The rhetoric and hyperbole surrounding the ‘obesity epidemic’ serves the interests of politicians gaining headlines, journalists selling papers and the fitness industry acquiring customers, however in a recent book and interview Michael Gard argues that such statements are not supported by scientific and epidemiological literature. Rather than consensus and clear evidence of continued rise in obesity rates, and the more fundamental question of the relation between body mass and health, the literature demonstrates a plateauing of obesity and disagreement over the significance of body weight.
For a short and insightful discussion of these issues I recommend Michael Gard’s interview with Michael Duffy on ABC’s Counterpoint. Discussing the epidemiological, public health and political context of the ‘obesity epidemic’ Gard addresses key questions around health impacts, schools and children, class and life expectancy.
A point I found particularly interesting was Michael Duffy’s comment in relation to class – “You hardly see an obese person in parliament or representing a company on television.”
This comment reveals an important aspect of optics and class. There are a number of overweight and obese people in Australian parliament (and the business community) yet we don’t see them because they don’t fit our idea of what an obese person looks like. We don’t see their body as obese, not because they are physically hidden by the party, but they are hidden by our ideas of class and social status. Occasionally the obese body does emerge, as with Bob Hawke’s reported comments to Kim Beazley that he could never be Prime Minister unless he lost weight, but on the whole we don’t see their obesity as it is masked by their position, status, suit – their class.
However, it is also important to note that some in the ‘Fat Studies’ community argue that fewer fat people are promoted due to social prejudice against larger bodies. Like short stature, race and sexuality, they argue that social norms serve to exclude fat bodies from positions of leadership and power in business and political communities.