The Fat Studies Reader

By Esther Rothblum; Sondra Solovay | Go to book overview

9
Public Fat
Canadian Provincial Governments and Fat on the Web

Laura Jennings

Public policy approaches toward fat vary greatly from area to area. Annemarie Jutel (2001) examines major health policy documents of several nations, and her findings indicate a spectrum of approaches and attitudes toward fat and fat people. In general, the U.S. governmental approach emphasizes quantitative measures such as body mass index (BMI) and places “weight management before health management” (Jutel, 2001, p. 286). The national government of Canada falls at the other end of this spectrum, recognizing the shortcomings of BMI as a proxy for health and acknowledging the dangers of very low weights (Jutel, 2001).

In the United States, where powerful national health organizations spout warnings about an “obesity epidemic,” many states view fat as an enemy. Some state leaders unquestioningly accept messages about the dangers of fat and magnify these messages as they pass them along to their constituents. In Arkansas, where Governor Huckabee recently lost a lot of weight, webpages portray fat as antithetical to health, and fat people as irresponsible and lazy. One page, describing the connections between physical activity and health, tells us that exercise helps prevent “obesity” and, therefore, heart attack and stroke. It asks: “Why don't people get moving? Some are discouraged by the 'no pain, no gain' philosophy once they get started. Some consider physical activity 'no fun.' The most common reason is 'not enough time.' But studies show that regular moderate physical activity can make a big difference in heart health. African Americans have much to gain by being active. More than four of 10 African-American adults have cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as heart attack and stroke” (State of Arkansas, “Cardiovascular,” 2006). This passage introduces race, leaving readers with the impression that being African American is tied either to a desire to be inactive or to ignorance regarding exercise and health issues. Both exacerbate existing racial stereotypes.

The Arkansas websites list explicit “causes” for fat. These include poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and hefty doses of individual failings. Arkansas state webpages present fat as both an economic and health problem, with causes and solutions that target fat and fat people, rather than health and social structures. A web letter from governor Mike Huckabee ends with this: “For many years our country put money

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