Thursday, October 27, 2011

So, That's Offensive. Pass It On.

I've been reading a lot of blog posts by the funny, prolific, and smart Ragen Chastain lately, and she's really been drawing my attention to the prevalence of anti-fatty messages in the media. Not just the weight loss companies with their ever-present ads about belly fat or toning up for summer, but the "journalism" that goes around citing "studies" and "reports" and "evidence." I was on my way home from the supermarket today (with kale, onions, whole grain cereal, chicken broth, organic yogurt, cereal, and yes, Halloween candy for the kiddies and Tim and me), when NPR absolutely blew my mind with "Workplaces Feel the Impact of Obesity." Yeah we get this sort of thing all the time, but I guess I just expected better from All Things Considered. Here was the quote that made me swear out loud in the car:
"Studies estimate that nearly 10 percent of U.S. corporate health care costs are due to obesity and its complications. For a large company like Dow, that means tens of millions of dollars a year. On top of that is lost productivity, not just from doctor's appointments and sick days but also, research suggests, because obese workers are simply less efficient on the job."
Wow. OK. First off, there's "obesity and its complications." There is a small but highly qualified group of researchers, including Dr. Peter Muennig of Columbia med school, who are beginning to suggest that the much-vaunted "complications" of obesity (heart disease, diabetes, hypertension) may in fact be more complications of stress associated with the social and psychological stigma surrounding obesity for certain social groups. This is a guy who used to write about the "obesity epidemic" and wring his hands about DeathFatIsComingToGetYou, and now he writes this. In any event, it's far from proven that obesity causes these health issues.

And then there's the "research suggests" that "obese workers are simply less efficient." Are you freakin' kidding me? This is simply deplorable. Really. Here's what I wrote on NPR's website.

This is probably the most offensive and worst-informed story I have ever heard at NPR. The casual "research suggests" that "obese people are simply less efficient on the job" is just jaw-dropping. I dug up one of the studies that "suggests" this, and found the research's premises highly questionable at best. One quote: "Ricci and Chee (2005) estimate that on an annual basis, incremental costs associated with reduced productivity are $358 per obese worker." In other words, less than $1/day. As a highly educated, highly professional, and highly efficient fat worker, I am appalled that you would produce a story perpetuating the "fat people are lazy" stereotype on such flimsy evidence. What about parents' efficiency in the workplace? What about people with migraines? What about lost work productivity from the smokers who sneak out of the building every 90 minutes to feed their habit? Or those annoying Crohn's disease patients, always rushing to the restroom? I am going to devote the rest of my week (outside of my productive work time) to publicizing and denouncing this story. For shame, NPR.
Hey, at least the smokers and IBS patients might be thin. Or they might not. It doesn't matter. IT DOESN'T MATTER. Your size has nothing to do with your productivity, unless your productivity is measured by how many times you can squeeze through a 14" squre hole in the course of a day (see Pooh, not being productive) or by how many annoying reporters you can asphyxiate by sitting on them. So, as promised, I'm devoting my spare time to letting the world know that NPR's story deserves a great big bogus-slap.

You're welcome.


  1. I'm waaay more productive than most of my co-workers -- thin or otherwise. I second your bogus-slap and give you a high-five for writing about this. :) You're still my hero...even after all these years that we've been friends.

  2. well said! i too (am fat) quite busy at my job and have somehow managed to corral an out-of-control job that my previous skinny predecessor couldn't. npr would never suggest jews are greedy or blacks are lazy. but fatties are still fair game. for shame indeed.

  3. My productivity went down at one point after losing weight. I was taking off after my 8 hours/day to go bike riding instead of staying late and putting in 10-2 hours a day. :)

    I also find it interesting that they say obese people are less productive because of taking off from work due to doctor's visits and sickness. I think this is very true for some people. My husband is dealing with the aftermath of being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes (which absolutely is a result of his obesity) and he's been to the doctor's constantly in the past two weeks.

    OTOH when I was obese, I took maybe 1 day a year off for sickness and 1 day one time for a colonoscopy which I got because I hit 50, not because I was obese. For doctor's visits, I make up the time as is expected in my profession (flexible work hours) and I didn't have more than average anyway.

  4. Clearly there are thin people who are unhealthy (even with heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension and, yes, diabetes), and there are fat people who are healthy, as well as the converse of both cases. My point is that suggesting you can tell how many work hours a person is going to miss or how productive they are by looking at them is very, very wrong and NPR needs a massive bogus-slap.

  5. I heard the same story, and somehow didn't compute the 'fat is less productive' part. My belly fat must be making me deaf again...

    My boss is a chain smoker. He takes at least 10 breaks a day, averaging 10 minutes each. I would venture to say that he is far less productive than ALL of the "fat" employees. We tend to eat at our desks while working.

  6. I credit Ragen Chastain with helping to remove the belly fat from my ears, though I'm pretty sure that story would have offended the crap out of me whenever I heard it. I did have to look it up on the web just to make sure I heard what I thought I heard.

    It was particularly funny - or would have been were it not so sad and infuriating - because I've been on such a huge roll at my day job lately. Garnering praise left and right for quality of work *and* my efficiency, such that I can pump out large volumes of quality work with only occasional recourse to evening and weekend hours.

  7. Of course I totally agree with you. That would have pissed me off too had I heard it. Bull.