General has not been met with undiluted joy on some of the more prominent feminist and fat-acceptence blogs.
"I heard this on NPR this morning and was screaming, "NOOOOO!!!!!" at the top of my lungs in the car. Gupta
is a BAD choice period. He's an extraordinarily bad choice if you are a fat person in the United States. Increased marginalization and vilification here we
come," says a commenter on BigFatBlog.com.
"I want to say "Sounds Good!" just to keep the S.G. theme going, but, unfortunately, this selection doesn't sound that good, at least for some of us, because Dr. Gupta is an "obesity epidemic" guy who occasionally likes to mingle his fat-hating with misogyny," says Melissa McEwan at Shakesville.
Various bloggers have criticized Gupta's reporting on the role working mothers may play in the increasing rates of childhood obesity, his concerns that doctors are too reluctant to tell patients they are overweight or obese
and his management of CNN's various programs to educate viewers on exercise, diet and weight managment.
This criticism illustrates just how complicated and confusing the national discussion on weight has become. The medical issues have become entangled with the social issues, to the point where the ultimate goal -- optimal health for each individual -- has become lost.
We are completely schizophrenic when it comes to food and weight. Our world is saturated by food, much of it high-fat, high-sugar, cheap crap that fills without nourishing, while the increased pace and stress of daily life makes eating something we do anytime, all the time, without having the time to reflect on that which we are shoving down our gullets.
At the same time, we're still Puritan enough to equate fat with lack of discipline and sloppiness, and still carnal enough to bombard women with the message that if they aren't thin, they aren't sexually desirable, and will likely die childless and alone.
(Some claim that fat-bashing is the last acceptable prejudice in America, but this is patently false: think how we collectively look down on the elderly, the toothless, the working poor, and just about anyone from Appalacia, for starters.)
Like all prejudices, fat-phobia is unproductive. It serves only to make people feel bad about their bodies, to brand them with "a Scarlet O" as one blogger says. Women, in particular, should be able to see the beauty in their bodies even if they can't see their bones; nobody should feel like they need to starve or otherwise abuse themselves in the service of some unattainable image of physical perfection.
On the other hand, it's absurd to criticize Gupta and other doctors for warning patients on the risks of excess body fat.
Sedentary people carrying extra weight are at a higher risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, strokes and sleep apnea, among other things. These diseases are showing up in younger and younger segments of the population. And health observers are seeing increased prevalence on these diseases not just in the United States, but everywhere in the world where obesity rates are on the rise.
Others say that it is possible to be fat and fit and cite studies that indicate that people who are active but still obese seem to have no more -- and perhaps slightly less -- of a risk of developing health problems than their skinny counterparts.
So what should the government's policy be? With the science still out, it seems better to err on the side of the lower end of the Body Mass Index, to encourage people to, as author Michael Pollan puts it "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants," and to move around as much as possible during any given day.
We need to somehow break the back of the food lobby, and re-educate people on the low cost of healthy whole grains and produce. (According the the USDA, the average cost per serving for fresh fruits was $0.12, and the average cost for a serving of fresh vegetables was $0.18.) We need to get these fresh foods into the inner cities and the rural regions where obesity levels have climbed the fastest.
We need to educate doctors and other health professionals on talking to people about the role of weight without shaming or hectoring. People need to be encouraged to make the decisions that are best for them. That can't happen if they don't have all the facts and can consider them in at least a somewhat dispassionate fashion.
The live-and-let-live crowd isn't likely to find comfort in our incoming Beanpole-in-Chief. Barack Obama exercises more in a day than most of us manage to do in a week (....or a month....), and seems to exist primarily on salads, broiled salmon, and the occasional waffle. Beside his personal abstemiousness, he's also on record as saying that we could save millions in health care costs if we could get obesity rates down to their 1980 levels.
One thing is certain: if he isn't already, Dr. Gupta better start eating his Wheaties.
Recently, we looked at the false comparions we make between women in politics, the sad case of Dymond Milburn, and the history of appointed female senators before taking an overly-long break for the holidays.