Sunday, 26 August 2012

Fat acceptance

On the subject of ethics, here's an interesting topic. There is a movement, now largely online, to end discrimination and prejudice against fat people, and whose proponents say that you can be healthy regardless of how big your waist is. According to the group, the health issues associated with obesity are exaggerated because of society's bias against fat people.

I used to be really really fattist (that has to be a word); it probably didn't help growing up in a family conscious of help, and with influences like my gran, who is hilariously un-PC about things like this. Nowadays, I care less, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a prejudice against people who are noticeably fat. This is unfair. Some people genuinely cannot help it - there are conditions like Ayazi syndrome that cause obesity almost irrespective of lifestyle. There are also many genes that predispose people towards putting on more weight, and of course anyone with parents who've grown up eating badly isn't likely to be skinny.

On the other hand, the vast majority (no pun intended - it would be unlike me to make jokes at someone else's expanse) of obese people don't have these conditions, but just don't look after themselves. If you have an abundance of cheap food, why would you not take advantage of it? Evolutionarily, that would make no sense. Or at least, in times of little to no food, that would make no sense. In today's world,it's those who can resist the urge to eat whatever is available that will outlive the others. As soon as you start blaming things you can't change for your weight, you lose the incentive to do anything about it at all - if all that's needed is willpower, first you have to recognise that you are the problem, not anyone else. This makes sense from a psychological point of view, in order to get in the right mindset, but it might not be fair to the person. Maybe, just maybe, it actually isn't their fault originally. The modern lifestyle is to eat lots of unhealthy, unbalanced food, and do a job that requires no physical exercise. It's no wonder, then, that there are so many problems caused by excess cholesterol, fat, or just weight, in the world today. Blaming someone for something that society encourages seems unfair, and so if that's the reason they got out of shape in the first place, then it isn't their fault. Could you say that it's due to the parents, who allow it to happen to their children? Apparently, they don't realise when it's happening; you could only blame them as much as you could a sleepwalker for knocking over a vase.

Which is why I agree with the fat acceptance movement to a degree: blaming people is effectively useless. It makes people feel worse about themselves, could lead to worse eating disorders, and encourages what is essentially bullying. But what I don't agree with about the whole thing is this. It's things like "Let's face it, we've lost the war against obesity" that really do have a bad effect on people's outlook, and that's unfair. Giving up yourself is perfectly okay, and if you're happy with your body then that's great. But if someone who was struggling to get their weight down saw a message like that, it would just eliminate all hope. That's taking away from someone else's potential good health (let's not skirt around the issue - being fat is the cause of a huge number of problems, and even deaths, globally, particularly in western countries).

I think that the cause is targeting individuals at all. Converting one person, or a hundred, or a thousand, to a healthy lifestyle is an impressive feat, but doesn't change the causes of the problem. If anything is to be done about it, governments and food producers need to work together to stop awful food being so readily available. The cheapest, most accessible food is also the highest in sat fats, sugar, salt and cholesterol, so it is possible to be almost unable to avoid becoming obese just on financial grounds. My master plan, should I take control of the world, would be a tax on fast food and meat, the money raised from which would go towards subsidising (currently more expensive) healthier food. Hopefully a scheme like that would be able to start to address the imbalance in health between different socio-economic classes.

So in summary, fat acceptance is a really great idea as long as it is a support group for people who are having problems with being bullied, but it should not in any means encourage becoming or staying fat; that goes against both what is good for the individual (non-maleficence) and what is good for society (justice) in that everyone has to pay for the problems that are brought about by avoidable means.

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