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How the Word Police affect the news you get
Why did some leading legacy news outlets ignore dire warnings in a major report about obesity?
The World Obesity Federation issued a grim 232-page report earlier this month that predicted more than half the world’s population will be obese by 2035. Childhood obesity will more than double. Scorecards on 187 countries ranked each by their ability to address the epidemic. An independent advisory committee estimated the economic impact to the global economy will be $4.32 trillion in lost productivity and additional health care costs for diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease and other obesity-related byproducts. That is about 3% of global GDP, the same impact as COVID-19 produced through worldwide lockdowns in 2020.
And the $4 trillion figure might be low. Some researchers not involved in preparing the report believe it will be substantially higher since the forecast did not take into account inevitable costs from long term disability caused by obesity.
The London-based World Obesity Federation is no rightwing organization attempting to stigmatize people with high body mass indexes (over 25 is overweight, more than 35 classifies as obese). It is a prestigious nonprofit whose work is supported by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Division. The British Medical Journal publishes an extended version of its conclusions.
The World Obesity Federation’s credentials, however, do not impress some progressive public health advocates who believe that such reports only add to “weight stigma and fatphobia in public health.” The woke resistance has been building for years.
A physician writing in Harvard Medical School’s Health Blog warned “weight bias is pervasive in medicine.” Terms such as “obese person” or “morbid” are “stigmatizing.” The U.K’s national health service has urged doctors for a decade to stop using “obese” and “overweight",” and instead try to find “weight-neutral language.” The AMA’s Journal of Ethics blames doctors who “exhibit weight bias” for “helping to perpetuate our nation’s obesity crisis.”
Buzzfeed’s copyediting desk joined the fray. The word obesity “is best avoided,” it declared. Why? It is based on BMI, a measurement that “simply looks at height and weight and is based on a Belgian scientist’s idea of ‘the average man’ 200 years ago. It’s racist and served as a steppingstone to the creation of eugenics.”
“The focus on body size is rooted in racism,” concurred the University of Chicago’s School of Public Health.
“Around 81 percent of societies historically have favored people in larger bodies. Larger bodies signified wealth and prosperity while thinness signified poverty and weakness. However, this began to change due to racism and eugenics. Charles Darwin and other race scientists created a hierarchy of civilization, placing whitemen on top and people of color, specifically black people, at the bottom, considering them to be ‘less civilized.’ Fatness and differing body characteristics were used to justify lack of civilization: fatness used as a marker of ‘uncivilized behavior’ while thinness was ‘more evolved.’ This idea was maintained throughout the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, as a way to justify slavery, racism and classism, and control women through ‘temperance.’ This ideology has perpetuated Desirability Politics - where thinness and whiteness are given more access to social, political and cultural capital.”
The World Obesity Federation report, however, demonstrates that obesity is a mostly equal opportunity disease for all races. Where there are statistically significant variations, it is usually in favor of people of color. For instance, the increased rates for obesity predicted by 2035 for Sub-Saharan African men and women are expected to be about half that of men and women in Central, South and North America.
A lot of Substack readers know that facts alone are not always the most important elements as to whether something gets widely covered today in the MSM. A lot rides on whether the news checks the right boxes for progressive causes. Imagine if a UN and WHO-backed group issued a report that predicted a rapid rise in worldwide temperatures by 2035, and a $4 trillion impact on global economies. It would likely be front page news in most major papers and news sites.
What about the World Obesity Federation report? Google it. It was covered by medical journals such as STAT, Healthline, and the Medical Press. A Reuters story was picked up by CNN Online and CBS online. WebMD carried it, as did FOX News online. The only newspapers that put the story into their print editions were the New York Post and The Alaska Dispatch News. Big names in legacy media, including The New York Times, Washington Post, and NBC, totally ignored the alarming report. Covering it meant using repeatedly the much disfavored word obesity.
I wrote last month in Substack about “The Assault on Freedom of Speech.” It is not always, however, about direct censorship, cancellations, and the refusal to debate ideas in the public square. As the ghosting of the World Obesity Federation warnings illustrate, news is sometimes filtered and stories that do not fit certain political narratives are omitted. Only the Word Police can be satisfied that their assault on some language means the public is less informed on important issues.