Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fat America

The BBC’s Matthew Davis has been working overtime, with two pieces over two consecutive days, to reinforce yet another caricature of America, that of the obese American. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans are not obese, yesterday Davis wrote about the US obesity “crisis”, and today he travels to Jefferson County Mississippi, the “fattest part of the fattest state” in the US.

Frankly, I don’t understand at all the interest in this subject. Davis writes that “most agree that the unhealthy lifestyles of many in the US need to change.” Unfortunately he never gets around to answering the rather obvious question: Why? So what if they don’t change? The societal importance of preventing people from getting fat escapes me.

But with the BBC’s embrace of national stereotypes as the basis of serious and on-going reporting, perhaps we can look forward to the BBC doing a series on the questionable bathing habits of the French by sending one its crack reporters to the smelliest part of the smelliest country in Europe (“most agree that the malodorous lifestyles of many in France need to change.”) And then maybe a story on the deplorable state of dental hygiene in the UK by visiting the most toothless pub in the most toothless county in the British Isles (“most agree that the unhygienic brushing habits of many in the UK need to change.”)


Blogger Simon Lazarus said...


I do await the story on the French with the hairy armpits (the women, not the men), the German women with moustaches, and the Italian women who wear black so they can avoid looking like circus elephants.

Now I can understand how I lost my job at the UN.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous KathyF said...

First of all, define "vast" as in "vast majority". By my definition, a clear majority of the US population is either overweight or obese, (2/3s) so you're somewhat overstating the case by using the term "vast". (Or were you intending a pun?)

Second, there are serious health risks for being obese, especially when the obesity is caused by high fat high sugar diets. Guess who pays for this? Taxpayers, and consumers, who pick up the tabs for the health bills that result.

Comparing this genuine health crisis to "smelly" France (I've been to France, and have no idea what you're talking about) or worse, using the stereotype of bad British teeth to compare your imagined stereotype to is some of the worse logic I've ever seen.

You really should apologize to your readers.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous JohnM said...

Guess who pays for this? Taxpayers, and consumers, who pick up the tabs for the health bills that result.

Not in a country where health care provision is mostly private.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


According to Davis' article, about 25% of Americans are obese. That means that 75% are not, which is a pretty vast majority in my mind.

The health risks to obese people are their own health risks, not mine or society's. If they want to run those risks, I don't see any reason to get in their way. As for the economic costs of those risks, as another poster has pointed out, unlike in the socialized UK, taxpayers (for the most part) do not have to pick up the tab. Free markets are a wonderful thing.

As for the use of stereotypes, that was precisely my point. The BBC may be a little more circumspect about it than my suggestion about smelly France or toothless UK, but its promotion of the caricature of the fat American is no less pernicious for that.

I don't think I have anything for which to apologize.


11:14 AM  
Anonymous KathyF said...

You obviously have been here too don't know how health care is funded in America, do you? Despite the lack of universal health care, taxpayers do pick up the tab. VA, Medicare, Medicaid, and those who end up being treated in life or death situations where the cost is passed on to state and local governments (plus other insured patients)...all this is funded by the government. Consumers pay the rest, since the cost of health care (insurance) is absorbed into the cost of everything you buy.

Those who are unhealthy, and this includes particularly the obese and overweight, will cost your government and your insurance company more than people like me, who are healthy and with a low bodyfat ratio. So you both pay more taxes and pay higher insurance premiums to cover the cost.

And I've seen figures of 33% obese, and 66% overweight. Plus I've just returned from a trip to the South. Yep, there're lots of obese people there...I'm thinking at least 33%. Many of them live in the nursing home where my mother lives. Were they trim, they would likely be able to live on their own and save the government quite a lot of money.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous KathyF said...

And yes, your logic is still faulty. You're comparing a genuine health crisis to a stereotype, or worse, a nationalistic assumption.

If you refuse to believe obesity is a genuine health crisis, then there's no hope for you.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


Please note that, with regard to the cost of health care, I specifically added the qualifier "for the most part". While it is of course true that the government (in various guises) involves itself in covering the health care costs of some people at some level, most people are in fact covered by private insurance. So the point remains. And, to the small extent that obesity in the US does cost the taxpayer, the cost is instead a function of government choice, not obesity. It is far easier, and much more in line with a free society, for the government to simply choose not to pay for obese people than for it to force obese people to become thin.

As for the cost to the consumer, that is precisely what insurance exists to do...share costs. If you do not wish to share the costs with obese people, don't buy insurance, or buy it from a company that doesn't cover obese people. Again, free markets works wonders for, well, freedom.


12:33 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


It is not a "genuine health crisis", at least for society. The plague was a societal health crisis. Flu epidemics are societal health crises. AIDS, arguably, was a societal health crises.

Obesity is, perhaps, a personal health crisis, for fat people. It is not crisis in any sense at all for the rest of us.


12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But fat smokers & drinkers die younger saving the medical costs of the treatment of the years & years of dementia. In addition they draw less from their pension, leaving more in the pot for censorious folk like kathyf to have a mean & miserable old age.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


That is very true, and is a point I have mentioned before.


4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the BBC has done hundreds of stories on "the deplorable state of dental hygiene in the UK" - just go to the BBC News site and do a search for "dentist".

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the blog and kudos to the Bigoted Broadcast Corporation.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The dirty Frenchman.

11:07 PM  
Anonymous tired & excitable said...

Yep, 'tis the season:

What the French really think of the Americans

What Americans really think of the French

As for the British, well, as any American who has ever ridden the tube will attest, they are as rancid as les grenouilles, and -- embarras de choix -- have bad skin, bad posture, greasy hair, formidable breath and weird speech impediments (or is that just estuary english?).

So where does that leave us, kathyf? Time for a Circle of Love and a pious reminder about the Oneness of Us All, perhaps.

But not before you've checked out Gordon Brown's vile fingernails.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous psojka said...

Scott --

Obesity is a large (oops!) problem in the US. It's too cumbersome to list all the medical problems that obese people are more likely to have than non-obese. But rest assured that your "cost-sharing" is only a theory. When Medicaid and Medicare drastically underpay a hospital or practitioner for their care (and I mean DRASTICALLY), the hospital needs to make up for its losses. In billing private patients and insurers, they can collect significantly greater percentages of the already inflated bills. In addition, the hospital or practitioner also balance bills the patient for whatever the inusrance company didn't pay. It is illegal to balance bill a Medicare or Medicaid patient. So, when the costs to the individual are compared, the private insurance patient is not only responsible for his ever-growing premium, he also is often stuck with the remainder of the already-inflated bill to pay on his own. Obese patients consume (oops again!) higher percentages of health care dollars, because of the complications from their obesity and, as the articles state, their increasing numbers. The percentage of obese patients that are in government health care is not irrelevant though hard to track, since the numbers would be ever-changing.

And when I tell you the story of the 420 lb man I saw last week with the abscesses on his arm that required 3 surgeries and 10 days in the hospital because he was to fat to clean himself at home, you'd get the idea.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


It seems to me that if the government forces you to treat fat people, forces tax-payers to pay half the bill, and then leaves you on your own to find a way to cover the other half, the problem is not obesity, but is instead government regulation.


7:13 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home