Daniel Engber at Slate has another in a long line of very good analyses of the idiocy of paying people to be thinner. Specifically, he tackles a proposal by the CEO of Safeway (a grocery store chain) to offer incentives, in the form of lower insurance premiums, for losing weight.
Not showing increased health by any rubric. Just losing weight. Engbar gets through almost all the good reasons (with links!) about why this is stupid. Healthy and skinny aren’t synonymous, there are economic and genetic barriers to weight change, “diets” rarely have long-term effects, yo-yo dieting is unhealthy, and so on.
One point that he’s missing, which is critical in my mind, is that there are already a huge fucking number of “incentives” to be thin(ner) (that is, punishments for being fat) and they do not work. In the lovely Kate Harding’s words, “If shame made people thin, there wouldn’t be a fat person in this country, trust me.”
Do I “diet” (i.e. seriously restrict my eating and make moral judgments on my food choices) more when I’m feeling less good about myself? Abso-fucking-lutely. Is that a self-respectful, sustainable way of maintaining my health? Shit no.
I’m pretty sure my body size isn’t the result of a pro-con list I make each morning that just doesn’t have enough entries on the FATZ ARE WRONG side. It really, really isn’t an issue of incentives or punishments. Policies like Safeway’s are morally-based, not health-based. It isn’t about making people healthy, it’s about stigmatizing fat.
My parents’ company (which is an insurance company, actually) has a great program that gives some wonderful incentives for actual health-ifying behavior, like having routine physicals and health screenings, and eating (and sharing with coworkers!) fresh fruit and vegetables. I know that “It’s for my health!” is often used as a proxy for “It’s for my weight loss!” but programs like these, which do not assume intrinsic health value in weight loss, help to provide a reminder that weight is just a number, not the be-all-end-all of what determines our health.