Gastric Bypass – It’s Not Just for Fat People Anymore

Lynne Murray says:

Remember those 1950-60s sci fi movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Night of the Living Dead where everyone you know turned into an alien or a zombie? I just had that experience last Sunday night when 60 Minutes, a news show I have respected for years, broadcast essentially an infomercial for weight loss surgery.

The story suggested that gastric bypass surgery would “cure” diabetes and “reduce the incidence of some cancers.”

I am still angry about this because I believe in investigative journalism, and 60 Minutes usually digs way deeper than simply broadcasting one side of an issue. They didn’t bother to talk to anyone with any negative effects from the surgery or to any experts who contradicted the surgeons who are pushing the operation.

If the 60 Minutes researchers had done more than a cursory examination of outcomes for gastric bypass surgery they would have been able to find disturbing information that this is far from a “cure” for diabetes.

Amy Tenderich at Diabetes Mine, a blog about diabetes, shares reports from some victims of the “gastric bypass “cure” for diabetes:

Mary Lou Gerstle shared her experience: “The real reason I had the gastric bypass done was to improve my diabetes. My diabetes has not gotten better. It’s been no help for glucose control! I’m even more out of control now than I was before. Now I know that there’s no real clinical evidence that this surgery helps diabetes. In fact, right now I am considering an insulin pump.

There is a kind of “reporting” that consists of turning a press release into an article without even bothering to check the facts. Then there is the kind of journalism that wins Pulitzer Prizes because the reporters actually investigate. Washington Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein were encouraged to “follow the money” during the Watergate investigation–to find out who is profiting from a given situation, trace the roots of corruption and expose crimes and deceptions. Sixty Minutes often does that, but when it comes to weight loss issues, they might as well be taking kickbacks from Jenny Craig.

I should have seen which way the wind was blowing when Lesley Stahl did a report that was essentially a valentine to Hoodia, an African plant used as an appetite suppressant.

Stahl’s eyes lit up when she heard that this miracle substance might allow a person to not eat for a day or more. No one questioned her remark as bizarre or unhealthy.

In what universe is it considered healthy and desirable not to eat for a day or more? Oh, wait a minute. I sometimes forget (believe me I’ve worked hard to forget) that in our deranged collective world view food deprivation, whether enforced by drugs or surgery is always considered to be “good for us.” In fact, anything that may lead to weight loss, no matter how small or temporary, is also considered to be healthful

I am not saying that Stahl has an eating disorder. I’m saying OUR ENTIRE CULTURE has an eating disorder, which Stahl and 60 Minutes are now servicing with uncritical, infomercials in the guise of news reports.

Whether or not there is a direct profit motive for 60 Minutes, there certainly is a contempt shown by the producers. What does it matter if they get it right when any reporting on the subject of fat is a “women’s issue” or an issue concerning sick, fat people? Unlike thin people who get sick, fat people are assumed to have brought it upon themselves, presumably by consorting with the Devil of their baser urges for the Bad Foods in Large Quantities.

Anyone seen as willfully sick (like fat people) are either in league with the Evil One, or in the case of diabetics, like the victims of witches in the old Salem Witch Trials, have they succumbed to temptation. If the flesh can be mortified through the scalpel they can be healed, cured and redeemed.

A book I’ve been reading, Carol F. Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, Witchcraft in Colonial New England, has a fascinating section about how beliefs in Europe about old women in particular became so accepted that there was no need to debate them (in fact, it was dangerous to question them):

No colonist ever explicitly said why he saw witches as women, or particularly as older women….

Human societies relegate certain information to the category of self-evident truths. Ideas that are treated as self-evident, “as too true to warrant discussion,” constitute society’s implicit knowledge.The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (pages 153-154)

The connection between overeating and fatness/sickness is seen as so “obvious” by our societies that no one, including most doctors bothers to question whether it is true. The assumption is that all fat people eat too much and drastically cutting their food intake through drugs or surgery will solve every physical problem they have. If they suffer because of the drugs or surgery–well, they brought it upon themselves.

Karlsen quotes anthropologist, Monica Hunter Wilson in calling witchcraft beliefs, “the standardized nightmare of the group…The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (page 181)

Certainly fat, whether it be displayed on other people’s bodies, or creeping up to latch itself onto oneself, is the worst nightmare of the American public. The visceral equation of fat with sickness, weakness and sin is so strong that even medical professionals take it for granted, parroting junk science and never looking at the actual, scientific data.

In an afterword to the 1989 paperback edition of her book, Karlsen notes: “The links between the demonization of women and other difficult-to-subordinate groups…remain largely unexamined.” The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (page 261)

What could be more difficult-to-subordinate than fat? I’m not referring to fat people–we’re only start to stand up and demand equal treatment. But persistent, unbudgeable fatness, like a visible manifestation of the sin of greed, is a specter that haunts Americans in particular. In preying on these anxieties rather than drilling down to factual results 60 Minutes is demonstrating how far they have fallen from journalistic adequacy.

Note to 60 Minutes–I used to love you, but it’s all over now.

10 thoughts on “Gastric Bypass – It’s Not Just for Fat People Anymore

  1. “Human societies relegate certain information to the category of self-evident truths. Ideas that are treated as self-evident, “as too true to warrant discussion,” constitute society’s implicit knowledge.” ”

    The downfall of critical thinking.

    *shakes head; prepares passport to moon*

    This is why, as a precocious brat, I read Orwell and Huxley. I was an intuitive little snot, and I knew some day I’d need to be able to call it as I saw it.


    (Srsly. Is anyone else looking around and going ‘OGMWTF’ – without the BBQ?)

  2. Mmm, BBQ.

    In all seriousness, who among journalists will, as you say, “follow the money?” Who has the chuzpah, the gonads, the brains? Won’t someone please think of the children? I’m tired of being looked at as a chronic conspiracy theorist but damn.

  3. A book I’ve been reading, Carol F. Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, Witchcraft in Colonial New England, has a fascinating section about how beliefs in Europe about old women in particular became so accepted that there was no need to debate them (in fact, it was dangerous to question them):

    Thanks for this analysis. I haven’t seen this applied to fat in so many words, although I’ve felt it. Except for the fat-accepting subculture I live in, it’s very true that beliefs about fat are so accepted that they are undebatable and (for people in certain professions) dangerous to question.

  4. well, here is what i have to say on that.

    fuck you, sixty minutes. fuck you all.

    my mom had gastric bypass surgery. she lost, i believe, ninety pounds.

    it did kick her type 2 diabetes into remission, temporarily.

    however, her breast cancer just recurred. one of the types of cancer that’s supposed to have the incidence reduced by gastric bypass, by the way.

    so now she’s on chemo. and the meds she’s on for chemo and because of chemo have caused the diabetes to recur.

    and do you know what you’re supposed to do when you’re on chemo?

    push goddamn fluids.

    do you know what you can’t do when your stomach is only four ounces?

    push goddamn fluids.

    if you overfill your tiny little stomach, you throw up. which you’re trying desperately not to do (and mostly failing) because chemo drugs cause severe nausea, or at least they are causing it in my mom. there may be some people who don’t have the nausea side effect, but considering that my mom is on more antinausea meds than she is on chemo meds right now, i am thinking there are not many of them.

    all i wish for everyone who worked on that story is the same glorious “cure” that my mother is going through.

  5. Betsyl, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother.

    I wish women also knew that once they’ve had bariatric surgery, they are ineligible to participate in clinical trials for new cancer treatments.

  6. Littlem/Phledge – too right. As a Jew, all this stuff (the dehumanising/demonising headless fatty pictures, blame for global warming and everything in between) is seeming sickeningly familiar… (Not to say that non-Jews aren’t aware of this stuff!)

    As Kurt Cobain sang, just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you…

  7. Thank-you for this post, it was very well written and brought up some fantastic points. As a “survivor” of lapband surgery (which did not work BTW) I am more than familiar with the ridiculous hype surrounding these surgerys and the many complications which are rarely reported or even acknowleged.

    I especially found your comparison of the demonizing of women to the demonizing of fat extremely interesting. You have inspired me to go out and read “Devil in the Shape of a Woman”

  8. Phledge, the lack of courage and brains in present day journalists is saddening–granted it does take major cojones to tell the truth about a widely cherished delusion (i.e., that weight loss, and particularly WLS will make a fat person–or a diabetic person!–healthier than they might otherwise be). The fact that there are billions of dollars being made from this delusion almost guarantees that the industries and government agencies that have bought into the lies will not welcome hard facts that exposing the lies.

    Betsyl, I am so sorry that your mother has to go through all this, and that you have to go through the pain of being with her as she does. We do the best we can for the ones we love, but I do envision a special place in hell for those who push weight loss surgery as a cure.

    Phledge, Thank you, and I am glad you are surviving post-lapband surgery. Our bodies themselves really do have some amazing healing power. The book, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, is on the scholarly side, but it has some amazing insights–e.g. how women in earlier centuries were unavoidably involved in healing through nursing family members, delivering babies, etc., and how many of the witch accusations in American Colonial times took place in a society where male doctors were taking over some of those functions and essentially eliminating the competition.

    Also interesting (to me anyway) is how I got this copy of the book. I got it a few months ago from a neighbor who was moving out, a young soldier on his way to Iraq (probably there now) who is a serious enough Christian to wear a crucifix outside his t-shirt. I think he might have been reading it for a college course. He got it used, and books have such a life of their own, it has probably had some adventures before it arrived in our building.


  9. betsyl,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your Mom. The levels of immorality in how she was treated are horrifying. I agree with Lynne “a special place in hell” for them.

    Women are round, we are all “fat” in places regardless of our size. Extreme thinness erases our curves. I often think fear of fat is fear of women.

  10. All of the coverage you describe is horrifying, but the hoodia example stands out as really creepy to me. I had no idea 60 Minutes was getting into this kind of thing these days.

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