Despite Being Obese, My “Chances of Suffering from Obesity are Very Slim”

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

21-40% Obesity

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.

Mmkay.

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.

33 thoughts on “Despite Being Obese, My “Chances of Suffering from Obesity are Very Slim”

  1. I personally enjoyed the question about whether my body structure had changed…I had an image of morphing into another species altogether.

    I shared this with my co-worker, and she pointed out that the survey actually comes up with, in its effed up way, exactly what we are trying to point out. Here are two women considered obese in our society, and it has nothing to do with all of those factors they assume. Although, what is the purpose of that last question?

  2. I have a less than 50% chance of being “obese” in spite of also telling the quiz that I am actually right now “obese”. The whole thing reads like it was translated into English from another language. Or perhaps translated from English into language X and then translated back into English. I mean…

    “There is a chance that if you are overweight, you might be suffering from obesity.”

    Aside from suggesting a series of Foxworthian “You might be suffering from obesity” jokes, what on earth does this mean? There is a chance that if you’ve devised a poorly written and unscientific internet quiz, you might be a poor and unscientific writer of internet quizes.

  3. Aside from suggesting a series of Foxworthian “You might be suffering from obesity” jokes, what on earth does this mean?

    Ooh, I think that series of jokes might be a lovely companion piece to Fat Hate Bingo!

    And frankly, I don’t think this quiz means shit, for all the reasons you point out. I just thought it was one more perfect example of why we need to separate “fat” from “unhealthy lifestyle choices.”

  4. I, too, answered yes to all the “are you fat” questions and no to all the “do you have habits I associate with being fat” questions, and got a “very slim” (ha-HA!) chance of obesity.

    This reminds me of the note I got from my doctor after I had my blood sugar and cholesterol checked because of PCOS. She wasn’t the one who diagnosed me and in fact I’d only seen her once, but she knew at least some of my medical history. However, she never asked me about my habits, at all.

    My blood sugar and cholesterol were just a smidge above nromal, and my triglycerides were optimal — all very good for someone with PCOS. I have proportionally higher HDL than LDL — also good. My doctor includes with the test results a letter saying the following: “EXERCISE AND LOOSE WEIGHT AND AVOID FRIED FOODS ,EAT A LOT OF VEGETABLE”

    I changed doctors, needless to say, but I thought it was pretty hilarious… I never eat fried foods, which make me feel sick, and often I actually get the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables (how many people can say that?). But from my weight and my test results, all affected by a diagnosed syndrome that she was aware of, she decided that she knew my habits.

  5. I don’t mean to sound nativist or anything, but is English the first language of the people who wrote this? Or even the second? Or maybe they’re, like, 8 years old? A lot of it just…does…not…make…any…sense. “Do you out of breath when you do some extra work or walk or run faster?” Whaa?

    And like spinsterwitch, I have to guffaw madly at the “body structure” question. No, you tools, I have the same structure, like with lungs and a liver and stuff, there’s just more padding on my ass than there was when I was 20. Gaaaah.

    And yeah, the whole concept is completely silly. You’ve already told them you’re “obese,” but they tell you that because you Lead a Healthy Lifestyle (***ahemcoughcoughchokegag***) you have a “slim chance” (oh, my ribs) of Becoming Obese? You know, it might actually be interesting if they left out the BMI question, to see where one would score — a whole bunch of fat people getting “slim chance” scores, and a whole bunch of thin ones getting “fat chance” scores (so to speak) would do a pretty good job of exploding that memebottle. But boy, they have to be 50 kinds of gloryhallastoopid (thanks, George Clinton) to toss that in there and confuse their own issue!

  6. 0-20%

    However, it is important that you watch what you eat and keep an eye on your weight to avoid obesity and weight gain in future too.

    If you are concerned about your health, it is advised that you contact your healthcare provider or physician and discuss your possible risk for obesity.

    While I am thin, I’m smart enough to know that everything you said is valid, and this quiz is a fallacy.

  7. Great post.

    They should add a few questions to the “risk for obesity” section: Are you dieting now? Do you diet more than 50% of the time?

    Because as we all know, dieting makes people fatter than they already were. Not to mention leads to eating disorders.

    Ridiculous.

  8. Well, perhaps the key is that this is about whether you’ll *suffer* from obesity, not merely whether you’ll meet the current medical definition of obesity. Your doctor may call you “obese,” but it doesn’t seem to cause you to suffer much. So the quiz is correct.

  9. I probably don’t need to point this out, but given how poor the English is on the calculator site, I wouldn’t order any medications from their pharmacy. They claim to be attached to a Canadian pharmacy, but given the language level it’s more likely they’re just posing as a Canadian pharmacy and are really situated somewhere else.

  10. They claim to be attached to a Canadian pharmacy, but given the language level it’s more likely they’re just posing as a Canadian pharmacy and are really situated somewhere else.

    Or could be francophones or immigrants or just not so hot at the writing. When I tutored in the writing center at a pretty good college, the number of native English speaking students who could not write a proper sentence — or see what was wrong with the ones they did write — blew my mind.

    Regardless, I wouldn’t order anything from them, but that goes without saying.

  11. I took the test before I clicked on the rest of your blog entry and actually answered the same answers as you did, Kate, and got the same response.

    I find it ironic that the first two questions deal with a familial, ergo genetic, history of obesity. Yet in the results, it only states “You might be overweight or gaining weight due to overeating.”

    Perhaps they only asked about family history because most people continue in adulthood with the same eating habits they were taught as a child. Thus it all comes back to food – the old calories in, calories out fallacy. It’s apparent that they don’t feel a family history or genetics has any part of one’s weight and body shape.

  12. Yep, just as I thought. This is taken from their site:

    “How Can You Become Obese?

    Obesity is the result of eating too much of the wrong foods or eating well and not exercising enough. Eating too much and not exercising can have severe consequences. It can cause overweight or a severe condition known as obesity. It cannot be denied that exercise and a healthy diet go hand in hand.

    If you have a big appetite but do not exercise regularly, there is every chance that you would become obese.”

    While it “cannot be denied” that exercise and a healthy diet are necessary for good health, it’s not the only factors at play either.

  13. Wha – huh? This reminds me more of one of those “Which_____are you?” quizzes people always post results from on myspace than a ‘calculator’ of any kind of health. The title should probably be “Are you a stereotype of a fat person?” (I got out of the TV question on a technicality, since my excessive chip and cookie eating happens while reading).

    I got 51% chance of obesity in the results, and I weigh 260 lbs. Science! Thanks for the entertainment, Kate.

  14. Good grief. I remember, once upon a time, taking a quiz like this, and answering much as you did, and getting the same results. Then looking down at my then-250-lb. self and going, “WTF is wrong with you?!”

    The problem, as evidenced by that oh-so-scientific quiz, was somehow me. I was fooling myself into thinking I was eating better than I was, or into thinking I was getting more exercise than I was. Clearly I was delusional. Because what else explained why I could never drink soda, walk 2-5 miles 3-4 times a week, eat a healthy and varied diet low in fried foods and high in fruits and vegetables, and still wind up fat?

    So, y’know, kudos to you, Bad Internet Obesity Quiz, for making fat people feel worse about themselves than they usually do, and for piling “making us feel like we’re crazy” onto the rest of the pile of ways the world reminds us that we’re insufficient and unsatisfactory. Good job. Bravo. Assholes.

  15. There’s a very popular and flawed myth about the term “poor nutrition” and its relationship to poor health. The scientific research surrounding a “poor diet” isn’t due to people eating “bad” foods or eating too much (as the powers that be want us to fall for) — it is people not getting enough to eat; undernutrition. If anything, dieting is a health risk, not eating.

  16. I also told it I was obese, and got the following result:

    21 – 40% Obesity

    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.

    If you are concerned about your health, it is advised that you contact your healthcare provider or physician and discuss your possible risk for obesity.

    Makes you wonder if they should bring back the “vitally obese” vs “morbidly obese” distinction.

  17. why the fuck must we keep conflating “obesity” with “treating your body poorly”?

    Unfortunately there’s an easy and ugly answer to this: because then a person gets to look at people fatter than them and feel morally superior. If we had to actually know people’s habits before we could feel morally superior to them, it would be a lot more difficult to get that oh-so-satisfying feeling.

    (Not that I think eating fried foods in front of the TV is a morally reprehensible thing to do, anyway. But it’s so rare to encounter people who are openly cheating, stealing, and beating other people up right in front of you. So again you have the problem of where that wonderful self-righteous feeling is going to come from.)

  18. I don’t watch much TV or eat much fast food at all. But when I read shit like this, it makes me want to buy $10 worth of fries from McDonald’s and eat them all while watching a Simpsons marathon, just to piss off the nannystaters. Not that I could finish $10 worth of fries or even come close, but damn it, it’s not a moral issue if I can.

  19. This calculator is so fucked.

    I originally got the same response you did. Then I switched my answer about soda from “yes” to “no” because all I drink is diet (I’m drinking a Diet Coke right now! woooo!) and got… wait for it…

    0 – 20% – You are not at risk for obesity

    However, it is important that you watch what you eat and keep an eye on your weight to avoid obesity and weight gain in future too.

    If you are concerned about your health, it is advised that you contact your healthcare provider or physician and discuss your possible risk for obesity.

    I have a BMI of 35.7 and am considered obese, even possibly “morbidly obese.”

    [headdesk]

  20. I got the same results. That is the most overgeneralized BS I’ve seen, and just about as reliable as any quiz some tween created on Quizilla.

  21. Looks like we’re ALL at slim risk. So to speak. ;) W00t!!

    I put this survey in the same category as the one which rated my blog NC-17.

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  23. “It can cause overweight or a severe condition known as obesity.”

    When i took my first nutrition course and we got to the BMI section, it was actually amusing to see that 95% of the class was considered ‘obese’ by those standards. At first we were all appalled and a bit ashamed, but it very quickly became apparent what bullshit these charts are in addition to being ungrounded in reality and human physiology. It’s entertaining to learn that we all have a “SEVERE CONDITION”. Good god, it must be some divine miracle that my classmates and i are not all dead yet…. then again, it’s only 8:15 am…. (eye roll)

  24. Meowser, I know exactly how you feel. Whenever I hear somebody say: “Being unhealthy is not okay” in the context of fat, it makes me want to eat myself to a weight that’s unhealthy for my body just to spite them – if I want to be unhealthy that’s my business, not the business of some jackass from the internet who doesn’t even know me.

    And I took the quiz and answered mostly the same as Kate, except no to getting 30 minutes of excercise a day (I try, but it doesn’t happen every single day) and yes to getting out of breath, and I still got a slim chance of being obese. Because apparently the only way to become obese is to sit in front of the tv drinking soda and eating greasy food *eyeroll*

  25. Kirsten, things like that always make me think of this one scene in a Pippi Longstocking book that has stayed with me since childhood. Pippi sees a sign out in front of a store that says “Do you suffer from freckles?” She goes in, goes up to the counter and says “no.” Once the salesperson figures out what she’s talking about, she says “but you have the most freckles I’ve ever seen.” Pippi says “yeah, but I don’t SUFFER from them. I love them!”

    So yeah, I guess it makes sense to say that I have a very slim chance of suffering from obesity. I am obese according to the charts, but except on a rare crippled-by-the-patriarchy day, I don’t suffer from it at all.

  26. [i]Or could be francophones or immigrants or just not so hot at the writing. When I tutored in the writing center at a pretty good college, the number of native English speaking students who could not write a proper sentence — or see what was wrong with the ones they did write — blew my mind.[/i]

    True – but there is a big problem with bogus companies pretending to be Canadian pharmacies and providing the gullible with placebos, knock-off potentially poisonous pills, or ineffective real pills that are past their best-buy date.

    Also, sites by francophones usually offer a version of their website in French.

  27. Also, sites by francophones usually offer a version of their website in French.

    Heh. Good point.

    And I totally wasn’t saying you were wrong — in fact, I suspect you’re not — just that there are a whole lot of people who don’t speak English as a first language in Canada, and a whole lot of people who do but still don’t write it very well. Which was really just a tangent, not an argument against what you were saying.

  28. Okay, I’m a little late to the party, but just had to comment because the results made me laugh. “0 – 20% – You are not at risk for obesity.” Uh huh. I weigh 360 lbs. I think there’s a problem with the quiz (as everyone has already discussed). Still, made me laugh because it is so filled with falacies.

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