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After the post on fatness and homophobia I decided to query the GSS on the extent to which people think that fatness has a strong biological element, similar to homosexuality. There’s a variable, GENENVO1. It asks:

Character, personality, and many types of behavior are influenced both by the genes people inherit from their parents and by what they learn and experience as they grow up. For each of the following descriptions, we would like you to indicate what percent of the person’s behavior you believe is influenced by the genes they inherit, and what percent is influenced by their learning and experience and other aspects of their environment. The boxes on handcard D1 are arranged so that the first box on the LEFT (which is numbered 1) represents 100% genetic influence (and 0% environment). The next box (numbered 2) represents 95% genes (and 5% environment), and so on. The RIGHTMOST box (numbered 21) represents 100% environmental influence (and no genetic influence). After each description, please type the number of the box that comes closest to your answer. Please use the numbered scale on handcard D1 to indicate, FOR EACH OF THE BEHAVIORS DESCRIBED, what percent of the person’s behavior you think is influenced by the genes they inherit, and what percent is influenced by their learning and experience. After each question, type the number of the box that comes closest to your answer. Remember, the higher the number, the more you think the behavior is influenced by learning and experience; the lower the number, the more you think it is influenced by genes. Carol is a substantially overweight White woman. She has lost weight in the past but always gains it back again.

Yes, the question itself is somewhat scientifically incoherent. Heritability doesn’t really work this way, but in the colloquial sense it is not an unreasonable question to ask, as it gauges real sentiment. Because the response are in five point increments, I combined the intervals 0 to 25% and 75 to 100%, and left the middle as a separate category. I crossed that with a host of demographics, and also re-ran the analysis for non-Hispanic whites only.

Before I report the results I’ll stipulate a few things (this might preempt me having to ban people who sincerely leave long, but unpleasant, comments). I accept that weight is substantially heritable, but I do not believe that the levels of obesity that we see in the United State are inevitable. But, I do also believe that there is a “moral panic” of sorts about obesity in the United States. Much of the attack on obesity which is grounded in real concerns about health also does rely upon the genuine loathing and disgust toward fat people which is widespread in American society. Additionally, there is a class dimension here, insofar as in the United States being grossly obese is more emblematic of the lower orders. All that being said, I think it is important to acknowledge that the vast majority of obese people would be happier, and live more fulfilled lives, if they weren’t obese. Though this doesn’t entail that I agree with criminalizing obesity, it does mean that I think that the “fat acceptance movement” is misguided. Rather than acceptance of fat, people need to be more generally civilized toward a level of inter-personal kindness which would diminish a whole host of cruelties. We don’t need to “liberate” fat people. We just need to “not be dicks.”


Being overweight is….
100 to 75% genes 70 to 30% genes 25 to 0% genes
Respondent’s weight
AVERAGE 18 48 34
18-25 20 48 32
26-40 19 45 35
41-65 17 46 37
66- 18 49 34
MALE 18 45 36
FEMALE 18 47 34
WHITE 16 48 36
BLACK 27 39 34
HISPANIC 26 40 34
Socioeconomic index
Bottom 1/3 25 41 34
Middle 1/3 17 47 36
Top 1/3 14 50 35
<HIGH SCHOOL 30 40 30
HIGH SCHOOL 20 43 37
BACHELOR 14 52 34
GRADUATE 8 57 35
Income indexed to 1986 dollars
<$20 23 44 33
$20-40 20 47 34
$40-60 10 49 41
$60-80 15 54 31
$120-140 15 46 39
Liberal 28 43 29
Moderate 17 52 30
Conservative 18 44 38
Non-Hispanic whites
Respondent’s weight
AVERAGE 15 50 35
18-25 16 55 28
26-40 15 48 37
41-65 15 48 37
66- 17 50 33
MALE 16 48 37
FEMALE 15 50 34
Socioeconomic index
Bottom 1/3 22 43 35
Middle 1/3 15 48 36
Top 1/3 13 53 35
<HIGH SCHOOL 28 44 29
HIGH SCHOOL 17 46 37
BACHELOR 11 53 36
GRADUATE 8 59 33
Income indexed to 1986 dollars
<$20 18 49 32
$20-40 17 48 35
$40-60 8 50 41
$60-80 16 55 29
$120-140 14 46 40
Liberal 22 46 32
Moderate 16 54 30
Conservative 15 46 39

Out of curiosity I ran a linear regression with the variable not recombined into three categories (so the full 1 to 21 range in outcomes). Basically the only major statistically significant predictors seem to be education and political ideology. The less educated and more liberal tend to think that an individual’s weight is more due to their genes than the more conservative and more educated.

Image credit: Wikipedia

(Republished from Discover/GNXP by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Science • Tags: Data Analysis, Obesity 
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  1. I prefer to mock obese people out of earshot so it becomes well known to others that I don’t approve. hopefully, this will catch on! i feel many are too passive/permissive towards “bigger” people and that’s my way of fighting back. (pretty mature, huh??) i do give those who are obese yet have a special something to offer society a free pass, though. Also, I like the “fat counseling” technique the Japanese have in dealing with the problem.
    This sends a strong social cue saying that’s it’s not acceptable yet doesn’t hammer them too hard or make it too personal and awkward.
    i’m not optimistic on this issue – i think people generally don’t care enough to lose weight or prevent weight gain in their kids and most couldn’t lose weight even if they tried. once that “set point” kicks in it’s pretty much over!
    is there any evidence for a “critical period of development” for your BMI? seems like there’s one for everything else. maybe once you feed your kids too much during a certain window in adolescence there’s no going back…

  2. also, interesting that liberals sway toward a biological explanation for the “bad stuff”? i thought they tended to blame the environment for most things but i guess when it’s convenient…
    having a lower IQ is society’s fault (because blaming genes for that would imply an inherent, insurmountable inferiority?) but being fat…is nature’s fault? hmm….just speaking out loud

  3. So what’s this? A witchhunt against fat people. Give them a park, sports facilities and ban hypercaloric food if you wish. Make public healthcare pay for liposuctions and other surgical treatments and you’ll see how fast weight goes down also among the poor.

    But what I see here is just reactionary arrogance against newly defined “untermenschen”: overweight and obese people.

    Darksaid for example acknowledges that “most couldn’t lose weight even if they tried” but then he/she admits he goes around insulting fat people just because. I was taught that making mockery of those disadvantaged was mean and I should feel embarrased about acting that way. And my mum was no “liberal” at all, more “Tea Party” like.

    Whether it is genetic or not, it is a medical problem, and you do not go around insulting people for being sick.

    I’m very angry: you allow fast food and car companies to sell cheap, to announce their hypercaloric and anti-sport products on TV and then… it’s all a matter of choice because the poor “choose” not to pay for a liposuction. C’mon!

    PS- IN CUBA THERE’S NO OBESITY and low overweight index. Why? Because their food is rationed.

    Incidentally that also helps Cubans to be one of the happiest, most healthy and long lived peoples on Earth.

    There you have your solution: ration food, force people to walk at least minimally. But not through individual persecution: make whole cities pedestrian or almost, make car usage difficult, make possible that you can live walking and that you do not need to own a car (or at least not so much).

    Remeber that mini-epic story of “Fat Man Walking” years ago? What did he say: walking was made almost illegal, suspicious to say the least. The roads are full of junk food outlets and no space for pedestrians…

    Some people deserve to get fat, specially those who hate and do not want to understand fat people and what is behind them, Karma says.

  4. But what I see here is just reactionary arrogance against newly defined “untermenschen”: overweight and obese people.

    chill out and calm down. and don’t use quotes unless people actually use the word. i’m not begging you to leave comments here.

  5. word of warning: if you leave a comment which would classify you as a mentally disabled participant in the paralympics, you might as well not hit submit. it won’t get through.

  6. I do think being fat is a choice. But mostly because I was 350 pounds, decided that was enough, and got down to 165. It was two years of hard work and a lifetime of maintenance, so I can see why people wouldn’t want to put in the effort.

    My hint – stopping your eating is much harder than starting to exercise. Once you start walking, cycling, whatever, even if it’s not much to start with, the rest follows.

  7. Razib

    Thoroughly agree with your plea for greater kindness towards the fat.

    But the many comments beneath the original Salon piece and your last piece make me realise that most people don’t appreciate the strength of the case made by Paul Campos and the fat acceptance movement, however wrong-headed their overall conclusions.

    Campos and the FAM are right to this extent: There’s no point in trying to persuade/harass/coerce the obese to be happier by not being obese, because in the words of fat acceptance activist Ragen Chastain: “We don’t know how to get it done”.

    The scientific data on this seem pretty unequivocal. Upwards of 95% of ALL dieters/exercisers show NO net weight loss in the longer term (say 5 years). While a mildly overweight person (BMI 25 or so) might plausibly “stop being fat” by bringing their weight back within a normal range for a while, very nearly all obese people (BMI 30+) are doomed to stay either obese or overweight for life.

    We’re all too easily gulled by the “success stories” of “biggest losers” on diet websites, TV, magazines etc. Study after study after study confirms that these are the rare exceptions, statistically speaking. I have not so far been able to find any convincing data on a large scale to the contrary. (If anyone knows of any, please do post it.) A 2007 review of diet studies concluded brutally:

    “It is clear that dieting does not lead to sustained weight loss in the majority of individuals, and additional studies of the effects of dieting on weight are not needed. A call for more rigorous diet studies seems unwarranted as it has been noted that among diet studies, “greater methodological rigor seems to be associated with poorer results”…We do not think further study of existing diets will lead to a different assessment, nor do we think a new diet formulation will appear that leads to more favorable outcomes.”

    If this is so, and I believe it is, the only way not to be fat (obese) is not to become fat in the first place. Whether and to what extent THAT is a choice is indeed a fascinating question, which I won’t comment on here.

    But Campos and the fat acceptance movement are wrong to suggest that, because weight loss almost never lasts, there are no health benefits to be conferred by TEMPORARY weight loss. A realistic target for most is 5-10% of bodyweight within 6 months. Even if this is regained over time, major health benefits, a better quality of life and longer life may follow.

    I apologise for again posting the link to my summary of the evidence again for anyone interested, but I think Campos is right to try and bring these stats to wider notice:

    How to Handle Fat People

    Lastly, I’m aware that BMI is a crude measure which doesn’t take account of body composition – a point that rightly irritates the fat acceptance movement because the unhealthy thin (“skinny fat”) think it lets them off the hook, though they’re running similar risks to the fat people they so often look down on.

    Wishing you lifelong health naturally


  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Fatness IS a choice. If you were told that if you ate a certain amount of food, you would burst into flames and die the most horrible horrible death, would YOU keep eating? Or would you acknowledge the fact that maybe you can’t eat that much and live.

    When I see a fat person at a fast food restaurant, and they have 2-3 burgers and a large fry, it’s their own damn fault they’re fat. Fat does NOT just magically appear people, sorry to burst your bubble.

  9. There is a confounding factor not represented here: Drug side effects. Pharmaceutical drug side effects, specifically.

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    It would be interesting to see an analysis of the data involving intersections of factors, if possible. For example, the views of White liberal males in the middle 1/3 of the socioeconomic index with at least some college vs the views of Black conservative females in the top 1/3 of the socioeconomic index with no more than high school education.

  11. A part of me thinks that Americans are fat because there is no reward for being thin. I used to weigh fifty pounds more. I still got asked out, just not as much. I did get asked out more being thin, but then you have to deal with, “Oh, you’ weigh over a 100 pounds, so you’re not thin enough”

    Or you’re told, “You’re not fit enough because you don’t look like you can squat 300 pounds or you can’t run a five minute mile.” (Gasp, I can only squat 280 and run a 7 minute mile.)

    I wish that Americans were more complimentary about being normal. People who have a BMI below 23, but above 18 don’t need to be told how they’re not perfect. But it feels like people are most interested in talking about how great they are or were than complimenting other people for being normal. Fat people like to talk about how beautiful they were in high school and how they looked like a celebrity with their curves. Thin people like to talk about how curvy and thin they are, “Men just love my butt.”

    Or ,”I can were a size 1 because my hips are so skinny.”

    No one celebrates being normal.

  12. Unless you want to argue it’s not your choice what food you put in your mouth (fair enough — let’s hear it), it’s a choice. Obesity is related to a number of normally varying personality/ behavioral/ metabolic traits of varying genetic and environmental origin and the unprecedented availability of cheap calories. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. It might seem unfair that these choices are harder for some than others, or that the effects of certain diets are different on different people. Even if eating the exact same thing as a non-obese person makes you obese, that does not mean you do not have dietary choices available that will address your obesity.

    The outcome of making choices that make (or keep) you fat — which are yours to make, no argument — is that you will get heart disease, liver disease, or diabetes, you will die younger, and you will be a burden on your family and the health care system. No one can legislate those consequences away nor should they, but to deny them is to lie to yourself.

    As someone whose BMI hovers around the high end of healthy and who has some bad dietary habits, I face these choices all the time with varying success. But the bottom line is most fat people eat unhealthy diets and don’t exercise. There is no obese person on this planet who cannot make themselves healthier by changing what they eat and how they behave. And again, yes, it is unfair that this is harder for some people than others. But on the scale of unfair medical conditions that can cut your life short, fat people should be ecstatic that they’ve got a condition they can do something about cheaply and effectively.

    “there is no reward for being thin”

    If health and longevity are not rewards, I don’t know what is.

  13. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I am VERY liberal and a life long fat-phobic (only about having it on my body). People should have the right to do anything to themselves that doesn’t harm others but in the real world ANY epidemic effects us all. Individual obese people are not the problem. The problem is that our healthcare system can’t support this new plague. More importantly how did this survey frame the question? Genetics to be overweight are in nearly all of us but not the “slow metabolism” cop out. The genetic issue is our nuerochemistey being deeply ingrained to reward us for eating foods that will store fat to get through famines. Evolution can also explain the quick adaptation of texting and almost all of todays maladies

  14. The most difficult thing for me about losing weight was conquering the fact that I was always hungry. I had to burn 700 calories a day on the exercise bike to make up for my appetite. I did ultimately lose 30lbs, though, which put me firmly in the “healthy weight” category. Then I got in a relationship and gained it all back.

    But now that relationship is over! After watching my eating habits and briefly dating someone who was gluten intolerant, I noticed that my hunger was directly linked to wheat consumption. I don’t know why this should be, but it is, at least with me. Low carb lifestyles don’t work for me. If I don’t get enough carbs I get terrible anxiety attacks. But I’ve cut all the wheat out of my diet and replaced it with corn-based foods (e.g. corn-based pasta) and I have to say, the constant hunger is gone and the weight has started coming off again (with the help of renewed exercise).

    I share this on the chance it might help someone who has the same reaction to wheat as I do.

  15. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Oldtaku, your experience mirrors mine but I don’t read it quite the same way. Being fat wasn’t a choice, it was the default.

    (Getting in shape was the choice, and needed work.)

    Social tweaking to change the default — for example from spectating to participating in sports, or urban design which makes everything walkable disatances — will change folks without them even realising it.

  16. We just need to “not be dicks.”

    Probably needs to be said, but just that it needs to be said suggests…

    Good luck with that.

  17. According to this I’m under weight,

    Is the obesity epidemic evolution in action? As people have increasing lifespans and the planet is increasingly incapable of supporting our huge population, is obesity a natural method of keeping people happy but knocking people off early as an attempt to maintain equilibrium?

    Eventually some people would evolve to be able to consume that much, or consume that much high fructose corn syrup, without health effects, but it will take a long time, and in the meantime may not the drag on the economy represented by obesity offset other perhaps more pollutive production?

  18. I wonder would it be more correct to characterize obesity as epigenetic rather than genetic. I’m reminded of studies on mice which turned on and off certain genes resulting in obese and skinny offspring.

    But I think it’s a combination of genetics, epigenetics and nurture all play a part. You can lose the weight and keep it off if you make a conscious effort on how you live.

    I can give my own little data point with obesity. Both my parents were never morbidly obese, however they were always on the overweight and according to the BMI probably in the class I obesity. I was always the fatter kid. My peak weight was ~210 lbs and my height is 5’8″. BMI=32.

    Then I finally moved out of my parents house for a new job and within a year lost 50 lbs, so now I’m in the normal weight category. (BMI=23.7!) It’s a little annoying since I had to buy new clothes. People ask me was I on a diet, exercise like crazy or was it hard? (Some even asked me if I was feeling OK, assuming the sudden weight loss was some disease) The truth is I wasn’t on a diet and losing the weight was frankly easy. When I lived with my parents I tried to lose weight but it’s hard when they fill up the plate and sometimes I could lose 5-10 lbs, but never keep it off. But here as I cook for myself, use a little less butter and oil, no soda, and don’t drive. I bike everywhere and when the weather is nice I do a 10 mile fun ride a few times a week.

    So here is my version of the “diet.” I think it’s much better than anything you could buy out there. First, cut our soda and drink water with your meals. Second, make your own food at home from scratch. None of those microwave or canned meals. It will save you money. On average I wind up spending $2-3 per person for dinner most of the time and it’s really good. Third, don’t try cutting out a food group, I have everything in moderation, though it does skew more vegetable based. Fourth add a big salad to your meal without the salad dressing. My dressing is red wine vinegar with a little blue cheese. Fills you up and you get fiber. Fifth, make exercise a part of your routine. I could never get motivated to go to a gym. Ditch the car and bike to where you need to go. Work, shopping, to the store Depending on where you live this might not be practical, but do something. Sixth, eat fruits and veggies for lunch but spread them out so you have one when you get hungry. I usually have a banana and whatever happens to be in season.

    You can still have sweets with this diet. The important point is only desserts which you make yourself, from scratch, no box mixes. If it took you a few hours to make a cake you are going to have smaller slices and appreciate it longer because you don’t want to have to do all that work again. So here you go, maybe I can help save a life!

  19. IvorGoodbody writes:

    Upwards of 95% of ALL dieters/exercisers show NO net weight loss in the longer term (say 5 years).

    What enables the exceptions? Do they differ somehow?

  20. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I was adopted as an infant, and have been told that my birth mother always had issues with being overweight. In fact, I have had my genome examined, and I have a gene that has been identified in some studies as linked with higher risk of obesity. My local gay community is less than charitable towards overweight men, so the documeted risks of obesity are just reinforcing my social group’s predisposition (sometimes an obsession) towards achieving a more athletic look. I fought my way down to 210 lbs, from 255 (I am 6 feet 1 inch tall).

    My birth brother (not gay, also adopted) was athletic enough to meet standards of military active duty for years until a service-related illness impaired his breathing and slowed him down. He is now close to 300 lbs, with diabetes and cholesterol issues. He is also the first to admit that the traditional US Southern cooking of his environment is not helping him reduce weight. He has wondered if he also has a genetic predisposition to being overweight. My answer to him is that genetics does not mean obesity is inevitable. However, I do recognize that eating is the one sensual pleasure he has left, given his other physical constraints.

    My point is, tackling obesity in the US is going to need approaches a lot more creative than the ones I have seen here in this comments section.

  21. @19

    Russell, you asked what creates the exceptions who succeed in long-term weight loss. Two answers occur to me, but I’m sorry neither will satisfy you.

    1. It may just be a “statistical artifact”. There may be no exceptions, statistically speaking, if you follow people long enough.

    Worryingly, the studies I know do seem to suggest the longer you follow people, the more weight they regain till they’re often heavier than they were to begin with. I can quote at least one study in which 99% of the subjects regained all weight lost.

    This may seem obvious to some. Don’t we all tend to gain weight over time? Well, yes and no. On average, populations in developed countries do tend to gain up to the age of 50-odd, then decline as muscle wasting, undernutrition and ill health take their toll. (You can get fatter but lighter, since muscle is about 16% denser than fat.)

    There’s patchier evidence that hunter-gatherer populations in their native state are much stabler in weight and almost never obese – one reason why there’s so much interest in ancestral lifestyles.

    2. If there are significant exceptions, and you could find out why, you’d be a billionaire or a Nobel prize winner.

    You can bet plenty of people are trying to find out.

    Wishing you lifelong health, naturally


  22. A common thread I am seeing in comments here, discussions elsewhere in the media, and conversation with my friends is that even when some acknowledge a biological component to obesity, the response to that is to say overweight folks should just do the extra work to outpace the genetic factors.

    This perspective makes several assumptions, but key among them is a quality of life assumption. I know that, for me personally, food is one of my passions in life. I am a biologist, but I am trained to cook and used to run a restaurant kitchen. I will short my car on gasoline this week because I want to go out for a nice dinner instead (and we have no shortage of places to get nice dinners in Boston!).

    For a while, I was doing all this while dual-majoring in grad school plus working full time and a part time job as a TA. My schedule was crazy and hectic and left me no time for the things I enjoy such as sports, hiking, etc. I still had to take time to eat every day (biological necessity and all), so I would make sure I could at least eat the foods I enjoyed.

    Needless to say, this resulted in some weight gain. Unhealthy? Yes. Did it help preserve my quality of life? Yes. I could have cut back my schedule to give me more time to exercise, but it was a personal values decision for my own sanity to make my chance to sit down and have a little peace with something I enjoy be my mealtime. Now that I am free from grad school (well, until I start a doctoral program next year), I can go back to doing the things I love such as biking, hiking, playing sports, etc. But, even that, I’m not doing them because I care about losing the weight, I’m doing it because I love those activities.

    How can you get people to enjoy an active lifestyle if the fat-fascists are telling people that the comforts in their life are bad, should be considered awful, they’re bad and lazy people, they should be shunned! And the only way to NOT be shunned is to do this list of activities whether you want to or not because we, as a society, say you must!

    Telling people, using emotional blackmail, they MUST do something or else is a good way to get them to resent the activity. I don’t know about you, but I tend not to do things I resent.

    In the end, it does boil down to Wheaton’s Law: “Don’t be a dick.” That also includes not assuming people have the same lifestyle values that you do; that is, of course, unless you want the next person coming along to smack the alcohol, cell phone, car, computer, non-organic food, too much water, sharp utensils, tv, etc. out of your hand because they have decided you are unacceptably unhealthy or at risk because of them.

  23. There is one thing about the porky plague I don’t understand: it’s incidence is highest in the south, where it’s hottest.

    I would think being overweight in the heat would be a lot more uncomfortable than being overweight in a place with winter –so, is it a side effect of air conditioning?

  24. How might it be possible to determine if the general public distinguishes between “genetic,” and “biological,” and “not a choice”?

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I find that a couple of your comments are a bit contradictory, Razib. In your blog you state, “I do also believe that there is a “moral panic” of sorts about obesity in the United States. Much of the attack on obesity which is grounded in real concerns about health also does rely upon the genuine loathing and disgust toward fat people which is widespread in American society.” Yet, you believe the size acceptance movement to be “misguided”.

    As you stated, much of the attack relies on genuine loathing and disgust toward fat people. Fat people see this every day in the media (multiple times a day), in personal encounters, in comments to blogs such as we see here. I agree that we need to be generally more civil to others. But we are not. If you were being told every single day, over and over again that you are unacceptable, that you are a blight on society, that you are the cause of everything that is going wrong in the world including global warming, would you not feel the oppression? Would you start believing the propaganda you’re hearing? Fat people are inundated with negative messages every single day. So, yes, we as fat people need liberation. We need to know that we are not wrong for being alive and living a happy and fulfilling life as we are without the need to change. We are entitled to the same rights and privileges that the Constitution gives each of us as citizens, including the pursuit of happiness.

    Fat people are discriminated against on a daily basis. We are denied jobs and promotions, or paid significantly less than others doing the same work. We are denied appropriate healthcare based on our body size. We are told every day that we are not good enough, that we need to change in order to be acceptable. Obviously, from your own findings, the majority has bought into this belief, this “moral panic” as you put it. The depth of the hostility and hatred shown toward fat people is the basis of the need for “acceptance” and “liberation” of body- and self-acceptance in order to fight this panic, this epidemic of hate.

    The world would be a much better place if we were just not “dicks” to others that are different than ourselves. However, we see that we are not or we would not need protections under the law. Size acceptance is about accepting ourselves and accepting each other, no matter what your size. Size acceptance is about accepting that we are all different and diverse individuals that are so much more than just their bodies. Which of my civil rights should be taken from me because I am fat? That is why we need size acceptance.

  26. I find that a couple of your comments are a bit contradictory, Razib. In your blog you state, “I do also believe that there is a “moral panic” of sorts about obesity in the United States. Much of the attack on obesity which is grounded in real concerns about health also does rely upon the genuine loathing and disgust toward fat people which is widespread in American society.” Yet, you believe the size acceptance movement to be “misguided”.

    nice to know you find it contradictory. who the fuck cares? just come out and state your position, and stop evaluating my own logic. the person expressing a position doesn’t usually find it contradictory. have you ever heard of the ‘golden mean.’? sometimes the correct position is between two extremes. more accurately, one can have one opinion on the motivation of people making an argument, and the validity of the argument. in law you can have ‘concurrent’ opinions. i’m sure you have to go around raising consciousness all the time about fat acceptance, why don’t you try and understand that other people might be a bit more subtle than you perceive them to be? my position is clear. we should aim as a culture to have a more normal somatotype, for reasons of health and self-respect. but, much of the invective against fact people is disingenuous, in that people espouse views (i.e., health) that are probably secondary to their proximate motivates (i.e., aesthetics).

    Which of my civil rights should be taken from me because I am fat?

    i don’t believe in ‘civil rights.’ this s really an argument on the cultural left in regards to the limits of legal protection for various forms of self-actualization and identity.

  27. While I don’t believe obesity is a conscious choice, what goes in your mouth and how you spend your time does. For instance, my family and I from the same gene pool have drastically different bodies. They are more sedentary, eat processed foods and engage in more than 2000 calories daily. Meanwhile I live in NYC, run twice a week, walk everywhere, workout in my 1000 sq foot apt 2-3times a week and make food at home not totaling more than 2000 calories daily in portion controlled balanced eating.

    Shows like the biggest loser are proof ppl can do it, they just need a will to get there. Not only is being obese unhealthy, it is an economic attack against ones self. Medical costs, limited clothing costs, additional costs of fuel and food costs. I do believe mass grocers are a problem that needs changes as apples in DC are 3times what they are in DC. As you get ino the middle of the country, farmers are more prevalent. Healthy eating should be a daily routine not a secondary option or a back thought.

  28. My personal experience suggests that for some (with certainty at least for one, me) at some very narrow band of body weight and caloric intake i.e. the effort to eat the “correct” amount goes to zero and hunger disappears. This suggests some sort of equilibrium explanation i.e. functioning metabolism. If this is true in some generality, then the genes vs. will is variable with degree of deviation from the equilibrium point. I have never been obese or even very overweight. The reason for experimentation was to control a microbial disease (periodontal) and I have succeeded to a surprising degree.

  29. Very good example from research published online today of why the fat acceptance movement get upset with constant attempts to get the obese to lose weight:

    “Fitness and Fatness: Not All Obese People Have The Same Prognosis”

    “[T]here appears to be a sub-set of obese people who seem to be protected from obesity-related metabolic complications,” said the first author of the study, Dr Francisco Ortega (PhD).

    “Dr Ortega and his colleagues found that 46% of the obese participants were metabolically healthy. After adjusting for several confounding factors, including fitness, the metabolically healthy but obese people had a 38% lower risk of death from any cause than their metabolically unhealthy obese peers, while no significant difference was seen between the metabolically healthy but obese and the metabolically healthy, normal weight participants. ”

    So it seems we even need to be careful deciding which half of the obese we’re going to “help” – if either.

    Wishing you lifelong health, naturally,


  30. I have simply accepted the fact that I will be running from a fat person for the rest of my life. It isn’t that hard for me to do aerobic exercize beyond the limit that kicks the body into a higher metabolism (40 minutes or more three times a week) and I find dieting to be an exercize in failure. This is simply my personal experience but from what I have read dieting has a 90% failure rate. As mentioned by an earlier comment it is a hell of a lot easier to add an hour of aerobic exercize than to live a life of 24-7 food discipline. All this is probably near obvious to Razib’s readers but apparently the real world out there needs to have this health information beaten into their heads. On a seperate but very related point I am dumbstruck everytime I see an obese person walking by me sipping out of a big gulp cup. Coke used to come in 7 ounce bottles, now you can supersize it up to a 48 ounce serving. No wonder the average american consumes 800 more calories a day than they did in 1960. We need public service messages that start with that horrible bleeping that warns of a real emergency. Warning… you need to put an exercize bike directly in front of your TV and you need to stop eating garbage. Warning…. if you don’t you’ll be unloved, unhappy, unhealthy and drop dead at an early age. Paid for by people smarter than you which isn’t saying much.

  31. there are two main issues with the moral panic about obesity:
    1. We dont really know what works for weight loss. Someone asked “what sets the exceptions apart”? short answer: we dont know.
    2. The effort may not be worth it. Many people who dont want to be dickish to fat people DO believe that being fat is almost a death sentence and carries horrible near-certain health risks, to avoid which it is worth the effort to completely change your life and to become even horrifyingly miserable for several years.
    That evidence is just not there.
    The HEALTHIEST BMI in terms of life expectancy is probably around 27 (which would mean “overweight” by current criteria). e.g. see and
    Granted that a BMI of 27 is not what people think of when they think “Fat slob”, the fact remains that many doctors start panicking at that level and NOT because they think it will prevent FURTHER weight gain but because they have been taught that the White person with BMI 27 in their office is at increased risk for dying.
    As you go above 27, morbidity and mortality slowly creep up, but SLOWLY is the operative word. And if you happen to be pear shaped you can go much higher without major change in mortality risk.
    There IS an esthetic element to the fat-phobia we see around us. And its not based on mortality and morbidity statistics.

  32. I consider fatness to largely be a choice, roughly 80% choice — Though in some circumstances it might be a result of factors (e.g. medication that causes weight gain). The problem is that most people view weight gain and loss purely as a measure of how much they are eating, rather than what they are eating.

    I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life, but even when I counted calories I would just have incredible hunger, even when I’d eaten large meals. It wasn’t until I learned why that hunger was happening (insulin spike) that I realized my hunger was being caused more by what I ate than how much. Cutting out extraneous sugars and breads in my diet has done wonders, and now I eat as much as I want with no problem. Since I’ve changed my diet to primarily unprocessed foods (meat I cook myself, steamed veggies, raw nuts and fruits) I’ve experienced dramatic success with weight loss and I have no trouble with hunger because I eat until I’m full (and remain full for hours). Overall my caloric intake has probably dropped considerably but I don’t even bother tracking it.

    The choice that obese people make about diet are really about continuing to eat a modern processed food diet or not. Unfortunately this isn’t on the thought process radar of most overweight people because they don’t want to cook and don’t want to commit to a dietary change that would be ‘different’ from what they’re used to.

  33. @12 – “the bottom line is most fat people eat unhealthy diets and don’t exercise” – Exactly.

    @30 – “I will be running from a fat person for the rest of my life” – Most people are, including me. “Coke used to come in 7 ounce bottles, now you can supersize it up to a 48 ounce serving” – Exactly. “you need to put an exercize bike directly in front of your TV and you need to stop eating garbage” – Exactly.

    @31 – “We dont really know what works for weight loss” – Yes, we do. “The effort may not be worth it” – It is if you believe that quality of life is at least as important as quantity of life.

    @36 – You have discovered the golden secret. As long as I exercise every day, control the quality of what I eat, and focus on ‘fitness’, I can eat as much as I want, the fatness takes care of itself and I feel satisfied instead of perpetually hungry. “Cutting out extraneous sugars and breads in my diet has done wonders” Yes, it does. Sugars cause cycling of blood sugar up and down, a pattern which looks very much like an addiction, and which leads to insulin resistance and ultimately to diabetes.

    I will leave it to Mr Goodbody to quote endless ‘studies’ which demonstrate that it is all hopeless and that we should all give up. I know a lot of people who have taken personal control of their own condition, succeeded in turning themselves around, and who have maintained it for upwards of 15-20 years or more and counting – if that’s not permanent, what is? For the people I know who have succeeded in permanently reshaping and reinventing themselves, exercise is a major component in 100% of cases, as is cutting out what could be referred to generically as “junk”. You know what junk is – it’s not rocket science. Does it contain added sugar and fat? It’s junk.

    Is it so hard to realise that effectively for all people, daily exercise is a necessity like cleaning your teeth and washing yourself? And that avoiding swallowing a load of junk is also necessary?

    “Oh, I don’t know why I can’t lose weight, I eat hardly anything.” Bullshit. That also means you never exercise, when it should be a daily activity.

    @6 – oldtaku, I take my hat off to you. Well done.

  34. I do wonder if the evils of bread come from the high fructose corn syrup that gets put in it, rather than the wheat itself. Europeans have been eating bread for a while. Any ethnic correlations people notice? If you tell me that, for example, Chinese people can eat lots of rice without getting fat but Europeans can’t, that sounds credible…

  35. Bread has both sugar (sucrose, fructose, whatever) and fat in it. Plain steamed rice has neither, it is pure complex carbs.

    The combination of sugars and fats together is particularly fattening – think french fries, icecream, chocolate…this is obvious, right? Everyone knows this – they just keep hoping irrationally that science will prove chocolate is a health food; and sure enough, before Easter every year, some research paper comes out which obliges them. Have you ever had an unsweetened chocolate Easter egg? No, me neither.

    Anyone want to shoot for icecream and french fries being non-fattening health foods?

    You think plain steamed rice will make Europids fat? Not if they exercise. That’s why a lot of hard core body builders use it – for energy, and to enable them to metabolise the proteins, without increasing body fat %. Same with pasta – that’s why tennis players and long distance runners use it – sustained energy without making them fat. It’s not the pasta that makes you fat, it’s the sauce.

    How many Europeans do you know who will eat one or two bowls of plain steamed rice with a meal of stir-fried vegetables and a bit of steamed fish or lean meat, the way that south-eastern Chinese do? Not too many – I think most Euros prefer it as fried rice, or (abomination) sweetened as a dessert.

  36. Sorry, I should probably have noted (which is maybe what you were thinking of) that rice has the highest calorific value of any grain – but that is not going to be a big factor compared to the fact that people are putting a load of fat and sugar into bread.

    Plus correct the blooper while I’m at it – French fries are obviously a combination of high carbs and high fats, not sugars and fats.

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