Joe Rogers: The fat dilemma

Published 8:59 am Monday, August 28, 2017

A friend recently reported that he’d slimmed down from his high water mark of 276 pounds to 212. I felt inclined to congratulate him, but thought twice.

The topic of weight, like so many others these days, is a minefield.

On the one hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that obesity is “common, serious and costly,” the condition being defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher.

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For a man my height, 5-foot-9, that’s a little over 200 pounds. For a woman 5-foot-3, about 170.

“More than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity,” the centers report. (I find “have obesity,” rather than “are obese,” an absurd phrasing.)

And, “the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.”

That’s sometimes called “the fat tax.”

Clearly, the official government health position is that it’s bad to be heavy. TV programs like “The Biggest Loser” make commercial hay out of the American obsession with weight, as does every gym and diet book on the market.

Commercials suggest that the way to slimness (aka happiness) can be as simple as changing your breakfast food. Want to fit into those jeans again? Special K for you!

On the proverbial other hand – in addition to the competing commercials for Snickers and ice cream – is an outfit called the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

“Fat discrimination is one of the last publicly accepted discriminatory practices,” its website states. “Fat people have rights and they need to be upheld!”

Affirmational terms among supporters include “fat activism” and “fat positivity.” Bad folks are guilty of “fat phobia.”

Among the heroines of the movement these days is Roxane Gay, a professor and the author recently of “Hunger,” her account of life as what she would call a “woman of size.”

(An inane euphemism, “of size,” as is “of color,” but I’m getting sidetracked again.)

Even a cursory study of Gay’s writings shows her to be a woman of formidable intellect, as well as bulk: at 6-foot-3, she has weighed as much as 577 pounds. She’s down 150 pounds or so now, but still. …

“[P]eople just don’t know how to talk about fat,” Gay told one interviewer, “and everyone’s tiptoeing, or asking awkward questions.”

Among her messages: Obesity can have roots other than physical. And it’s not as simple as some people may think to lose weight and keep it off.

That’s confirmed by a recent study of “Biggest Loser” contestants, which found that bodies in effect sometimes conspire against big losers – by slowing down their metabolisms and making it difficult if not impossible to keep the weight off.

I know of at least four people who have taken the extraordinary – and expensive – surgical route to deal with their weight issues. While I appreciate the seriousness of their commitment – the procedures have risks, and require significant lifestyle and diet changes – wouldn’t signaling my approval also signal my disapproval of their weight before?

Attitudes are changing. Even Weight Watchers is shifting attention from weight and size to health and fitness, lest it be associated with politically incorrect body-shaming.

As I said, it’s a minefield. And so far I’ve avoided any explosions simply by keeping my mouth shut.


Joe Rogers worked for The Clarion-Ledger, The Tennessean and The New York Times. He can be reached at or on Twitter @jrogink.

About Joe Rogers

I'm a retired newspaper journalist and a Mississippi native who found himself living and working in New York.

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