The Fat Question

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Have you been listening to the American CDC or the Danish Sundhedsstyrelsen? Do you trust them? Do you consider them credible?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but here’s something the American CDC is saying:

Obesity is a common, serious, and costly chronic disease. Having obesity puts people at risk for many other serious chronic diseases and increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Everyone has a role to play in turning the tide against obesity and its disproportionate impact on racial and ethnic minority groups.

The first two sentences are sober and sensible; the third goes right off the rails. The CDC is saying that everyone has a role to play in turning the tide against obesity: it’s not an individual thing, it’s a collective thing, and we all need to get involved. Not only that, but obesity—like everything else—is racist: it’s actually having a “disproportionate impact” on minorities, so everyone also has to do their part to turn the tide against that, as well.

Denmark’s Health Ministry (Sundhedsstyrelsen) is a little more to the point: “People with severe obesity are at increased risk of serious illness from infection with COVID-19.”

How specifically does obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19? According to the CDC:

  • Having obesity increases the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. People who are overweight may also be at increased risk.
  • Having obesity may triple the risk of hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection.
  • Obesity is linked to impaired immune function.
  • Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult.
  • A study of COVID-19 cases suggests that risks of hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, and death are higher with increasing BMI.
  • The increased risk for hospitalization or death was particularly pronounced in those under age 65.
  • More than 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020. Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2%) of these hospitalizations were attributed to obesity.

We don’t have to go any further down this particular rabbit hole: I just wanted to establish that health authorities in both the United States and Denmark seem to consider obesity unhealthy on its own and a serious force multiplier with respect to the Wuhan virus.

Everyone still with me?

Because in spite of all that, there’s an increasingly strident effort to normalize and even celebrate obesity, as we can see in this article from TV2:

When she danced as a kid, they laughed at her – now she wants prejudice against fat to die, Freja Sofie Madsen, TV2 News, April 27

The subject of the headline is 33-year-old Regina Fjendbo, whom the article describes as a “fat activist and so-called body-loving mentor.” She is also severely obese. (The article doesn’t state her weight, but it includes several photographs, including an unfiltered version of the featured image for this post.)

I’m sure Regina Fjendbo is a lovely person, doing her best to make her way on this bitch of a world just like the rest of us. She was obese as a child and took a lot of teasing for it, and a lot of bullying, and that’s sad. She also went through a fitness period where she lost a lot of weight, but says “I lost 40 kilos (88 pounds) and I can’t remember five months of my life.” She felt that her fitness lifestyle was itself unhealthy, so she went back to obesity.

There’s an interesting exchange toward the end of the article:

Statistically there’s a greater risk that you’ll develop a whole set of illnesses. Isn’t that something that you need to take seriously?

“I’m not praising an ideal, I’m trying to break them down and teach others that body ideals don’t determine what’s sexy. Fat people don’t owe it to anyone to be healthy. Regardless of whether or not you’re healthy, you’re allowed to be sexy and be able to like yourself,” she says.

I understand a lot of what she’s saying. We’re the only ones that have to live in our own bodies, and our sexuality is our own. It’s never healthy to let your view of yourself be determined by others.

But the question was: shouldn’t you take the health risks seriously?

And the answer was: fat people can be sexy and like themselves.

Interesting.

The article cites a recent Novo Nordisk study carried out by YouGov that estimated 800,000 Danes are severely obese, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index of at least 35%. That’s 14% of the population. Another such study (the article doesn’t indicate whether it was the same one) found that 67% of Danes agreed that “In Denmark we look down on fat people.” Only 8% disagreed with that statement. Another 22% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 4% said they didn’t know.

“Looking down on people” is a hell of a thing for a Dane to admit to: it goes directly against the grain of our whole Janteloven-saturated culture. But respondents weren’t being asked whether they looked down on fat people: they were being asked whether “we” in Denmark do. I suspect (but obviously cannot prove) that a pretty big chunk of that 67% were thinking, “I myself don’t look down on other people, of course, because who am I to judge?, but other Danes… well!”

I don’t think we should “look down on fat people.” I don’t think anyone should feel badly about themselves because of their weight. We all struggle with our bodies. We’re thinking machines made of meat, and that’s not an easy thing to be.

But it’s a hell of a mixed message to acknowledge the serious health risks associated with obesity, in the midst of a pandemic that’s especially hard on it, and then run articles that, while not necessarily glamorizing it, certainly aren’t doing anything to “turn the tide against it.”

And that’s racist.

She only had one alternative, and it had limited appeal
A chill has gone through Hollywood: Once upon a time, this actress was young and beautiful. Now she has allowed herself to grow older
DR.dk, April 27

What could go wrong?
Experts have mixed monkey and human for the first time: “The vision is an organ farm of living animals.”
DR.dk, April 27

But their friends will do it for pizza and beer
It will cost 5 million to move the great newts from Lærkesletten
Jyllands-Posten.dk, April 27

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