The United States, we are told, is facing an obesity epidemic - a "battle of the bulge" of not just national, but global proportions-that requires drastic and immediate action. Experts in the media, medical science, and government alike are scrambling to find answers. What or who is responsible for this fat crisis, and what can we do to stop it? Abigail Saguy argues that these fraught and frantic debates obscure a more important question: How has fatness come to be understood as a public health crisis at all? Why, she asks, has the view of "fat" as a problem-a symptom of immorality, a medical pathology, a public health epidemic - come to dominate more positive framings of weight-as consistent with health, beauty, or a legitimate rights claim-in public discourse? Why are heavy individuals singled out for blame? And what are the consequences of understanding weight in these ways?
What's Wrong with Fat? presents each of the various ways in which fat is understood in America today, examining the implications of understanding fatness as a health risk, disease, and epidemic, and revealing why we've come to understand the issue in these terms, despite considerable scientific uncertainty and debate. Saguy shows how debates over the relationship between body size and health risk take place within a larger, though often invisible, contest over whether we should understand fatness as obesity at all. Moreover, she reveals that public discussions of the "obesity crisis" do more harm than good, leading to bullying, weight-based discrimination, and misdiagnoses. Showing that the medical framing of fat is literally making us sick, What's Wrong with Fat? provides a crucial corrective to our society's misplaced obsession with weight.
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Enlightening findings from rigorous research
Well written in an engaging style, the book drew me in with the claim that the much hyped "obesity epidemic" is less a matter of empirical fact than a particular frame constructed by those who see obesity as a medical issue or individual responsibility. I learned a lot, including that BMI was never meant to assess individual weight, and was recalculated in the late 1980s (or 1990s?) resulting in a lot more people becoming 'overweight' or 'obese' overnight!
I appreciated the insights from the advocates who proffer alternative framing of fat, as "healthy at every size" or a matter of social acceptance. I was shocked and dismayed to learn of details of public health campaigns that shame and blame children and their parents regarding childhood obesity.
I can see how reading nonfiction can be challenging for a performer, but I found this voice not well suited to nonfiction. It's probably a matter of subjective taste - the voice was too high pitched for me to really enjoy it.
I listened to this book over several days while driving to/from work. The substance of the book caused to me reflect on my own assumptions about fat, talk to colleagues, and come back for more. I needed time to digest the material in between listening sessions.
In the chapters reporting data, there was a lot of repetitive data or terms, which in reading, could be easily skimmed without reading every word. Listening to the description of tables in the chapter reporting on the surveys was a bit tedious. Overall, though, this book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of "obesity" and how particular frames, or definitions, create significant harm for certain groups of people.
- Christine Morton