Being Fat Is Bad for Your Health(care)


Lately I've been reading a lot of empowering "curvy is beautiful" stories in the press and seeing TV segments devoted to why it's healthy to have a "real woman's body," all of which is code for the "overweight is OK" movement. And you know what my reaction is? Why are we telling people—and women in particular!—stuff that simply isn't true?

The truth is, it isn't OK to be overweight—even just 20 pounds overweight. And not just for the usual reasons everyone has heard before—that pudginess increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.

What you should know is that being "a real woman" or "curvy," as some like to call it, makes it more likely that you'll get lousy medical treatment. That's right: You may have a harder time getting health insurance or you may have to pay higher premiums for having a not-so-flat belly. You're also less likely to have cancer detected early—and if they do find cancer, you're less likely to get the best treatment for the disease.

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Fat discrimination is part of the problem, but the people doing the discriminating are actually our own doctors. "If doctors have negative feelings toward patients, they're more dismissive, they're less patient, and it can cloud their judgment, making them more prone to diagnostic errors," says Harvard Medical School professor Jerome Groopman, MD, author of How Doctors Think. In a January 200 Health story, we learned that doctors just hate treating overweight patients. In fact, one study revealed that docs view obese patients as lazy and difficult.

Doctors don't like to operate on the overweight because they don't recover as easily as normal-weight patients, and thus they bring down the doctors' success rates. That holds true for fertility doctors too; because being overweight reduces your chance of getting and staying pregnant, fertility clinics turn away women who are overweight. Even organ transplants may be withheld if you're too heavy—if your weight's too high, your risk of complications goes way up—and doctors don't want to "waste" a perfectly good kidney or liver on someone who's less likely to survive and thrive.

No, this isn't fair and I'm not about to defend any of this behavior. But it's time to get real. Health risks go hand-in-hand with extra poundage—and it's crazy for the media to pretend otherwise. And fat discrimination by doctors and health insurers is a fact—and isn't going to go away anytime soon. So next time someone tries to tell you that it's OK to have a "real body" or any other code phrase for chubby, you'll know the truth.