Tuesday, December 02, 2008

This is the way we legitimize fat prejudice



My local paper, the Syracuse Post-Standard, is really pretty good, especially for a small city paper. Like many small papers these days, it picks up a lot of stories from wire services. Today's post concerns one of those wire stories,which ran in the feature section as "10 simple things you can do today to improve your life."

Number 3 on the list is "Put one foot in front of the other." It's a plug for exercise, specifically for walking, which I am in favor of, and advocates getting a pedometer to measure your steps. We're all supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day. I'm good with that. But halfway through the item I came to this sentence:

Those in the obese range usually take between 4,600 and 6,000 steps a day, overweight people walk 6,000 to 7,000 steps a day, and those of normal weight tally 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day.

Where to begin: With the idea that anyone who's not overweight is "of normal weight"? (Since when is being underweight normal?) Or with the random declaration that obese people walk no more than 6,000 steps a day?

I've worn a pedometer, and I've typically taken between 7500 and 9,000 steps a day. I have to make a conscious effort to reach 10,000 steps a day, it's true, but according to this article, since my BMI is in the obese category, I should be more of a couch potato.

It's just another example of how silly these kinds of "health" stories can be. And as a member of the media myself, I really shouldn't get exercised (pun intended) about ridiculous things like this. But I do. Because every one of these stories underlines, subtly or overtly, our cultural attitudes and assumptions about fat people, and so leads to more fat prejudice and stereotyping.

And there's already plenty of that to go around.

10 comments:

Vidya said...

Even if those numbers were true, it still ignores that fact that each step constitutes a greater act of physical exertion for a fat person -- thus, even with fewer steps, we could easily be getting 'more exercise'.

Meowser said...

People also shouldn't be considered "good" if they exercise a lot and "bad" if they don't. That's another prejudice we have, that active people are more virtuous than less active people.

But if they really give a shit about whether we get our steps in or not, they ought to consider whether a fat person might be less likely to exercise if s/he has gotten mooed at, oinked at, spit at, sneered at, or complained about during those times s/he HAS tried to be more active, which has happened to way too many of us.

spacedcowgirl said...

Did they cite that # of steps statement? I am highly suspicious of its truthfulness. Either way I agree that the factors that Vidya and Meowser mentioned might come into play.

Lisa said...

All I want for Christmas is for weight to stop being a moral issue.

Rachel said...

The newspaper I write for is also picking up more wire stories and reducing staff. We had a voluntary layoff (buyout) program two months ago and a lot of our really good features writers left, and they announced forced layoffs this week. But quality of newspaper articles aside...

I'd like to know what they based this off of. How many people were included in this study? Did they represent a national cross-section? There are too many unknowns for them to draw the conclusion that fat people are just more unfit. For another ripe so-called study that purports to show "science" but really just prejudices even more against fat people, read here.

DivaJean said...

Another Syracusan here---

My workplace encouraged use of pedometers a few years back in an effort to "Step Up" our health.

At one of the divisional meetings, the VP of the company offered to give a prize to the person with the highest value on the pedometer. Since it was 9 am, most people had fairly low values. However, mine was really high, since I had walked the dog, walked my kid to school and then walked along the bus route until the bus caught up with me to get to work. I was far and away above most. Instead of giving me the damn logo embossed chotchke, I was humiliated as "Obviously having not reset the pedometer from a day or so ago." The person with the second highest pedometer reading was an administrative assistant- who is about the same size as me. She had been running errands all over the building- as usual- but she was similarly discredited. At this point, I was really pissed and said loudly "So just give the prize to whomever you deem healthy based on size only and lets get on with the meeting..." That went over well. Its a wonder I still work here!

Harriet said...

That is unfucking believable, DivaJean. Wow. I'd love to know where you work. . . .

socially_awkward & questionably_attractive said...

Heh. I'm overweight according to the BMI charts, but I regularly walk 15,000 steps per day. (I have a very walk-y job.) Why aren't I "normal weight" darnit?!

living400lbs said...

Good points, all. DivaJean, good for you!

Only thing to add is that athletes often land in the "overweight" category due to sheer muscle mass.

Christine said...

I understand that not including an "underweight" category is a form of fat prejudice, but I'm not sure that everyone is reading into the study correctly. I mean, all that the study is saying is that obese people USUALLY, i.e. "on average," take less steps than normal-weight people.

I don't think that says that you SHOULD take less steps, and it doesn't say that obese people are less fit. All that the study seemed to report was this statistical data. We can speculate on why its conclusion is the case...as Vidya points out, walking is an act of greater physical exertion for an obese person, compared to a normal-weight person. And in your case, you would be an outlier because you are very conscious of your pedometer readings...as Rachel points out, there is no knowledge of the kinds of the people used in the study.

So, I don't really think that this study's conclusion itself has a fat bias except for the fact that it didn't include an underweight category. Do you really mean that the journalist spun this study in a fat-prejudiced way?