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“Everybody Knows …”: The Obesity Context

Debbie says:

Sorry to have been away for so long. Laurie is, of course, traveling, and I was out of town at a wedding (which I really want to write about) and then I’ve been a) catching up, and b) a little sick. But I’m here now, and I have tons of juicy links to blog about over the next few days.

Let’s start with a foundational post by Fillyjonk at Shapely Prose. This will resonate with anyone who has done fat activism (or any activism) for years, and keeps running into the same familiar walls.

… a study is just a fucking study. Deflate it, and you’ve got a deflated study. Analyze and critique the paradigm that devised, interpreted, reported, and incorporated it, and you’re getting somewhere. Many studies are problematic in and of themselves; others are problematic because they’re being interpreted either in a vacuum or in an unsuitable framework.

Now, the anti-fat crusaders at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have been kind enough to collate and illustrate this unsuitable — and irresponsible — framework for us. No guesswork here; it’s the full gamut of anti-fat prejudices and misconceptions in one handy PDF.

Fillyjonk goes on to point out some of the context. I have to say that I’m not sure that she and Sandy Swarc are completely correct that the Johnson Foundation benefits financially from the sale of drugs and medicines: what I am sure of is that drugs and medicines are the original source of the Foundation’s funding, and its point of view. So even if the exact financial information is incorrect, the point is accurate.

The rest of the Shapely Prose post points out a few egregious flaws in the RWJF report. My horror starts even a little deeper than Fillyjonk’s does, however. She didn’t mention that the underlying context in this report goes so deep that the authors, contributors, and peer reviewers see no need whatsoever to defend, or even define, their basic positions:

–there are endless statistics on obesity and “overweight,” but there is no attempt to prove a relationship between those conditions and poor health.
–the report relies entirely on BMI, a completely meaningless number which provides the support for most data on obesity and “overweight.” It is described as “a mathematical formula,” but is not defined further or analyzed
–the report also falls apart if you examine the implicit (and incorrect) assumption that physical activity and weight have a direct correlation in individuals.

Of course, there’s more, and just about all of it follows (if poorly) from the unexamined assumptions above. As fillyjonk says,

It’s hard to even begin on what’s wrong with this report, and it’s impossible to end. Because it doesn’t end: this is our at-a-glance look at the real problem, the incredibly flawed foundation on which everything else is built. Forget the individual studies that lean on this foundation, which would be constructed differently but might have similar results in another context; they are necessarily incomplete, and it’s the cracks in the foundation that are showing through. This is what we’re up against: the fallacies so old that they’re being treated as common sense.

Poking fun at studies is one of my favorite spectator sports, and I don’t intend to stop. At the same time, this is a good reminder that each time Body Impolitic pokes fun at a study, we can also bring out the battering rams and pound away at the foundation which shores those studies up.

Thanks to Stef for making sure I saw this one.

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3 Responses to ““Everybody Knows …”: The Obesity Context”

  1. Fillyjonk Says:

    She didn’t mention that the underlying context in this report goes so deep that the authors, contributors, and peer reviewers see no need whatsoever to defend, or even define, their basic positions:

    Debbie, this is exactly what I was trying to get at! Rest assured, we are on the same page, and you phrase it really well. Absolutely, the problem is that this framework is utterly unchallenged. It’s the guise of “common sense” and “common knowledge” that is the most insidious.

    I will admit that I was basing my skepticism of RWJF’s financial interests on what Sandy and others have said. I haven’t looked into it myself and probably should have.

    I have, and love, your book, by the way!

  2. Fillyjonk Says:

    (By “your book” I mean Women En Large, though I find the premise of Familiar Men to be really lovely too, and might get a copy.)

  3. Debbie Says:

    Fillyjonk, I absolutely know we’re on the same page. All I was trying to do was add fuel to your fire, not contradict you.

    And I’m glad you love Women En Large!

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