I hadn’t heard of Kevin Smith until reading in the news that he had been asked to deplane a Southwest flight because he was too big. Evidently, he directed and acted in some movies I haven’t seen. For those of you who missed all the “excitement,” here is what happened.
Due to his ample girth, Mr. Smith buys two Southwest tickets when he flies. (Correction: Kevin says this is the first week he bought two tickets and he does it because he is shy. Southwest says he routinely buys two tickets. Doesn’t matter for the point of this article, but I thought I’d be clear.) That way, it guarantees him an open adjacent seat. If the flight sells out, Southwest keeps the price of the empty seat because it represents money they could have made selling the seat to someone else. If the flight doesn’t sell out, they refund Mr. Smith the price of his extra ticket.
On a recent flight, Mr. Smith arrived at the airport early and decided to try to get on an early plane if there were any empty seats. There was an empty seat–but just one. I’m sure you can see the problem here. Anyway, after boarding the plane and managing to get the armrests down, he was asked to get off and take another flight that had more room.
I couldn’t find any information about how much Kevin Smith weighs, but he did take credit for breaking a toilet. I can’t seem to find any weight limits on the toilets at www.homedepot.com, so I’m guessing it isn’t something that manufacturer runs into very often.
I have a number of thoughts on this whole affair and how it relates to safe air travel, but the part I want to talk about here is at the end of some of the earlier news stories on the “event”. Evidently, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is trying to boycott Southwest.
This revelation prompted two thoughts. The first was, “How much would it harm Southwest if fat people all refuse to fly on the airline?” The second was, “The National Association to What?”
Seriously? I mean is there really such a thing as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance? Turns out there is. www.naafaonline.com Now I almost agree with some of their statements. They feel that the US is too “thin-obsessed”. Fair enough, but that isn’t really what they are fighting. They are trying to make obese people feel ok about being obese. The Centers for Disease Control says that 67% of “noninstitutionalized” adults are overweight or obese. So what exactly does that mean? They define overweight as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30. For a typical person who is 5′ 9″ that would translate into 170 to 200 pounds. Anyone with a BMI of 30 or over is considered obese.
There may be a small percentage of people who fit the lower range of what the CDC calls “overweight” who are in reasonably good health, but their guidelines are pretty generous. If the US is truly as “thin-obsessed” as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance claims, you’d think it would show up in the statistics. 67% of people are nowhere near thin–or even what would be considered normally healthy for an average person. Even if we want to assume that the CDC doesn’t know how many people in their overweight category are really in great shape (I don’t know anyone who would go that far), that still leaves 34% of the population in the obese category.
Being obese isn’t like not wearing deodorant where it just inconveniences people. Obesity has real health risks, and diseases that come from obesity are a lot of what is driving up the cost of healthcare for everyone–even the people who are doing their best to stay in shape.
Given all of this, do we really need an organization trying to make people accept their weight and stay obese? This is a cultural phenomenon in the US–the idea that we want to make everyone feel like they are perfect the way they are–even when they really REALLY need to change something. From what I understand, in many European countries, overweight natives will have strangers come up to them on the street offering the address of a local gym or the telephone number of a dietitian. They aren’t doing it to be mean. They just naturally assume no one is going to want to be fat on purpose, so they offer solutions that they have found useful, themselves.
And don’t tell me that you’ve heard of some people who have a disease that keeps them from losing weight unless you personally know someone who can eat a 1500 calorie diet, walk a few miles a week and still gain weight. I’m sure these exceptions do exist, but they are just that–exceptions.
My point is this. Losing weight can be very difficult. It involves a lot of psychological issues and it can be hard to muster the necessary self-control. But, people will not make big changes in their lives until the cost of staying the same is more painful than the cost of the change. The last thing we need is an organization that is actively trying to change the culture to make it harder for people to lose weight.
(Ok I said what was on my mind. Feel free to let me have it in the comments.)
John Trendler says
happy Fat Tuesday!
Mark Shead says
I hadn’t realized that was today. :)
Tomas Dahlin says
Brilliant observation and very well written. Thank you.
You just got yourself another reader.
Mark Shead says
Gaining a reader is the ultimate compliment. Thank you.
Steve Johnson says
I agree with your opinions. Another angle on this, if Democrats are wanting more government-run healthcare, then it behooves fat people to skinny up. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, are health problems brought on by obesity. So if NAAFA wants fat acceptance, then accept the fact that this taxpayer will be voting against public healthcare.
Mark Shead says
Another thought along the same lines: What if insurance would put you in a pool of people who made similar lifestyle health choices? So all the non-smoking, normal weight, exercising, careful driving people would be in one group while overweight, smoking, skydivers would be in another. Healthy people would pay very little for insurance because they wouldn’t be subsidizing people who were making bad decisions.
Steve Johnson says
That would work in a privately run healthcare plan, and there are in fact plans similar to this, such as AARP (elderly), NASE (self-employed). But in a publicly run system, such as what Democrats are proposing, all Americans will be paying for all Americans. If government attempted to pool obese people, and only have obese pay for that pool, you can imagine the cries of “discrimination”, and the accusations that healthy people are trying to eliminate the obese from the gene pool.
Jamie Martin - Professional Organizer says
Mark – I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your point in the this article. People need to be aware of the painful consequences of NOT changing before they will change. As a professional organizer, I try to make my clients aware of how disorganization COSTS them in time, money and health.
Also, I would love it if insurance companies grouped the people by their health lifestyles! Since I have an individual policy, that would really make a big cost difference for me.
Brett Legree says
I am not a US citizen, just an observer from your neighbour to the north, so my observations may not be 100 percent correct.
But many of the deficiencies we seem to have here in Canada are probably reflections of what you have in the USA.
What I find more disturbing is not “a cultural phenomenon” that says it is okay to be overweight or obese, but a government that allows companies with agendas to push certain types of unhealthy foods instead of healthy foods, and with government subsidies on top of that in some cases.
(I’m thinking corn, right now. Why do we need corn-based sweeteners, anyway? And I’m thinking the plethora of grain products – want to make a cow fat, feed it grain. So why do we tell our people to eat cereal for breakfast instead of something else? Why do we tell them to bathe it in cow’s milk, too?)
Also disturbing is that (perhaps, due to these subsidies?) it is cheaper in the short-term to eat junk food than to eat well.
Many of the people who are overweight or obese just cannot afford to eat properly – or maybe, they have not been educated properly by their governments.
And… many of the pharma companies in the USA make and sell products which would not exist if the population wasn’t so heavy and didn’t have the associated health problems.
It almost seems like an intentionally manufactured obesity epidemic, doesn’t it.
Not long ago, I stopped eating according to the Canada Food Guide, which as I understand it is similar to the material from the US government.
My diet is now a modified Paleo diet.
I’ve lost 32 pounds and my blood pressure has dropped like a rock.
How is it that I am doing almost the *exact opposite* of what Health Canada tells me I should be doing, and yet, I am getting healthier as a result?
You are correct, the last thing we need is an organization that is actively trying to change the culture to make it harder for people to lose weight.
What we *do* need is government backed education to explain to people in plain English how to eat properly.
What we *do* need is an end to cheap garbage food, packaged convenience food, and pharma companies that create products that don’t really help the situation.
I cannot remember where I read it, but if you eat Chicken McNuggets in Sweden, the amount of fat in an order is about 1 percent what it is in the same product in the USA.
Why is that allowed?
I think the larger portions in restaurants, higher percentage eating out on a regular basis, the inability to say no and our natural inclination to over-eat from an evolutionary standpoint all contribute to America the Lardass.
The only thing needed is personal responsibility, not just with food, but all things. If someone is okay with being 400 lbs and endangering their life, that is their choice. It isn’t government’s job to protect us from ourselves.
Like Brett, I recently lost 32 pounds, but did so with a spreadsheet that lists everything I’ve eaten since August. It gave me the knowledge to take action and almost the instant accountability to stop over-eating. I eat the same things, just less of them.
The results have been amazing.
Sadly, the limitations listed in this article would still have me listed as overweight at 5’8″ – 174 lbs.
Mark Shead says
If you have lost 32 pounds since August, I wouldn’t be concerned if the stats say you are still slightly overweight. That is fantastic!
Larger portions are an interesting issue. I find that middle class meals have large portions, but when you start getting into really high end meals the portions are much smaller. For most normal restaurants, my wife and I can split a meal and a desert and go away having had plenty to eat.
Mark Shead says
I keep hearing that eating healthy is more expensive than eating junk, but I don’t buy it. It might be true if you try to buy all organic foods or only eat fruit or something like that, but the processed/prepared foods I see the welfare crowd buying in the grocery store is usually more expensive than buying the ingredients to make a meal. I think your point about education is something that often gets overlooked.
Brett Legree says
I don’t buy the expense argument either, until you start looking beyond money – there is also “time”.
I know plenty of people who make 6-figure incomes, who eat that pre-packaged crap.
The reason? Their time is worth money to them. They work 60+ hours a week, and then have to take Jimmy to hockey and Allison to dance school.
They’ve also never learned *how* to cook nutritious meals, and they believe the marketing babble on the packaging.
Or we can look at the single parent with three children, who works two jobs. Again, he may not find the time to do it right, or may not know how to do it.
Perhaps I can use a real example, instead. I have four children, my wife and I both work, and we have sufficient money to eat whatever we like.
But until I slowed down and really, really researched what I was doing wrong with my nutrition, I was heading down a dangerous path.
Do schools teach anything at all about nutrition anymore, and if they do, is it correct, or does it prop up some big agra agenda?
Education is key, for sure.
Mark Shead says
In high school we had a class where we went to a farm and made a meal from scratch. And when I say scratch I mean we caught the chicken that was used for chicken noodle soup. So I learned about nutrition 17 years ago, but I think that was unusual for back then. I’m sure it is unheard of now.
My kids learn about nutrition in school, but then they go to a Waldorf school where the vast majority of the families eat whole, organic food as much as possible. The kids are up and moving for good portions of the day, movement classes are part of the curriculum, and the third grade curriculum includes farming, gardening, and cooking. When my husband and I first visited the school, we realized that we didn’t see any seriously overweight kids in the school (nor any seriously overweight teachers and staff). This, in my mind, points to obesity being a cultural issue. When children are raised to eat well and move a lot, weight is not a problem.
Steve Johnson says
Regarding a government backed plan to educate people how to eat properly, we already have it in the USA. It was there in the 1970s when I went to grade school. It was there in the 1980s when my brother went. I believe kids are still taught nutrition today.
The problem is poor parenting. Don’t tell a parent that he/she is doing a bad job of parenting, because you know they’re going to give you an ear full. Politicians pander to this, telling parents that their obese children is not their fault, but the fault of food manufacturers, and in turn the parents give those politicians their vote.
How many times has obesity been blamed on sodas, fast food, candies? That food has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and yet we’re to believe that it’s only now a problem?
Mark Shead says
Education is whole issue itself. You’d think we’d be getting better at it over the years, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think you hit on a very important issue: Personal Responsibility. If we tell everyone that nothing is their fault, they don’t care to try to change–everything can be blamed on someone else.
People are much better off if they assume everything is their fault. At least then they will have some motivation to do something about it on their own.
Brett Legree says
I don’t know how much education is still given in Canadian schools today either.
But what I was taught was a load of crap, if my recent experience shows me anything.
Why is it when I cut out the grains, and the bulk of the sweet fruits, that my government is telling me I should eat, do I lose weight and feel better?
Why am I healthier now (blood chemistry, in addition to weight)?
I don’t trust that my children will receive the right message at school, so I will teach them what they need to know.
Your point about blaming the food in general is a good one, it has been around since the 1900’s.
However, we did not have the endless onslaught of media advertisements throwing this in our faces.
And yes, this is a matter of self-control, so I’m not going to blame the companies who make the advertisements.
But maybe some regulation is in order?
Have you watched a children’s TV network lately?
Every second commercial is for food – junk food. “Fruit snacks” instead of real fruit, for instance.
And in case anyone thinks that government shouldn’t regulate this space, they already do, by not letting commercials containing nudity on those same kids channels.
Boobies are natural and healthy, Twinkies are not :)
Stop spreading things as FACTS without any evidence!
One can easily check it out.
Sweden : 13 grams of fat in a 6 pack chicken Mcnuggets.
United kingdom : 14 gram of fat in a 6 pack chicken Mcnuggets.
Usa : 17 gram of fat in a 6 pack chicken Mcnuggets.
I live in Sweden and while it’s good country, it’s not the superduper best example in the world.
IF one is to have a good debate on subjects as obesity one needs to get their facts straight first.
And in what european country do people walk up to you with “a good advice to lose weight?”, seems like a lot of bs to me. I ain’t never seen it in any of the European countries i’ve been through. The only ones that have tried to give me “advice” have been bullshit herbalife “salespersons”.
Mark Shead says
The idea that fat people aren’t as accepted in other countries as they are in the US came from a commenter on this site based on his experience living abroad. I think he was in France, but it has been a long time. I remember the general point of what he said, but not the exact details.
This seemed consistent with other things I’ve read related to differences in eating habit in European countries and in talking with visitors about what they notice that is different about the US. They usually notice 1. big food portions 2. lots of fat people.
If your experience has been different I’d love to hear about it. Having not lived outside of the American continent I’m relying on others here.
Brett Legree says
Obviously, my memory was faulty – no offense was meant, of course.
To be honest, I don’t care that much about the *garbage* that McDonalds sells as food.
…which is why I didn’t bother to verify the facts…
Actually, I am disappointed to know that reality is much worse than I had incorrectly recalled :)
Dave @ 30 Days At A Time says
I did not realize there was a NAAFA, but it disturbs me. Civil rights organizations have done some wonderful things in this country. The continuing struggle for racial, gender, and sexual orientation equality is a good thing. While the means these groups use may not always be pristine, their overall goal is noble.
That said, obesity is an avoidable disease. It should be chastised in the same way alcoholism, crack addiction, and smoking addiction have been, if not more. Our government, going back to the McGovern committe report of 1968, actively supports rising obesity via corn subsidies which crowd out healthier crops, raising prices on healthy food.
Mark Shead says
While I agree that we need to treat everyone fairly, many of the groups who say they are trying to get equal treatment for the people they represent are actually trying to get their group treated differently than everyone else. I’ve got a post that will go up in the next week or so that talks about how diversity training actually increases racial discrimination.
Treating people fairly does not mean putting up with everything conceivable just because someone claims to be in a minority group. If a group of people decide that they only want to speak Klingon that is their right, but it isn’t unfair if other people decide they don’t want to go through the hassle of interacting with them. On the other hand if someone is born without the ability to talk, it would be unfair to ignore them if they are making an effort to try to interact with you (through sign language, etc).
And just in case you think the Klingon thing was silly, I saw a job listing for a Klingon interpreter. It turns out some state had a legal requirement that certain types of medical facilities have interpreters on staff for any language that people claimed was their sole means of communication. They had at least one person who claimed to speak only Klingon and thus had to hire someone to do the job.
Brett Legree says
@Dave (30 Days At A Time),
I’m not sure chastising is the best way to do it – perhaps supporting people while they get healthy?
I mean, I am pretty sure I could find a study that shows a correlation between young, thin, healthy people and serious accidents due to sports and outdoor activities.
So then, maybe we should ban people from rollerblading or cycling or rock climbing, because you know, if you’re seriously injured in a sporting accident, you’re a burden on the system. You didn’t *need* to be doing that risky activity, did you?
Some folks I know say that if you smoke, you should be denied healthcare coverage.
Similarly, then, I would say if you engage in a potentially dangerous sporting activity – say, college football – and are injured, then you should have to pay the bill yourself.
See what I mean? I think it has to walk a careful line between offering people help, and outright telling them what to do.
Note, I do agree with you that people have to get healthier. I just think this has to be done carefully, and with education, not by making people feel like outcasts.
Mark Shead says
I agree that simply making people feel like outcasts isn’t a solution. However, we are going to the other extreme and trying to make people feel like there is no issue with being fat. There is an issue and society can’t afford to ignore it.
Regarding risky activities, when I signed up for a life insurance policy, they wanted to know if I had any plans to go sky diving, pilot a small plane or visit countries with an active war. My rates would have gone up if I had of said yes. I don’t have the statistics, but the risk of rollerblading is probably less than the risk of being unhealthy from lack of exercise. Getting in your car to drive to the gym involves a certain level of risk of an automobile accident.
Should smokers be allowed to get health insurance? Probably, but I’d prefer it if my premium wasn’t going up to subsidize their lack of self control just like I’m sure they wouldn’t like to pay my medical bills if I suddenly decided I enjoyed consuming small portions of cyanide on a regular basis.
Brett Legree says
Agreed. People should know there are issues with being overweight.
About the smoking vs. cyanide thing, and the bad foods thing – the government is quite happy to “allow” us freedom of choice to buy cigarettes and junk food, which they know will slowly kill us, and furthermore cause us to need treatments and medicine to offset the damage.
All the while, happily collecting taxes for the sale of said items.
I feel this is a bigger issue than the subject matter of your post.
Great post, Commenters, great conversation, I agree with pretty much everything put forward by you guys so far. A friend of mine is a personal trainer who does a lot of nutrition based research, an interesting fact that he pointed out was that it is not the FDA that pushed for the food pyramid, it was the department of agriculture…hmm…I wonder why grains and vegetables make up the highest percentage on the chart…
Great article Mark, looking forward to your insights in the racial discrimination article.
Michael Sheehan says
You might want to get your facts straight here. Mr. Smith routinely flies SWA to two locations, San Francisco and Las Vegas because it is convenient — the Bob Hope airport in Burbank is near his home — and specifically purchases an extra seat because, yes, it’s more comfortable – who hasn’t been delighted when the airplane door closes and they’ve found themselves with nobody in the adjoining seat? — but mostly, to avoid having to chit-chat with the adjoining passenger. More personal space = more privacy.
And you could do without the sneering comments on his size with lines like “managed to get the armressts down.” I am a shade or two bigger than Mr. Smith and can readily place my armrests down without a struglle or any “managing” and like him I do not require seatbelt extension to brace in my admittedly ample tum. Yeah, I agree – “fat acceptance” movements are the apex of stupidity. But the problem here is that SWA screwed up, and people like you are soapboxing about it without bothering to get all the details.
And one other thing. Snide rubbish like “And don’t tell me that you’ve heard of some people who have a disease that keeps them from losing weight unless you personally know someone who can eat a 1500 calorie diet, walk a few miles a week and still gain weight” can only come from someone who’s not ever had to do it. Apparently psychological issues don’t count as a “disease” in your book. It ain’t that easy, mate — it’s a hard battle to win. I agree it’s a battle with one’s self, I don’t feel like a victim of marketing, people who think it’s just fine to stay well obsese are fooling themselves and so on — but it’s tremendously difficult to lose a large quantity of weight for a broad spectrum of psychological and physical issues. If you think you can dismiss that with your insensitive panacea, you’re much mistaken.
Mark Shead says
@Micheal – Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure what fact I got wrong. It sounds like you may be saying that his size has nothing to do with buying an extra seat. If that is your position, it is definitely different from what he seemed to indicate in some of his statements. If there is something else you think I got wrong, I missed it in your comment.
Also I’m not trying to take sides with Southwest. The idea of someone being a safety risk on one flight but not on another doesn’t make much sense to me. The speed at which a large person can exit the plan is probably not related to the number of empty seats next to them. Kevin Smith says he is fat–so fat he broke a toilet. I don’t know how fat that is–all I’ve got to go on his what he said. As far as whether or not he should have been kept on the plane, I would say that if he would have been happy (based on a normal persons definition of happiness and personal space) sitting in between two clones of himself then he should have been allowed to stay. Otherwise, he probably needs another seat. I have no way of knowing the answer to such a test.
While I completely understand that losing weight is difficult, I don’t believe that psychological issues are a disease. There is a very big difference between someone whose body isn’t functioning in the normal manner and someone who lacks self control, but could lose weight by eating 1500 calories each day and walking a few miles each week. I asked that people exclude hypothetical diseases unless they actually know someone with those diseases to make sure our discussion didn’t become centered around rare outliers.
Once again, I do understand that losing weight is very difficult and for some people it is VERY VERY difficult. If you are one of those people who finds it very hard, I wish you the best in your efforts.
My point is that anything our culture does to make people more comfortable being grossly overweight is detrimental to everyone.
Really though, if you look at any picture of Kevin Smith he’s not that fat.
Mark Shead says
Well I wouldn’t use the terms, “thin”, “healthy”, or “slightly overweight” to describe him, but I think I’ve seen much bigger people than him on flights without incident and I’d rather sit next to him than a lot of other people.
“Due to his ample girth, Mr. Smith buys two Southwest tickets when he flies. That way, it guarantees him an open adjacent seat. ”
Actually, Kevin Smith gets two seats on a flight not of his weight, but because he doesn’t want to be forced into awkward conversation with other passengers. You can read the details of how the incident went down on his Twitter: http://twitter.com/thatkevinsmith
Semantics, maybe; but it’s important to be factual rather than speculative.
Mark Shead says
Good point. I’m pretty sure I saw Kevin write that he normally bought two seats to be more comfortable. However, I see now that he says this is the first week he bought two seats which implies he has been flying in a single seat previously. I have added a few sentences to the article to clarify this discrepancy.
However, it is notable that he says he bought two seats because he is shy, but he also said is the first time he bought two seats. I do understand Kevin’s position that Southwest shouldn’t have kicked him off the flight. I won’t argue that point because it is entirely likely that he is correct. The “safety” issue that Southwest is trying to raise seems a bit contrived. if they threw him off it was probably to keep from inconveniencing other passengers. The safety issues would be the same extra seat or not.
Many years ago, a little storm of “pro-fat” works hit the journals and the bookstore shelves; their “slant” was Feminist in nature. The argument was that women and especially young girls were suffering crippling blows to their self-esteem from a culture that harbors a completely unrealistic ideal body-image for women. Girls and women were killing themselves to mold their bodies to match a “standard” that was possible only for real women with a very specific (and fairly rare) genetic disposition. The tenor of these works was that it imperative to fight back against the heroin-chic and reclaim a more Reubenesque figure as the ideal for a woman’s body. I believe that these were valid points, and it’s true that even today, the beauty magazines and clothing stores continue to pretend that the “average” woman looks more like Calista Flockhart than Queen Latifa.
But woefully, somewhere in the desire to prevent women and young girls from killing themselves (often literally) to resemble some underfed, airbrushed supermodel, we started down this road wherein we began to glorify the morbidly obese, even at the point of disregarding the valid and urgent health risks of such a body type.
As someone who actually does qualify as “morbidly obese” according to the NIH et al, I’m nonetheless personally disgusted by organizations like NAAFA. I dislike *discourtesy* as much as the next person (if a stranger walked up to me and offered me directions to the nearest gym I’d probably slug them, frankly), and I certainly know the damaging effects of the constant barrage of negativity directed at me by a culture that celebrates a body-type that is half my size. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to pretend that an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, etc, is GOOD for me.
I am on Kevin Smith’s “side” in this issue. From what I can tell, he objects to the public humiliation and discrimination that he experienced from Southwest, and discrimination is unacceptable in any form (imagine, for instance, if a breastfeeding mother was asked to take a later flight because her fellow passengers would be made uncomfortable by the sight of her partially-bared breast). Kevin Smith certainly can’t just get skinny right then and there, so he deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, even if the airline believes that it has a valid need to be addressed.
But I *also* agree with you wholeheartedly that “celebrating” obesity is a sad and very dangerous mission for a National organization. Perhaps we should recognize that our own culture (portion sizes, the cheap and ubiquitous nature of fast-food, etc.) is partially responsible for an environment where you have to *go out of your way* to eat healthily and maintain an active lifestyle. But we should encourage healthy lifestyles and body types, not claim some sort of prerogative to being morbidly obese.
You are an idiot. Goodbye!
Mark Shead says
Thanks for your opinion. Would appreciate more details. :)
Hi Mark, I saw this on TV yesterday and my dad was also telling me about it over dinner. I feel that what the airlines did was discrimination against obese people. I don’t think that just because of the economy or the extra money it might have cost to put the man in was a big enough reason to kick him off the airplane. I also agree with your last line that losing weight can costs a lot of money and that itself can stop people from trying to give into the multimillionaire weight-loss companies that make money off of obese people.
Christine Simiriglia says
Hi Mark… I am overweight and have struggled with weight my entire life. That being said, I realize that my weight is not good for me. I realize the health risks. I keep working at it. I don’t believe in discrimination of any kind and think that Southwest was a bit out of line. I also think that organizations like NAAFA have a right to exist, but as far as I can see, serve no useful or proactive purpose. There is a great article about the correlation between stress and weight in this country. You can read more here: http://www.organize-more-stress-less.com/home/2009/10/1/stress-causing-people-to-super-size.html
I have sympathy for obese people than are disabled and are overweight due to their immobility. But there should be no other reason why a normal person should be accepted at 300+ pounds. Kevin Smith cannot be mad at Southwest for discrimination when simply the width of his waist exceeds the width of the plane seat. It’s like fitting a hummer into a compact car spot. It’s not discrimination it simply does not fit.
Just a little note:
I have enjoyed a BMI over 26 for the last decade until I decided to fight the fat and got down to a BMI of 21. Then I kept this BMI more or less for two years until now.
Still, after regaining my normal weight I managed to break a toilet seat at my workplace twice!
So this can and will happen to normal people, too.
Mark Shead says
Well sometimes a broken toilet can say more about the quality of the toilet than the person using it. :)
DM Andy says
Mark, obese people have a lower life expectancy than the average, that means they will receive less retirement benefit and probably less Medicare (as they are more likely to get sick while younger than retirement age). Would you use the same argument to say that the obese should have a tax rebate?
Mark Shead says
That’s an interesting idea. If you assume that obese people will all be dead before their benefits kick in and there is no additional strain on services that are paid for by taxes due to obesity. I’m not sure I agree with that. A lot of the people in my area who are morbidly obese are on welfare already so taxes are already paying for their healthcare, food, cable television, etc.
There are a bunch of other aspects of a weighty population. If Americans became on average 20 pounds lighter (a figure that factors in healthy people who lose nothing and overweight people who lose a lot) it would result in savings of about 3.5% of the GDP. That includes $5 billion in fuel savings (which would lower carbon emissions), it would also lower the number of sick days. The added output from workers and their caregivers is estimated to give the country a $257 billion boost in productivity terms. MSN has an article that covers these areas and more.
You think Americans aren’t obsessed with thin? When Britney did her come back a few years back and wasn’t as thin as she once was, she was called fat. With exclamation points all over the place. She was nowhere near fat! The number of fat people a country has says very little about the obsession they have with being thin. Thin people rarely obsess about being thin, fat people often do.
As to NAAFA, I know nothing about them. But in personal development it is often said that you need to accept yourself as you are, before you can start to make positive changes. It is something I believe in. If NAAFA’s goal is to have fat people stay fat, that’s a bad thing. But if they want fat people to accept themselves, then that’s advise we can all follow.
As to this example, airlines have been making seats smaller for years, while people have been getting bigger. That’s just bad practice.
Lastly, I’ve read that BMI is a purely a mathmetical formula that has nothing to do with biology. I feel we should stop using it.
Mark Shead says
The US idolizes people who are thin, but the numbers don’t seem to indicate that they put much effort into obsessing about actually being thin themselves. I’m talking about on average. People who are obsessive about being thin do things like limiting their calories and going on daily walks. The numbers do not indicate that this is happening with the majority of the population and because of that I don’t think the US population is obsessed with being thin.
Yes there are teenager girls who should probably eat more and some people have eating disorders that put them at the opposite end of problem, but they aren’t included in those 67%.
Airlines make seats smaller because people want cheaper tickets. I know I appreciate the low cost of airfare when I have to go somewhere–even if my seat is small. I don’t appreciate sitting next to someone who is using their seat AND part of mine.
I see a lot of people say that we shouldn’t use BMI. Yes it is a mathematical formula. If you divide your mass in kilograms by the square of your height in meters you get your BMI. BMI is a good tool for normal people. Obviously if you are a body builder it is going to give you a high BMI when most of what you have is muscle–not fat. But if you are a body builder, you are probably using other methods to measure body fat like skin fold tests and such. BMI is a great tool to quickly see where you are in terms of being overweight.
If you prefer to use a skin fold test, that is fine. Those just aren’t as readily available. Keep in mind it gives you a general idea. If your BMI is a bit high and you exercise a lot then it may be you just have more muscle. However, if your BMI is very VERY high there is something wrong with you unless you are just solid muscle. But people who are solid muscle already know this. I haven’t ever met someone who is in incredible shape who doesn’t like BMI because it makes them feel fat.
Most of the people I hear complain about BMI simply don’t like the results they get so they question the method because it is easier than taking responsibility for their weight. I’m not saying that is what you are doing–just saying that is what I’ve seen in the past. Where BMI might be a problem is if someone with a BMI of 20 freaks out because they get to a BMI of 24. Both are great numbers and well within the normal range. So the problem isn’t so much with the BMI calculation as it is with people looking at an individual number instead of the full spectrum and understanding that their BMI is going to go up and down a bit and that’s ok.
I’m 5′ 9″ and fall pretty much in the normal range for BMI. I know I’m not solid muscle so it is pretty accurate for me. My BMI is normal, but just a tad leaning toward the overweight range. To get to the obese range I’d have to gain 50 pounds or more. 99% of people my height who weigh 50 pounds more than me shouldn’t weight that much. I’m assuming that there might be a body builder who is my height that weighs 50 pounds more, but that is going to be an extreme exception and as I said, the body builder will be using other measurements so BMI really isn’t an issue for him.
“People who are obsessive about being thin do things like limiting their calories and going on daily walks.”
You could argue that people who are obsessive about being thin constantly look in the mirror hating themselves and then eating a lot of junk to push away the bad feelings, hoping things will be better tomorrow. Obsession has all kinds of forms.
About the BMI, just to be clear, I am overweight. And I don’t need a BMI number to know that. BMI isn’t just wrong for body builders. There’s a girl who works at the gym I go to. She exercises regularly, but doesn’t show muscles. She’s thin. BMI would call her obese.
I think my main point is that BMI is highly unreliable and we don’t need it. You don’t need a BMI number to know you’re overweight. You see in in the mirror, you see it on the scale, you feel it in your body. All BMI does is give it all an extra negative label.
Mark Shead says
I tend to view obsession as something people are willing to put effort behind. If someone wants to have a clean house, but their actions only involve things that make their house messy, most people wouldn’t define them as being “obsessed with having a clean house”. If someone spends a lot of time thinking about having a nice lawn, but their actions all involve putting ruts in their turf and forgetting to water it, most people wouldn’t define them as being obsessed with having a nice lawn. So I guess I’m seeing an obsession as something that occupies your time and energy.
In the US I think we have a lot of people who think about getting in shape, but a good percentage of them don’t actually put any significant time, energy or will power into it. I suppose that it can still be considered an obsession, but it isn’t quite the same as the way we talk about everything else.
But on to your main point: Maybe I’m missing something here with regard to BMI. If your friend at the gym is of normal height (5′ 4.5″ for a female in the US), she would have to be over 177 pounds to get into the obese category at least that is what all the BMI charts I’ve seen say. I don’t know anyone who is that height that could be called “thin” or “normal” at 177 pounds. I’m not trying to put her down and I’m just picking numbers based on averages, but I don’t know of anyone who would look at someone 5’4.5 inches and 177 pounds and say “that person needs to eat a bit more to stay healthy” or “that person looks like they are very healthy with a good balance of eating and exercise”. My point is that I don’t think BMI is really that far off for 99.9% of the population. Yes there are people who are healthy that probably fall in the lower ranges of being overweight, but I don’t know anyone who would be surprised by that. There are healthy people who fall in the upper range of being too thin as well. Again no surprise.
I think BMI is useful because it keeps people from just focusing on their weight and helps them work on managing their body by what are statistically healthy standards instead of picking an arbitrary number on the scale. In addition, BMI offers a pretty wide range of what is healthy which I think is a lot better for people than trying to hone in on a particular number or clothing size.
I did some checking into actual BMI numbers, and you’r right, she’s not in the obese catagorie, she’s in the overweigth. She’s over 6 foot tall. I’m in The Netherlands and we are apparently the tallest people on earth (I’m 6 foot myself) :-) .
I also don’t know if Dutch catagories are the same as US. I know French are lower (meaning they categorize you as fat at a lower BMI number). That in itself is also proof the BMI means little. It differs per country.
Mark Shead says
The definitions I’ve been looking at come from the World Health Organization so they aren’t from a particular country. These seem to match the numbers that the CDC in the US uses.
Where have you seen that the French use different ranges for BMI? That’s pretty interesting, but I suppose things could vary from country to country, but I doubt if it would be by much and in most discussions I think they would use the international standards for the sake of simplicity.
“I tend to view obsession as something people are willing to put effort behind.
So I guess I’m seeing an obsession as something that occupies your time and energy.”
What about when people obsess about others?
Christopher S. Rollyson says
All, this is a great thread. I happened on the research below the other day: like so many of your comments, it just makes so much sense. There are so many established interests that promote the manufactured food likestyle, but all you have to do is to think about it a second to realize that habit is at the root of an increasing portion ,^) of our healthcare issues. Check out this research, “Biology doesn’t determine health,” which begins like this:
“I am an internal medicine doctor and on really good days I save someone’s life. But in the past 20 years I discovered two facts: 1. On the whole medical care has little effect on average lifespan. 2. Social factors can produce 5 year differences in life expectancy.
You are completely correct. So glad someone had the guts to say it out loud!
You’re initial statements about the need for organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance are illogical. If it’s true that 67% of the US population is overweight or obese, and if it’s further true that companies like Southwest can remove people from planes for simply being overweight (specious arguments about safety notwithstanding), then the need for acceptance of fat people is obvious. Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. Discrimination against two-thirds of the population in unconscionable.
More distressing though are your thoroughly ignorant and insensitive remarks about the causes of obesity and the challenges of losing weight. There most certainly are physical causes of obesity, including hypothyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome. Ask your doctor. And the suggestion that psychological “issues” are not a disease is imbecilic. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia are not hypothetical – these are very real disorders. Yes, it is certainly possible that a fat person is simply too lazy and indulgent. But it’s equally possible that he suffers from impulse control or some other disorder that is the cause. The mere fact that you don’t know anyone like this doesn’t make it any less possible.
Your casual dismissal of economic factors in weight gain are no less ignorant. For some people, in some neighborhoods, healthy foods are more expensive and harder to come by. In fact, until recently, the WIC program didn’t provide for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. And sometimes supermarkets just aren’t available.
The fact is, organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance are targeting you; people who express open contempt for overweight people.In the future, I suggest you stick to posts about productivity, and keep the social pontificating to yourself.
For whatever a reason a person is large, they are large. Be it choice or genetic makeup or whatever. Availability of health foods? We’re not talking about the poor here, we are talking about movie director Kevin Smith. The man could probably charter his own plane without a problem. He can certainly eat whatever types of food he likes. That he probably prefers twinkies to organic wheat grass, good for him, so do I. His ass shows it.
Southwest has designed and priced their seats to maximize profit and comfort. If you can’t fit into one of them and require two, then you have to pay to accommodate your wide bottom, fly first class elsewhere, or charter your own plane. Shoehorning yourself into one seat at the expense of another guests comfort shouldn’t happen.
Organizations that give excuses and good feelings about one’s present state don’t make things better. So you are fat. Don’t dwell on it and do something about it. Or get out your wallet and pay for two seats.
Thank you for so eloquently underscoring my point.
The point that you are a whiner and want to make excuses for those that are too lazy to get up and move. For those that are too fat, for whatever reason it is because they have not seen the personal value in changing their situation. When they do see it, it is by no means an easy road to travel. But nothing worth doing is usually easy.
But the laziness and lack of motivation by Lard Ass America is inexcusable. You want to see some tubbos who want to change, turn on The Biggest Loser. These people could eat my belt and still be hungry, but they cared enough to go on the show and DO THE WORK required to lose massive amounts of weight.
Until each person learns to summon up the willpower to not have a 4th twinkie. Or choosesto exercise. Or chooses to eat less. They will continue to be fat and there are consequences for that choice. If it is not a monetary consequence, such as two plane tickets or sideways looks from others around them, then it will be an early death. Their choice will eventually come back to haunt them.
In the meantime, before they acquire diabetes or have a massive heart attack, this organization for the fatties only makes it easier for them to ignore the situation they created for themselves.
Mark Shead says
I disagree with much of your point of view. Probably most of it comes down to a very different perspective on personal responsibility. The difference in our viewpoints is probably similar to the difference between California’s approach to government and Texas. (My guess is that you live in California or one with similar views.)
If someone’s lifetime eating habits are defined by what WIC provides, there are personal responsibility issues here that go well beyond being overweight. Even if they are on WIC, there is nothing to prevent them from spending some of their own money on better food just like everyone else does. If you spend some time walking through low income housing like I have, you’ll find that these people do have money to spend. The fact that they don’t have to pay for stuff like milk and eggs means that they have more disposable income to spend on fruit and vegetables if that is what they wanted. I’d encourage you to notice what people with foodstamps and WIC actually buy. The one’s I’ve checked out behind aren’t even trying to be healthy. Maybe it is an education issue. It isn’t like it is that hard to find out what is healthy for you, but you have to have some motivations. Feeling good about how fat you are isn’t going to produce that motivation.
Yes I’m aware of different medical conditions that can help make you overweight. I also know that most of these issues are rare–not unheard of, but not the primary cause of obesity in the US. Bringing them up is kind of like objecting to a statement like “people should walk more” on the grounds some people without legs can’t walk.
The vast majority of people who are overweight would not be that way if they ate around 1,500 calories each day and walked a few miles each week. This is something that can be done by pretty much anyone and only requires self control.
I’m not saying we should shun people who are overweight. They are still people and deserve a level of respect for that fact alone. However, I think it is harmful to make an obese person feel like it is ok for them to be that way.
You can justify it however you like – geo-politics, income, personal responsibility. It’s still discrimination. If Kevin Smith were a black man we’d all be calling Southwest’s actions a crime. But he’s fat, so we treat it like a joke. Worse, we think we have the right to tell him how to live his life and belittle him for his choices. And we do so without shame or regret. But nothing gives us the right to tell people if it is ok for them to be the way they are.
It’s meant to be humorous, but I suspect most of you will regard it as affirming and instructive.
Steve Johnson says
quote: “The fact is, organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance are targeting you; people who express open contempt for overweight people.”
Fat people SHOULD feel public pressure to lighten up to a healthier weight, especially if we’re moving towards public healthcare. We already spend tax dollars treating the complications of obesity through Medicare and Medicaid. Making people feel comfortable about being unhealthy, is going to cost this country even more.