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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.

Schatzki redeems himself to some extent, though, in asking people to get up off the couch and take action, and I’m not referring to taking a stroll around the neighborhood. In the chapter on “Derailing Obesity Epidemic Researchaganda,” he calls on those who are really interested to give their side of the story, countering the government-sponsored message that thin equals healthy. Because it is the flip-side of the political narrative, Schatzki feels it’s worth finding media contacts to make sure the commonsense approach of simply doing enough physical activity to maintain a weight healthy for your body -- whether it results in a BMI of 25 or 35 -- has its say in the media. This review would be a good example of such a request, so I’m playing into his hand here.

Truly I don’t mind, though, because I’m a real-life example of Schatzki’s writing. I was rail-thin through my high school days, but ballooned over time to a point where I had 330 pounds on my 5’10” frame. Then I lost about 100 pounds of that through a reasonable diet, and more importantly, religiously walking about 2 miles a day. Once I stopped walking, though, I found the cessation of physical activity allowed my weight to rebound back up to where it is now, the point where size 40 pants mock me for being so four sizes ago.

But the key, explains Schatzki, is not going on a crash diet or getting back on phentermine, which I took for some time as I lost weight. All I need to do is make time for more walking and slowly get back to that level of physical activity I enjoyed before and I’ll get to a weight which is healthy for me, because the idea of being fit is more important for a long lifetime than the number on the scale. It won’t cost me anything but the price of a good pair of walking shoes, and I can eat pretty much whatever I want -- within reason, of course.

And it didn’t take a doctor to tell me this, as Schatzki’s background is actually that of a professional speaker. Like me, he just came to a point in his life where he wanted to get into shape, and after trying many of the other get-fit remedies, he did his own research and compiled the data he cites in The Great Fat Fraud. Surely by selling The Great Fat Fraud he’s only looking for a sliver of a slice of the huge financial pie created by the Obesity Epidemic.

Maybe it’s time the Weight Loss Industry goes on a financial crash diet. The government doesn’t need those extra lobbyists anyway.