May 2005

Shout it out! There’s nothing wrong with being fat

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

This just in! Exciting news from the diet-drug industry, news that will have fat people jumping up and down, shouting: “Yes! There's hope for me yet!” L-Marc Research is developing more medication for us all to buy, to “solve” the curse of obesity!

Of course, some of us fat folks are singing a different tune. It begins with a sigh, and ends with, “Here we go again.”

Yes, here we go again, this time with a New York Times piece, reprinted in the Denver Post. It’s the standard fare the public is fed about obesity these days, starting with the headline: “Obesitydrug researchers find ample volunteer pool.” Ample! Get it? Hysterical! The piece is obligatorily full (Haw! I kill me!) of charged words. “Epidemic” appears in the lead paragraph, lest anyone be confused about how “serious” obesity is, and L-Marc is at the “center” of it. Hurrah, L-Marc, our pharmaceutical knight in shining armor!

To remove any doubt about who the good guys are, we are next told the clinic, as a “leading recruitment center” is seeking guinea pigs — oops, volunteers — in “the drug industry’s multibillion- dollar war on fat.”

Many of the bobble-headed American public probably read those words without a second thought, just as they accept the unsubstantiated belief that obesity is killing us right and left. So entrenched is the belief that fat is an automatic death sentence, neither the journalist nor her editors seem to have questioned it. Here we go again.

The language is actually outrageous. The drug industry's war? Hah, bloody hah. The drug industry makes a tidy profit off of America’s desperation to lose weight, a desperation that itself is born of fear, a fear freely, happily and enthusiastically encouraged by marketing, the same marketing that swells the bottom line of (drum roll, please): the drug industry!

The article’s subhead actually says it: “Drugmakers are actively searching for a cure-all ‘magic pill’ as the next best-seller.” The next best-seller. Get that, too? The drug industry couldn’t give a damn about our health. After all, if we’re healthy, we’re not buying its products. Here we go again.

A few years ago, at least this illusory “war” on plentiful body tissue was confined to the U.S. government, from which we have long accepted meaningless initiatives and accompanying moronic slogans. Now, apparently, the war has hit the home front and obesity is Public Enemy No. 1. Faulty, biased research fans the fear, and with it, the insidious belief that there is something morally deficient about, people who are fat. Seems fat people are buying into it, too. According to the Times, L-Marc has to turn away dozens of drug-trial volunteers, and gets people “crying on the phone” because they’ve “tried everything” and a “magic pill” is the only option.

Stop right there. Why are these people unhappy, really? Is it because they have to buy bigger sizes in order to fit their clothes? Or is it because, in the name of fitting in, everyone from doctors to their mother is telling them they must subject themselves to prolonged states of semi-starvation?

Even though those states, also called “diets,” simply do not work. Even though diets cause binges. Even though people who diet and regain the weight — the vast majority — wind up worse off healthwise than they would have been had they just stayed fat.

Even though true health has more to do with physical fitness — which you can’t get from any pill, but which you can attain while being fat. Even though. . . oh, to hell with it. Here we go again!

Never think, though, that L-Marc’s decisions are based on crass commercialism, or that its actions have anything to do with exploiting prejudices that should’ve been put to bed by the time we hit kindergarten. “Many drugmakers are seeking that magic pill. . . the industry is spending billions of dollars on developing obesity drugs.”

Stop and think. If weight-loss can be boiled down to a pill or potion, those using it will likely have to use it for the rest of their lives. Thanks to the absurd fear of fat and to the equally ridiculous belief that “thin” automatically means “healthy,” people will be desperate.

They’re already desperate enough to be surgically mutilated; to willingly starve themselves, and, they're crying on the phone. Do you really think they wouldn’t be willing to pay mere money for the peace of mind they believe comes with being thin? L-Marc and other researchers know the answer. They’re already counting the profits. At least one doctor, perhaps speaking critically, said: “Everybody is just foaming at the mouth to make money.” Industry forecasters predict sales that would outstrip drugs such as the cholesterol medication Lipitor.

Too bad the reporter never asked whether all this research into treatment for the imaginary disease of obesity comes at the expense of research into real diseases — the very research drug companies use to justify the outrageous costs of prescription medications.

I should calm down — it’s all about my health and well-being. (Yeah. Sure.) The article includes the tired rhetoric about obesity’s link to heart disease and diabetes. Sure, there’s a link — a diet high in sugar will likely lead to both weight gain and diabetes, while a diet high in fats can lead to heart trouble. That’s a far cry from proving that diabetes or heart disease is caused by weight, but never mind. It’s easier to lay blame on something we find physically disgusting.

The article also raises the tired specter of the Body Mass Index, as if it’s rational to assume that millions of people can and should all weigh within 10 to 15 pounds of one another; as if the entire index weren’t a marketing invention by insurance companies back in the 1940s. As if BMI actually means something.

It does to marketing. Consider another statement: “Many drug industry analysts envision an even bigger market if such a drug also catches on among the more than 60 percent of adults who are statistically overweight — those with a body mass index of 25 or more.” (You know — like Brad Pitt!) There ya go — as if weight weren’t already an unhealthy obsession, let’s encourage it some more! After all, weight loss is a virtue; you can see that in the name of another weightloss drug undergoing trials: Acomplia . (Think “accomp lishment.” ) This wonder drug works by blocking some of the pleasure receptors in your brain — surely a small price to pay for the 16-pound weight loss volunteers experienced in a mere two-year period.

There is one salvo to common sense in the article, a single sentence adrift in a sea of printed lunacy: “Some experts caution that the complex variables of culture, environment, genetics and lifestyle that contribute to obesity may defy a mass-market solution.” Well, imagine that! Then, yell it a little louder, and while you’re at it, yell: “THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING FAT!”

Here we go again. If we can’t shame those obstinate fat people into losing weight — God forbid we should have to do anything so difficult as change our minds — we can medicate them into a socially acceptable size. And get them to pay for it.

Now, where do we go from here?

Katharhynn Heidelberg is a reporter in Montrose.