Noted public health expert Lizzo teaches us that “thick thighs save lives,” but for many of us, being fat is killing us – and not for the reasons you might expect.
Today we’re talking about our healthcare system’s impact on fat folks AND how misconceptions about fat folks impact our healthcare policy! Recent studies have shown us two things: A) that weight isn’t the major driver of health that the medical industry has believed it was for a very long time, and B) that treating weight like the end-all-be-all of health actually causes fat folks to avoid seeking care, which leads to some pretty terrible health outcomes.
Our guest Jordan Berg Powers, the Executive Director of Mass Alliance, has helped elect new progressive leaders across the state, recruited progressive champions to run for political office, and trained hundreds of grassroots organizers. Jordan is active in campaigns for saving public education, as well as promoting medicare for all and a more progressive tax system for the Commonwealth.
Noted public health expert Lizzo teaches us that "thick thighs save lives."
Language note: we’re saying fat and not “fluffy,” “curvy,” or “obese.” Fat is just a way of describing people – like short or tall or red-haired. It may have negative connotations in our culture right now, but a lot of fat folks are working on reclaiming fat as a neutral term. We shouldn’t need euphemisms like “fluffy” to describe what we look like. Obesity is the idea that fatness itself is a disease, which we’re going to be pushing back on throughout this episode!
Jordan and Gillian share their stories about they way society draws conclusions about fat people, including about their intelligence, their cleanliness, and their health. Both have experienced medical appointments where the first thing the doctor said was "have you considered losing weight" no matter the health concern that brought them in. Gillian shares another health concern that took eight years to address because doctors repeatedly blamed her weight for it. Instead of protesting, she accepted what they said, and believed that her pain was her fault and she didn't deserve to feel better until she lost weight.
Jordan explains how the fatphobia he's experienced has been combined with racism. One of those doctors who told him to lose weight said it would be easier if he "stopped eating fried food" like fried chicken, even though he's a vegetarian who rarely eats fried food.
Why is anti-fat bias in healthcare a problem?
When it comes to healthcare, how the least of us is treated, ends up being how the rest of us are treated. Many women report their pain hasn't been believed. Many Black people avoid doctors because they've experienced racism in the healthcare system. Many fat people also avoid doctors after being blamed for their own health problems due to their weight. Their actual health concerns often go untreated, often leading to worse outcomes. The vast majority of Americans (73.6%) are considered overweight, so this isn't an insignificant problem.
The most frustrating part of this approach to medical care is that science doesn't back it up. Lowering weight isn’t a magic bullet. Even if it were, it has become clear to scientists that most people are not capable of losing weight permanently. Body size is largely predetermined by genetics. So it doesn’t make much sense when we go to the doctor and the only treatment plan we get is “lose weight,