to think critically and intelligently, under the assumption that doing so will improve the length and quality of all of our lives. Skepticism is indeed a process, and why I think it’s great and essential for us to spread it far and wide, maybe we’re aiming too high. Providing competent medical care to children and shaping the mental workings of future generations are all well and good, but you’d really have to be an optimist to think we’re ready to begin at that level.

So let’s start a bit lower. Have you ever read the comments sections provided under news articles posted on websites for news agencies such as CNN and NBC? It’s definitely an experience. They’re often so bad, someone actually wrote a script that transforms particularly bad YouTube comments into Richard Feynmann quotes.

Some of my favorite bizarre things to read are posted by what I can only describe as “fat denialists”. That is, these people are suspicious of science’s “opinion” that being overweight is unhealthy. Realize I’m not saying that everyone has to be skinny to be beautiful, or that to be “hollywood skinny” is even genetically attainable for the hardest of dieters and exercises. I’m talking about people who view scientists professing the unhealthiness of high calorie and sedentary lifestyles as enemies of humanity.

There are two locations I’m drawing the following comments from, the first being an article about caskets made specifically for the overweight, the second being a promotional video for a new ABC Summer program titled “HUGE” (I’m not even making that up).

The mistrust is pretty rampant here:

I would tell people go with the weight that makes you feel good and not let these know-nothing-and-I-have-a-degree-to-prove-it doctors from telling you other wise…

It is SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT to love yourself for who you are on the INSIDE than who you are on the outside. I plan on being large for the rest of my life just to prove that to people.

There is nothing worng with being HUGE but there is something wrong about not loving yourself enough to take care of yourself

The assumption that average weight individuals must be unhappy, and that being large and “living life to the fullest” are equivalent statements are probably the worst pieces of rhetoric here. I don’t even need to link you to a bunch of journal articles to show you that being overweight is bad for you. In fact, along with smoking it’s the greatest cause of death in the United States. And all the top causes of death in the US share one characteristic: “preventable”.

These fat denialists are a growing community whose continued existence is being actively encouraged. I don’t see how we can promote more advanced forms of personal responsibility in light of the failures of such basic ones.

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4 Responses to “Science Education? No, it’s time for fat education.”

  • Erin McMichael:

    My opinion on this matter is that it seems as though some may mistake the attack on obesity = unhealthy as obesity = ugly. What is interesting to me is the second comment whose author stressed that “it is so much more important to love yourself for who you are on the inside than who you are on the outside.” Who was arguing against that notion?

    • Alex Swan:

      When I went to LAVC for undergrad stuff a few years back, I took a course (and for the life of me I can picture the classroom but I can’t name the course; it was probably a psych class or sociology or some sort of social science… anyway) and one day we had a discussion about obesity and evolution. There were a few large men in the class and one of them was extremely ludicrous in his outlook on life.

      Now, this was his argument: He suggested that being obese was evolutionarily sound and that in a couple of hundred years, the majority of the world would be what we now consider “obese” and this would be the next generation of evolution for humans. He claimed that since medicine is figuring out way to keep obese bodies alive for longer, that soon the body will understand what it needs to do next (a bit of Lamarckian genetics for those following along).

      At the heart of his argument, I believe, was the quest to show that “beauty” is modulating, and that obesity was the next step to what was “beautiful”. Not a bad attempt if extremely misguided.

      • Erin McMichael:

        My point exactly, Alex. Some attempt to argue for obesity correlating with beauty (which is positively does in certain cultures, as we know), but seem to get offended when science claims obesity to be dangerous. I wonder if it is some sort of denial defense mechanism to manipulate the argument into something more value-based and less evidence-based.

  • My fellow Brit Ricky Gervais makes a similar point, although he takes it much further for the sake of comedy, in his stand-up act on DVD. He commented that obesity was not a disease.