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So close, but no

January 18, 2010
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This week in Science!, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force–a government-appointed but independent board of researchers–recommended mandatory screening and intensive behavior modification treatment for obese children.

The study’s researchers make it quite clear that such programs are few and far between, principally due to their high cost. But in doing so, they, and in particular one commenting “expert” make some pretty insidious assumptions about the characteristics of their subjects:

Many families with obese or overweight children can’t afford that type of treatment. And it’s not just cost. Many aren’t willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes, [Dr. Helen Binns, who runs a nutrition clinic at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago] said.

“It requires a big commitment factor on the part of the parent, because they need to want to change themselves, and change family behavior,” Binns said. [Emphasis added.]

So, let me get this straight. Those silly ignorant poor people just won’t be bothered to stop living in areas without access to healthy food, being part of a population without access to medical care, and experiencing stress and deprivation, among other things.

In an unrelated post, the fabulous Fat Nutritionist hits it on the head:

Because obviously they just don’t know what they’re doing. And that’s why they eat so badly, and hence, why their health tends to be poorer!

And eureka! — you have a tidy solution that not only absolves financial and economic guilt, but, as a bonus, allows richer, more-edumacated people to assume the role of benevolent experts.

Recognizing that the poor health of poor people might be more connected to their systematic deprivation of resources more than their DeathFatz!, and that the lack of a variety of healthy food would be a problem even if there weren’t any fat poor people, absolves us of the obligation to care about justice, not just to constrain and control “undesirable” bodies.

That this recommendation is framed as it is is not surprising, but still very sad.

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