4 Things We Learned About Fat This YearS

The year has been veritably glutted with stories about obesity, ranging all the way from crappy fat-shaming to reasonable health recommendations. Amid all this, have we learned anything at all?

This year saw Maura Kelly becoming the next MeMe Roth with her ridiculous post about "fatties" on TV, and Michelle Obama's mostly-smart "Let's Move" initiative. And this month, obesity coverage has kicked into high gear, with predictably mixed results. Here are a few lessons we've culled from all the bullshit.

Weight is about way more than calories.

You'd think this would be obvious, but plenty of people still yell "calories in, calories out" as though being thin was a simple proposition for everybody. But over and over, science is showing us that it's not. Recently, studies showed that "rogue" copies of certain genes can increase people's obesity risk up to 70%, and that obese people might actually have a keener sense of smell than thin folks. The psychology of eating is complex, too — recent research has found that repeatedly imagining yourself eating a certain food actually dulls your craving for it. The body and mind deal with food and weight in such complex ways that the popular claim that "most fat people are lazy and have no self-control" just doesn't hold water.

All kids need equal opportunities for exercise.

The emphasis on, well, moving has long been our favorite thing about Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative (which got a boost this week when the President signed a measure designed to improve school lunches). But improving the health of America's kids means extending exercise opportunities to all children. It means funding and supporting girls' sports, which research shows can help girls become not only healthier, but more successful in adulthood. It means making sports teams safe and accessible for transgender athletes. And it means providing options for kids who aren't being served by traditional gym classes and sports teams. USA Today recently cited the growing number of state that allow PE waivers for kids who do activities like marching band instead, or who need an exemption for health, disability, or religious reasons. But maybe kids wouldn't be so quick to decamp to the band room if gym didn't so frequently serve as a training ground for adolescent persecution. Whether because of disability issues or because competitive sports just aren't their thing, kids need some ways to get fit that go beyond flag football.

Fat is now a bipartisan issue. Sort of.

One of the most interesting developments in this year's obesity wars was the moment when Sarah Palin declared herself the enemy of the anti-junk-food forces. This was mostly a PR stunt, but did illustrate an area where (some) fat acceptance advocates on the left and (some) small-government types on the right come together: neither wants sweet treats banned from kids' lunchboxes. On the other side, some conservatives are putting their anti-nanny-state bona fides on the line to join forces with the obesity-crisis crowd. Cathy Young, for instance, criticizes the right-wing position "which regards healthy, low-calorie food as elitist and effete, and hot dogs, Big Macs, and sugar- and fat-laden desserts as the mark of real Americans." Her piece for RealClearPolitics is short on actual policy recommendations, but she makes one thing clear: the obesity wars are "a battle in which the political lines are not easily defined."

People are finally realizing that fat-shaming is not okay.

So, that Maura Kelly thing. What was surprising about it wasn't how awful Marie Claire blogger Kelly's opinions on "fatties" were — frankly, if you pay attention to this kind of thing, you've read worse. The surprising thing was that people noticed! And cared! And wrote about it in the mainstream media! Unfortunately this didn't mean all fat-shaming ground to a halt — far from it. But at least a few people who might not have considered it before got exposed to the idea that fat-phobia is really just bigotry. And that gives us some hope for the new year.

Real Evidence For Diets That Are Just Imaginary [NYT]
Obesity Thins Out Recruits [NY Post]
More States Let Students Opt Out Of P.E. Classes [USA Today]
The Obesity Battle [RealClearPolitics, via Newser]

Earlier: If You're Fat-Phobic, You're Also An Ignorant, Bigoted Idiot
What Was Marie Claire Thinking With This "Fatties" Piece?
Sarah Palin Defends Innocent Cookies From Alleged Liberal Onslaught
Obesity Linked To Sense Of Smell And Appetite Gene

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