September 3, 2009

Early in August, the NY Times published an article about the Cleveland Clinic’s CEO’s comments about hiring (or more specifically, not hiring) obese people. They already don’t hire smokers. Given the current social stigma around cigarettes, this choice was welcomed with open arms. Obesity, on the other hand is a much more sensitive issue.

It’s also a bit trickier than smoking. First, second hand smoke can hurt others. Obesity doesn’t really affect much more than you – health-wise. Second, smoking’s bad for anyone, in just about any amount. Obesity-inducing food doesn’t. There are a lot of people who eat fast food and aren’t obese. Michael Phelps eats enough calories for at least 3 normal people. And finding time for exercise… some people (maybe single moms) just don’t have a lot of leisure time. Third, to really “cure” obesity, it really does seem that the government will have to step in and make some value judgments that really shouldn’t be theirs to make.

Personally, I am very weight conscious – which is really just a nice way of saying I’m very insecure weight-wise. Beyond the normal media influences, I’ve always lived around people who are either thin or weight conscious or both. So when I learn the average American woman is 5’4″ and 160 lbs (that’s a BMI of 27), it seems a little unbelievable. Keep in mind, I live in the Midwest, where the people are not small.

The point is that I am very aware of my weight – when I gain it, when I lose it, how I can lose it, etc – and I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m probably more biased against the obese than I am against the smokers (probably because I grew up around smokers). And I think I’m not alone. If I already have this mindset, what happens when obesity starts looking like a disease? When you pair an attack on obesity with less-than-ideal body image issues, is it possible to swing the problem in the other direction?



  1. I think the problem is that we put people who are obese in the same category as people who are not pretty. Yes, it’s a negative quality, but it’s something that we don’t hold against them because it’s part of who they are. We just accept the fact that someone might be obese.

    In reality though we should be putting it in the same category as anorexia, suicide and drug addiction. Which, unlike physical attractiveness, are things that can and should be fixed.

    There just isn’t the same level of stigma present for obesity as any other self-inflicted problems, and there really should be. I don’t think anyone out there would agree that being overweight is ever a good thing, but yet we are extremely cautious about expressing this fact. In fact, we are usually polite to a fault about not talking to the people around us regarding their weight problem.

    Simple comparison: If I think a friend of mine is considering suicide or is addicted to heroin, I would make it my business to make sure he/she gets whatever help is needed to get it fixed. But if that same person suddenly starts gained 150 pounds over the summer? I would be hesitant to even mention it, and I definitely wouldn’t actively seek to get help for the person.

    It won’t fix the issue out right, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction to actually treating obesity as a disease and as something that should be fixed, as oppose to something on par with a pimple.

    • Wow, I was going to comment something along these lines, but Min hit it right on the head. Great job!

  2. […] need a blog. « habit. blame. January 19, 2010 I think I’ve posted enough about obesity. But this post touched on a slightly different aspect – the culpability of the […]

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