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What the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health Missed

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So let me say I am a bit pissed about how the White House handled
their conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on September 28th.

I have been dealing with weight stigma and fat phobia all my life. I have been stigmatized by doctors, my workplace, insurance companies, family, friends, teachers, colleagues, and now my favorite President. When I saw the advertisement for the conference I cringed. I thought here we go again. The message of the “obesity crisis” and diet-related negative health outcomes is front and center and poor, BIPOC, fat, disabled people are going to pay the price.

The messaging of the conference is that our food and nutrition habits are hurting us, and that the government, doctors, workplaces, and insurance companies should be pushing for more “healthy” food choices in their food and nutrition programs. The messaging is also focused on how the leading cause of heart disease is because of bad nutrition and that this is a cost to our nation that must be addressed.

The conference strategy is bring together all the departments that are running nutrition programs under one umbrella so that the government can make one concerted effort to “fix fat people.” (That is not exactly what they said, but I got their meaning.)

They are brought together at this conference stakeholders that include doctors, chefs, food policy, insurance companies, and business experts, as well as farming and health advocates. Doctors notoriously mistreat and stigmatize fat people and use faulty science against us, and I saw no mention of evidenced-based research that says doctor relationships with their patients who are fat negatively impacts health outcomes.

What I do not see on this list (and not surprisingly) are organizations that are fat positive, that are Health At Every Size, that support joyful movement, eating disorder therapists, or intuitive eating experts. It appears there is no one advocating to end stigma against fat people and talking about what weight stigma in medical care  does to the mind and body. There is no one pushing body positivity or liberation for the norms of society. What if they talked about body autonomy and the liberation for BIPOC and disabled bodies?

I think this conference will do more harm than good in the long run. This will more than likely make fat people feel targeted and promote disordered eating behavior. A focus on ending hinger by 2030 is great, but this is not the most effective way to go about it, in my opinion.

The conference and its strategies keep emphasizing “healthy” food, as if all other food is “junk” and should not be eaten. That is elitist and short sighted. What if that is all you have access to or can afford? What if all your cultural foods are characterized as bad for you? Every food (diet) plan I have been on labels cultural foods unhealthy and forbidden. Are we planning on everyone eating chicken breast and broccoli for the rest of their lives? (What I characterize as white people food). What if you do not have a kitchen to prepare food or the spices to make your food taste good? What if you have no electrical power and therefore have no way to keep your fresh food cold? What if you have dietary needs and allergies that make it impossible to shop at a food bank or afford your food in the grocery store? Will they be talking about this? What about cultural foods? Will this be the outcome?

What is also left out of this conversation is that none of it works. Long term weight loss is unsuccessful more than 95% percent of the time and you will likely gain it back plus more (this data is often left out of discussions about weight and reducing diet-related illnesses). In health and diet discussions there is rarely discussion about weight bias in health care and the treatment of people with high BMIs. The fact is that fat people are less likely (due to stigma and access issues) to go to the doctor before illnesses become chronic or cancer sets in.

The conference did not directly address weight stigma, racism, and trauma and how they play a role in how we see our bodies and treat our bodies. I experience racism in health care and in the community and this is a health risk that is often ignored and then I am blamed for the outcome.

As a patient in a super fat body, I am told by doctors that the only way they will treat me is if I have weight loss surgery and lower my BMI. BMI was not created to measure individual health and was based off of white men, but it is the gold standard used by the medical field and insurance companies. This was never the intention of the developer. I have been turned down for health insurance for my BMI being too high and have been charged more for my life insurance, even though my other health indicators were so called “normal.”

This is a blatant attempt to control bodies, in particular, fat, BIPOC, disabled, poor people who rely on nutrition programs. What happened to bodily autonomy (push back to the Dobbs decision) and respect of individual choice.

I support making sure no one goes hungry and that everyone has access to the food they want and need. I just pause when it appears no one is at the table representing me a fat, black, disabled woman, and my need for bodily autonomy.

To all my fellow fat people: Despite what the federal government says, you are OK. You are not bad or a burden on society. You are not the cause of an economic crisis. You do not make insurance premiums go up. You are not a bad mom for feeding the kids what they like and prefer. You are entitled to be free of fat stigma at work and in your community. Your worth is not measured by your high BMI. You are not to blame for your chronic illness (straight sized people get sick too). You do not need to struggle with weight stigma in silence. You deserve unbiased and compassionate health care. You deserve more research on how to treat fat people without withholding care until they lose weight.

I could go on. But my final push is that the White House reconsider, as it moves forward with these strategies, how detrimental weight stigma is and how damaging it is to the mental and physical health of adults and children, and especially BIPOC people who, even with all the trying in the world, will not meet the standard that is being held as the ideal. The White House is trying to solve one so-called crisis only to replace it with another. Now we will be dealing with more mental health challenges and people with disordered eating.

The White House is accepting feedback on its strategies; you can find where you can comment here. I commented. I do not know if it will help, but if we all did comment maybe we can be heard. Try it.

Stay Mighty strong, we are in for another stigmatizing fat phobic ride.

Getty image by Alina Vasylieva

Originally published: September 30, 2022
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