- That their research gets funded by companies that benefit from fat hatred
- That they have non-existent or crapulous methodology
- That their interpretation of results flies in the face of all that is scientifically reasonable
- That their work is founded in prejudice and misinformation
- That despite access to resources, they exclude critical perspectives
- The complete absence of fat stakeholders within work which is supposed to be about us, which portrays fat people, or rather "the obese," as some kind of Othered subhuman lump of helplessness.
Alternative ways of understanding fat are starting to emerge from Fat Studies and through activism and models such as Health At Every Size. These take a more sophisticated view of fat, and strive to recognise the humanity and agency of fat people.
So here I am, sitting in my deckchair in the garden of Fat Studies, flowers blooming, birdies tweeting, golden sunlight, and I'm watching obesity science implode over the other side of the fence where the ground is barren and the stinking dust chokes you. I'm thinking: "Burn, baby, burn."
Today's piece of obesity science schadenfreude, evidence of a dying empire, comes courtesy of the University of California, San Diego (also home to a group of amazing Fat Studies scholars, as it happens). Lead researcher Jeffrey Schwimmer's study confirms the concept 'infectobesity' which refers to a correlation between exposure to viruses or bacteria and being fat.
Whether or not Schwimmer's research offers any useful facts is not my interest here. What concerns me is that this study makes the concept of infectobesity concrete and real to people without any critical understanding of its social impact, or care that such a perspective is absent.
The same happened with Foresight's popularising of the concept obesogenic, meaning how environments supposedly cause people to become fat. Not long after that piece of work was published – and boy, was it ever a piece of work – you couldn't turn a page of The Guardian without coming across some posh twit using it to make themselves look knowledgeable, concerned and important.
The effect of obesogenic was that it legitimised judgmental middle class intrusion into working class people's lives in the UK through stereotyping of poor people's perceived lack of health knowledge, proposals for Healthy Towns and food labelling and taxation systems, as well as the increased surveillance over children through chubby fatphobe Jamie Oliver's school dinners campaign and the whole Change4Life fiasco. Good work!
Meanwhile, terms like obesogenic and infectobesity are problematic because they assume that fat is pathology rather than a part of the fabric of humanity (we think that biodiversity is a good thing, why doesn't this extend to people where fat is concerned?) and automatically conflate fatness with ill-health rather than address the structures which influence health, eg poverty, discrimination, stress. They seek reasons for explaining fatness so that it can ultimately be obliterated, a rationale that mirrors eugenicist social engineering, only this lot want to do it for profit. Infectobesity is worrying, too, because a viral explanation of fat is likely to lead to increased discrimination against and social exclusion of fat people.
Given the ferocity of these ideological attacks on fat people like you and I, it seems odd that one might feel pity for the world that this research represents. It's a strange reversal of the pity directed at fat folk through obesity science. But obesogenic and infectobesity represent ever more desperate attempts to explain fatness using the ever-dwindling touchstones of energy-balance and pathology. These concepts are being produced in the shadow of new scholarship that blows this narrow thinking out of the water and threatens the profitability of the businesses which fund such rubbish. These are the final gasps of a dying entity.
I thought I'd end this post with some ideas for alternative concepts upon which obesity scientists could base some studies. Feel free to suggest your own.
Fleabesity The belief that fatness is caused by bites from infected fleas.
Obesogreed A term which refers to the insatiable desire to cash-in on fat hatred through spurious scientific claims. Describes weight loss companies that fund research producing and endorsing obesity charities.
Meteobesity The belief that fatness is caused by changes in the weather, or meteors.
Obesignore The act of paying no attention to one's own research findings and instead reiterating the worthlessness of fat and the value of weight loss at any cost.
UFObesity The belief that fatness is caused by aliens.
Uselessblobesity The act of making fat people absent, abject and anonymous within obesity research.
Disobedieisty The belief that fatness is caused by bad thoughts.
Dinobesosaur The term by which old skool obesity scientists should now be understood.