Disrupting the Obesity Narrative

For starters, the full title of Mike Schatzki’s The Great Fat Fraud is almost as long as the book. The paperback version of this volume only weighs in (pun intended) at 197 pages, and the conversational tone author Schatzki adapts makes this a book easily read in an afternoon, as I did.

I’ll be up front with you: if you’re a born skeptic who has extra pounds around the middle -- a description which fits me to a “T,” unlike those pairs of size 40 pants which mock me from the back of my closet -- this book provides the perfect excuse for you to not worry about dieting or strenuous exercise. Next to quitting smoking, losing weight is the most popular New Year’s resolution, so it seems an appropriate time to peruse this book and its message.

And the main point of The Great Fat Fraud is pretty simple: being fit is achievable regardless of size. As long as one maintains a desired activity level in life, the amount of weight being carried doesn’t matter. Schatzki uses a measuring stick of fitness activity as walking 10,000 steps per day -- bear in mind that an average person already walks 4,000 steps per day in his or her daily routine -- and cites the research necessary to back up the assertion in the first half of the book. That part makes perfect sense, and the tone Schatzki writes in seems to me much like a chat one might have with a well-informed doctor or fitness guru.

But it’s the second half of the book I found more interesting, and to me that portion is the root of The Great Fat Fraud. Simply put, there’s a multibillion dollar industry which survives by making people believe they need to be less portly to be more healthy. And whether they opt for diet pills, group programs like Weight Watchers, specialized diets provided by companies such as Nutrisystem, or the extreme case of bariatric surgery, those in search of public acceptance through conforming to what society deems a healthy, proportionate body fatten the coffers of the Weight Loss Industry which created the Obesity Epidemic -- Schatzki refers to both in upper-case.

As a political analyst, and knowing our state and federal governments spend billions of tax dollars promoting the message of the Obesity Epidemic, that portion of the book was the one I found a little bit lacking. Schatzki spends a short, twelve-page segment of the book pointing out the fact that government didn’t really care all that much about obesity until a 2004 study of mortality -- written and reviewed in large part by an Obesity Task Force heavily populated with directors of weight loss clinics -- concluded 400,000 Americans per year died from obesity. But he doesn’t continue on and follow the money, nor does he wonder about who’s really paying for the implicit message which benefits certain favored industries like Big Medicine or Big Pharma. After all, the narrative and coverage plays into the belief that if the government says it’s true, it must be so.