Friday, May 26, 2006

Root Causes

Chris Clarke from Creek Running North wrote a really interesting post about his view on the politics of fat.

What I prefer instead is the notion of fat people’s liberation, addressing the social constructs that induce obesity in people like me, and providing ways to correct or counteract them. And if those methods also liberate some of us from obesity itself, so much the better. For me, accepting the blandishments of some in the Fat Acceptance Movement means accepting the damage that is done to me, and others like me, as inevitable and beyond criticism, and that I cannot do.
Zuzu from Feministe responded to his posts, and made a more explicit argument:
The reaction was one of outrage that the notion of a “healthy weight” should be accepted, not one of outrage that any health advice should focus on reproductive potential. But that outrage (and even the outrage over being treated as vessels waiting to be filled by a baby) was somewhat misplaced, and prevented the kind of examination of the root causes of health issues that Chris describes above and that Sheelzebub addressed here
I disagree entirely. While it is certainly possible that some, many or even most people who argue that weight is not an independent factor when it comes to health ignore root causes that effect people's longevity and quality of life. But that doesn't mean that there is any inherent relationship between the two. It is perfectly possible to argue that weight is not an independent variable for health, and look at structural issues around food and exercise (which is what zuzu was talked about in all her examples).

I realised this when I went to look back over the posts I'd written about weight, longevity and quality of life. It turns out that almost every single one of them addresses what I see as the structural reasons behind health problems, and what I see as the solutions.

In my criticism of the Green Party's food policy I argued:
Their entire policy is based on the idea that problems with food and diet are individual problems, and if people had more information then it'd all be great. This is bullshit, the problems with our food and diet are created because food is made for profit, not for nutritional value - individual choices aren't going to change that.
In my criticism of a proposal to tax fat people more I argued:
If the government wanted to ensure that people were more active more there are a number of things they could do: provide free exercise facilities, offer free public transport, and most importantly legislate for a shorter working week (I actually like the tone of the Push Play campaign, but it doesn't address any of the structural reasons people don't exercise, starting with the fact that exercise has become a commodity).
When I was talking about the obesity epidemic as a moral panic I had this to say:
But I have some much better ideas, ones that would actually work. So here's my list of proposals which would actually help kids get better nutrition:
  • Give their parents more money
  • Give their parents more time
  • Provide nutritous breakfasts and lunches in schools
  • Socialise food production and make it for nutritious value not profit
Here's my list of proposals that would help kids get more exercise:
  • Don't give them any homework, so they have time to play after school
  • Make entry to swimming pools free
  • Provide free public transport, so that kids have mobility and independence
  • Build more parks, and put wild areas for exploring in them
  • Stop trying to create panic around law and order to win elections, so people feel safe
  • Not create a whole in the ozone layer which means that it's often dangerous to be outdoors
  • Give their parents more time
In the very post where I criticsed the use of the phrase 'healthy weight' I said:
The biggest risks to us usually have absolutely nothing to do with what we choose to do as invidually, but the way our society is organised - poverty, food production, pollution, workplaces, housing standards and so on.
It appears that I can't write about these issues without talking about root causes.

PS since this is almost a greatest hits guide - I'm also quite fond of my analysis of feminist nutritional advice and my recent post about food under capitalism.

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