Daniel Engber on the science and politics of obesity.

The state of the universe.
July 16 2010 7:11 AM

Pork Barrel

Daniel Engber on the science and politics of obesity.

"Greetings From Fat-Land: The Washington Post reports on obesity in rural Kentucky and misses the point," posted July 15, 2010. A feature about a small town in the Appalachian foothills argues that the families most affected by the obesity epidemic aren't paying much attention to the problem. But poverty and lack of education may be having even worse health effects in the community.

"Fat Kids: Get ready for a new front in the war on obesity," posted March 9, 2010. How to interpret the three major talking points in Michelle Obama's campaign to fight child obesity: Nearly one in three children is now overweight or obese; childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980; and the youngest generation is on track, for the first time in the nation's history, to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

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"Too Fat To Fight ... in the Battle of Cantigny," posted April 28, 2010. An interesting precedent for the too-fat-to-fight meme, in the form of a novella from the early 1900s by best-selling adventure author Rex Beach. The book tells the story of Norman "Dimples" Dalrymple, a gentleman deemed too heavy to fight in the trenches during the Great War.

"Not Too Fat To Fight: The obesity epidemic has nothing to do with national security," posted April 23, 2010. A senator and a Cabinet minister back a report claiming that our poor diets and lack of exercise have become a danger to homeland defense. Are we about to become a nation of Dewey Oxbergers, or is this a case of shameless hogwashing?

"The Fat Premium: Congress toys with a silly plan to make Americans lose weight," posted on Oct. 29, 2009. Lawmakers seem ready to adopt the Safeway Amendment in the final health care reform bill. The new law would make it easier for insurance plans to discriminate against fat people with incentive-based wellness programs. This approach to health care is ineffective, unfair, and possibly illegal.

"Too Big To Win: Fat politics and the race for governor of New Jersey," posted Oct. 19, 2009. New Jersey governor Chris Christie was mocked for his weight in a tight campaign against (slender) incumbent Jon Corzine. Is there a constituency for a plus-sized politician?

"Glutton Intolerance: What if a war on obesity only makes the problem worse?" posted on Oct. 5, 2009. Discrimination against fat people leads to lower wages, less education, and worse health care. It might even make the health effects of obesity more acute on an individual level. It's time to consider whether our focus on body size is doing more harm than good.

"Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Big Fat Asses: Does poverty make people obese, or is the other way around?" posted Sept. 28, 2009. Poor people are more likely to get fat because they have less access to healthy foods and less opportunity for exercise. But sickness and discrimination can have the reverse effect—and make fat people poor. Efforts to reform health care must take both poverty and obesity into account.

"Let Them Drink Water: What a fat tax really means for America," posted Sept. 21, 2009. Would raising the price on sweetened beverages move the nation toward an apartheid of pleasure in which poor people must drink from the faucet while the rich enjoy superpremium fruit juice?

"Fat-E: The new Pixar movie goes out of its way to equate obesity with environmental collapse," posted July 10, 2008. Wall-E is an innovative and visually stunning film, but the "satire" it draws is simple-minded. Pixar plays off the easy analogy between obesity and ecological catastrophe and relies on some familiar myths about the overweight: They're weak-willed, indolent, and stupid.

"Abolish the Fat Tax!: It's time to shut up about the 'cost of obesity,' " posted Feb. 14, 2008. A study shows that obesity isn't costing us billions of dollars per year, as is routinely reported in the media. Rather, it's saving us money by killing people off before they develop costly, degenerative mental disorders and musculoskeletal diseases.

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