So I just ran across this “Obesity Risk Calculator,” which oh-so-scientifically warns that obesity can be “really dangerous.”
The good news is, it thinks I have very little risk of becoming obese. The bad news (by their standards) is, I already I am — and I told the calculator that. So let’s take a closer look at how this thing works.
Here’s the list of questions it asks, and my answers.
- Did any one of your parents suffer from obesity?
The English major in me wonders just how many biological parents the writers believe the average person has, but we’ll set that aside. Yes.
- Does obesity occur in your family, with most of the people being overweight and obese?
Yes. If there were a “HELL yes” button, I would have clicked that.
- Do you eat too much fried and greasy food?
How much is too much? I eat fried and greasy food, but I also eat non-fried, non-greasy food, and everything in between. Where am I supposed to draw the line? About 95% of the women I’ve ever met believe that eating two french fries in a week = “too much fried and greasy food.” Which means, I imagine, this one gets a lot of “yes” answers — and as we shall see, I suspect that skews the results significantly. In any case, I answered this one No.
- Do you eat high-fat meals, such as French fries, hamburgers and ice cream, five or more times per week?
No. And 5 times a week sounds absurdly high to me, even as a devoted connoisseur of all of the above. If it were 3 times a week, then some weeks, I’d have to say yes. But 5 times a week? When I’m not on a road trip? No.
- Do you eat more than one candy or chocolate per day?
Here’s another one that’s woefully ill-defined. Are we talking about one M&M or one king-sized candy bar? Either way, the answer is no, on average, though if I’m eating chocolates in the first place, it’s usually not just one.
- Do you drink more than 200ml of soda or coke in one day?
No. I do drink more than 200ml of diet soda a day — I never grew back my taste for sugared pop after the dieting years — and that’s not so good for me, either. But since they’re obviously asking about sugar intake here, no.
- Do you get daily exercise of 30 minutes or more?
Yes. I walk at least that much just about every day and do 90 minutes of yoga 3-5 times a week.
- Do you frequently sit in front of TV and eat foods like cookies and chips?
No. I occasionally sit in front of the computer and eat those things, but I rarely sit in front of the TV at all.
- Do you feel that you are overweight or fatter than your peers?
Here’s another question that’s just guaranteed to get scientifically valid results, I’m sure. All those women who think 2 french fries = too much? They also think they’re fat. And this question depends entirely on which peers you’re talking about. My high school posse? I’m the fattest. Fellow fat bloggers? I’m among the thinnest, as far as I know. People I’ve encountered in work or school environments? I’m somewhere in the middle, more to the side of fat. To be safe, I answered this one Yes.
- Do you out of breath [sic] when you do some extra work or walk or run faster?
Do I need to point out one more time that the obvious response here is “extra compared to what?” and “faster than what?” Or that if I get out of breath, it’s probably because I smoke? Nevertheless, I said No to this one, ’cause I don’t get out of breath very often, period.
- Do you feel that your body structure has changed making you look more fat or plump?
Since when? Since I was 7? Yes. In the last couple of years? Well, yes to that, too, right now (though not if I’d taken this survey at many points in the past) — I’ve gained a bit over the last year. (Here’s the short list of possible reasons: I went on Lexapro; I went back on the pill after a hiatus; I started eating out more [though not necessarily eating more] and drinking more after Al moved in; I started doing yoga regularly and beefed up all my muscles; I settled into my thirties; and I am still less than 5 years out from my last diet, and about 5 lbs. away from officially having gained it all back. You want to look at that list and tell me you know exactly why I’ve gained weight, go nuts. And then bite me.) So I think this question is pretty much bullshit on a lot of levels — you’ll also note that it’s once again asking how I feel, not whether I actually have gained weight, even though that’s objectively measurable — but regardless, I said Yes.
- Is your Body Mass Index BMI 30 or more than 30?
Yes. And since they obviously think BMI is a credible standard, and this fact makes me clinically obese, you’d think that would pretty much clinch my results on an “Are you at risk of developing obesity?” quiz, would you not?
Here are my results:
Your chances of suffering from obesity are very slim. You might be overweight or gaining weight due to overeating. You should watch your weight and keep an eye on what you are eating to eliminate any chance of obesity.
Given that I answered yes to every single question that didn’t have to do with food or exercise — including the one that asked if I’m clinically obese right now — how the fuck do I have a “very slim” chance of suffering from obesity again? Fat parents, fat grandparents, fat siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins — check. Fatter than my peers — check. Fatter than I was last year — check. Already in the “obese” BMI category — check. Yet somehow unlikely to become obese. Oh, and watching my weight and keeping an eye on what I eat will “eliminate any chance of obesity,” regardless of risk factors such as a ridiculously strong family history of obesity and ALREADY BEING OBESE.
My results make it abundantly clear that this survey equates “being likely to suffer from obesity” with “eating junk food and living a sedentary lifestyle.” And, you know, backhanded kudos to them for that, even, because to an extent, that’s the goddamned truth: “obesity-related” illnesses usually are related to those things, not to the fat itself. But, since not having those risk factors makes me unlikely to “suffer from” obesity (literally speaking, that’s true), and there are plenty of thin people who do have those risk factors, why the fuck must we keep conflating “obesity” with “treating your body poorly”? If we’re defining “obesity” strictly as a medical condition caused by poor nutrition and lack of exercise — and affecting people of every weight — swell. But that’s not how laypeople define it; it’s not how the media defines it; and most disturbingly, it’s not how doctors define it. When we say “obesity,” we mean “fat.” Period. We confuse one possible symptom of a problematic condition with the condition itself. (You might remember this particular rant from such blog posts as “Fat People Aren’t Lazy Gluttons, They’re Just Nuts.“)
Thus, fatphobic fuckwits (say that five times fast) feel perfectly justified in lecturing me on my “health” — as if they’d give a rat’s ass if I were hit by a bus this afternoon — and doctors keep pushing weight loss, which is both potentially dangerous and usually counterproductive, instead of Health at Every Size, which actually improves people’s health.
I don’t know how many more times I can say all this before my brain fucking breaks.
Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle are not the only cause of fat, and they damage thin people’s health just as much as fat people’s. Regular exercise and a balanced diet have health benefits for everyone, but they will not make everyone thin. Fat is sometimes a symptom of poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle; other times it’s completely unrelated. Diets don’t work. Weight cycling is dangerous and almost inevitable when a naturally fat person diets. PEOPLE CAN SUBSTANTIALLY IMPROVE THEIR HEALTH WHILE REMAINING FAT.
How fucking complicated is this concept? The reasons why people become fat? Those are complicated. The relationship between fat and insulin resistance? That’s complicated. The thinking of someone with an eating disorder? Complicated. Long-term success at lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, increasing regular physical activity, varying one’s eating habits, lessening depression, and even overcoming bulimia — without losing weight? Not fucking complicated.
We already know what works to improve fat people’s physical and mental health in myriad ways, by a large margin, and over the long-term (relative to dieting, anyway). But it doesn’t make them thin.
So if you think for one minute that “concerns about health” are a valid reason for more judging and shaming of people for being fat — or that people who express such concerns are even tangentially concerned about fatties’ health in the first place — you’re wrong. You’re just wrong. We know how to address fat people’s health and help them make significant improvements; we just don’t know how to turn fat people into thin people. And when it comes to fat people, that’s the only goal this culture will fully get behind.