Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic"

Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic"

Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic"

Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American "Obesity Epidemic"


In the past decade, obesity has emerged as a major public health concern in the United States and abroad. At the federal, state, and local level, policy makers have begun drafting a range of policies to fight a war against fat, including body-mass index (BMI) report cards, "snack taxes," and laws to control how fast food companies market to children. As an epidemic, obesity threatens to weaken the health, economy, and might of the most powerful nation in the world.

In Killer Fat, Natalie Boero examines how and why obesity emerged as a major public health concern and national obsession in recent years. Using primary sources and in-depth interviews, Boero enters the world of bariatric surgeries, Weight Watchers, and Overeaters Anonymous to show how common expectations of what bodies are supposed to look like help to determine what sorts of interventions and policies are considered urgent in containing this new kind of disease.

Boero argues that obesity, like the traditional epidemics of biological contagion and mass death, now incites panic, a doomsday scenario that must be confronted in a struggle for social stability. The "war" on obesity, she concludes, is a form of social control. Killer Fat ultimately offers an alternate framing of the nation's obesity problem based on the insights of the "Health at Every Size" movement.


In a 2005 speech at the University of Texas, then U.S. surgeon general Richard H. Carmona stated, “Obesity is the terror within … [and] it is eroding our society.” In the same speech, Carmona added that the “childhood obesity epidemic” in the United States will have dire consequences for the future workforce and military (University of Texas Health Science Center 2005). Carmona’s statement is meant to scare people into taking obesity seriously, not simply as a social problem, but as a crisis and a threat to national security on par with terrorism.

Contrast the dire warnings of Carmona with those of Tina, a woman I interviewed ten months after she underwent gastric bypass surgery: “The doctors told me I needed to do this for my health. Well, maybe I am healthier now but I am more normal and, deep down, that is why I did this [had surgery], and that is why I dieted my whole life, to blend in, to be one of the crowd, you know?”

Tina’s comments are not unique. In researching this book, I interviewed forty people actively pursuing weight loss and spent time in diet groups, twelve-step programs, and weight-loss surgery support groups. I was surprised that, in the midst of a health crisis as seemingly catastrophic as the obesity epidemic, people engaged in various weight-loss programs seemed relatively unmotivated by the specter of obesity or even by the risks of fatness to their own personal health. Rather, like Tina, most of the people to whom I spoke talked about a desire to lose weight to be normal, to be able to wear a smaller size, to blend in, and to avoid the . . .

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