Saturday, April 07, 2007

Of pregnancy and fat phobia

Another post from Sandy Szwarc highlights the peculiar and dare I say twisted mentality that comes from living in a culture that's fat phobic in the extreme. Szwarc's talking about the latest media anti-fat media blitz, this one focused on the relationship between weight gained in pregnancy and overweight toddlers. Specifically, according to the study's authors, women who gain even the accepted amount of weight during pregnancy run four times the risk of having a child who's overweight at age 3.

Scary, huh? Apparently much scarier than another finding buried in the study, which received neither headlines nor any media attention: the fact that women who didn't gain enough weight during pregnancy had double the risk of having a baby with intrauterine growth retardation. According to Szwarc, Babies with IUGR are at vastly higher risks of stillbirth and serious medical problems during infancy if they do survive.

This reminds me of the recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that being underweight or of "normal" weight (and let's not even go there for now) correlated with higher rates of mortality than being overweight. (Thanks to Paul Campos for writing about this!) This unpopular finding has been scrutinized and rationalized to death, because apparently it's unbelievable that having nutritional reserves (i.e., being fat) could possibly confer any health benefits.

This, in turn, reminds me of the way doctors and therapists who treat eating disorders sometimes fall inadvertently into the language and perspective of those eating disorders. How people with anorexia can walk around at weights that are dangerous, yet no one notices because we've been so conditioned to think that thin = healthy and good.

Apparently we live in a culture where death is preferable to being fat. Even for babies. Even for toddlers.

Some years ago I dealt with this in my own life, after a severe depression sent me into a tailspin (what would have no doubt been called a nervous breakdown 60 years ago). Antidepressants lifted the fog and gave me my life back. They also, over a period of 5 years, led to a 50-pound weight gain. To me it was no contest: I'd rather be sane and happy and fat than thinner and miserable.

I wonder how many people would agree with me?


Unknown said...

Count me in!!

Carrie Arnold said...

I hope one day I can say me too!

I recently posted about this article on my blog too. Shameless self-promotion, I know.

Harriet said...

A blog reader (you know who you are!) sent me a link to an interesting study showing, among other things, that low maternal weight and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy may increase the child's risk of developing anorexia later on. Wow. Read all about it at

mary said...

Yes, I'd like to select sane too!
Accepting ourselves and being comfortable is a process and can be a challenge for all of us at times.

Harriet said...

Another blog reader sends a fascinating link to a study correlating premature birth to various problems in adolescence, including "neuroticism," which researcher Cynthia Bulik has linked to a predisposition toward anorexia and other eating disorders. I hope the rest of the medical research world is listening! Read more at