Thursday, July 26, 2007

Coming soon: Big Brother is watching you--eat

You've no doubt read about the this article in the New York Times by Gina Kolata, in which she covers the "fat is contagious" study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

As a fellow journalist, I understand that Kolata had to cover the story. An obesity reporter's gotta cover what an obesity reporter's gotta cover (which is why I left the world of hard news long ago). But the tone of this article is a little too uncritical in my opinion, a little too quick to accept the study's dubious findings as valid research.

The quote that sent me reaching for my keyboard: When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad. “You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you,” Dr. Christakis said.

In other words, size acceptance causes obesity.

I'm not even going to try to unpack all the assumptions here. Like, for instance,the fact that thin people can become fat, or that fat is always Bad with a capital B, or that it's better to be thin than to be comfortable with yourself, whatever your size is. And then of course there's the fact that these researchers don't seem to understand that--repeat after me, class--correlation does not equal causation.

Kolata certainly didn't try. She appears to have reported all this with a straight face, more or less, despite her considerable knowledge about obesity and scientific research and, well, bullshit.

Gina, Gina, Gina. I may have to take your book off my shelf.

6 comments:

carrie said...

Harriet,

Oh yes. I read it too. Ms. Kolata's one redeeming point was that she interviewed people who thought this study was bogus, even though their comments were minimal and buried in the article.

I wrote about it on my posts from yesterday (7/25). I'll leave it at that.

RioIriri said...

I have it in my notes to compose a blog entry about the whole fat war being based on the very false premise that fat is bad.

It's like pouring a lot of energy into researching the cause of and ways to eliminate blonde hair. Why bother?

This hysteria is more out of control every day.

mary said...

She certainly used a lot of quotes!Let's give her the benefit of being on fat overload. She may be in shock! Didn't we just learn it was our working mother who made us eat, eat, and eat some more?
The article made me ponder what the hell scientific researchers are doing with money given to them, by US, in the name of research? Seriously. Why are they promoting hatred of one another of any size? What gives them the right? And why are they so damn stupid that they think they can use the guise of science to promote such 'important' stuff.

'You are making me fat' type of thinking is such great material for my inner comedian. Hmmmm Which one of us made the other fat? Did you enable me to feel comfortable in my body and I you? I'll get you for that!
Or, did I ruin your life with pie eating contests?
And who's the idiot who's built my muscles over the years?
Just when we thought it was working mothers they tell us our friendships get the credit for us being such beautiful creatures. They have no idea what they are saying Harriet. None whatsoever.In a way I think that Gina handed them their words on a platter. Quotes and all. She never gave her opinion. Here's an opportunity for a comeback which deserves it's own response.
Personally, I would be able to leave genetics out. No defense of fat. What these scientists are reporting/promoting borders on a hate crime and that's what has to change. It may take one of us crazed momma's to set them straight! I'll help if you help me with words.

Meowser said...

That article by Kolata rubbed me the wrong way, too. She was a lot more circumspect than most of the MSM people who wrote about this, saying only that friends might influence people "to be at the top of their natural weight ranges" consisting of about a 30-pound range, not that we fatasses can influence thin people to gain dozens and dozens of pounds they otherwise wouldn't.

And she was one of the few people to call in anything close to an opposing point of view -- that is, if Kelly Brownell can be seen as "opposing" fat oppression. ("Those poor fat slobs, it's not their fault that Pepsi straps them down and pours gallons of their product down their unsuspecting gullets and makes them such poor fat slobs" isn't what I'd call a fat-lib POV, but I suppose anything that isn't "screw fat people, they did it to themselves" will have to do in a pinch.)

But I smell serious editorial bowdlerization in that story. I doubt that even with Kolata's stature she can submit stories without getting anything redlined, and it wouldn't surprise me if she originally took on a more skeptical tone and certain things were cut.

Anonymous said...

She does not completely get it or can't quite bring herself to accept it, which sadly, was apparent even in her book. Some of the worst comments in her article yesterday were her own interpretations, not quotes from others.
Check out this review for a very different take:
http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2007/07/oh-what-tangled-web-we-weave-sir-walter.html

Harriet Brown said...

Oh yes, I love Sandy Szwarc. And that was an awesome post.