Monday, July 30, 2007

Some thoughts on the profitabiity of dieting

I'm very skeptical about a lot of things. One of the first questions I ask myself when reading about a subject, especially a medical one, is, "Who financially benefits from this?" About four years ago, I learned that the lower limit for "high" blood pressure had been ratcheted downwards a notch. I was immediately skeptical of this, and did a ton of reading. It turns out, I wasn't the only skeptical one; there were plenty of articles pointing out that, by changing a number, hundreds of thousands of patients were magically created, patients that would be prescribed extremely profitable medication.

It's true that I'm especially wary of the pharmaceutical industry, and with good reason: Just take a look at fen-phen, Vioxx, and other medicines that have been pulled due to the harm they caused the general public. In many cases, the manufacturer's research revealed these problems during testing, but covered them up or fudged the results. This isn't an opinion here, folks, the facts are out there.

So, you'll have to excuse me for looking at the thindustry with a critical eye. Who makes money from fat hysteria?
1. Magazines - What women's magazine doesn't have a weight-loss strategy advertised on every issue's cover? Usually right next to either a thin, airbrushed female model (magazines with sexy men on the cover are generally geared towards gay men) or a rich dessert.

2. The clothing industry - Whether they sell you a new wardrobe after you diet yourself thin, or they're profiting when you regain that weight, the fashion industry in general does NOT like fat women. They express their disdain with limited selection, hideous clothing, and cocaine-addicted skeletal models. Think about it: We're encouraged to "buy clothing a size or two too small" as incentive to diet. So they want us to essentially keep two wardrobes--the one that actually fits, and the one that shames us. Tell me THAT isn't profitable.

3. The diet industry - This is a no-brainer. What other companies can get away with selling a product that either doesn't work, or fails long-term, thus chaining its customers to their programs for life. Best of all, when diets fail, WW or JC do not take the blame--the customers blame themselves for the failure, which makes them go back and try harder!

4. The athletic industry - We're encouraged to buy a gym membership, which tend to be pretty nasty little contracts that are very difficult to get out of. If we go to the gym, we get nasty glares, rude comments, and snide laughs from the "beautiful people" who don't feel we belong there. So, we become afraid to return to the gym, but are still obligated to pay for the year or two or twenty that the contract specifies. What other industry can get away with forcing people to pay a monthly fee for something that they've been shamed out of using?! Of course, the only place I ever felt comfortable getting exercise is a certain women's-only circular workout center--and they've become so diet-oriented these days that many fat & fit women get disgusted and quit (not to mention the political goals of the founder can be difficult for some to justify supporting with their dollars).

5. Doctors - They're making money by telling us that our adipose tissue is a disease that needs to be cured. We get weight-loss drugs pushed on us, and there are more ads for bariatric surgery every time I turn around. Billboards, spam emails, banner ads on websites, you name it. Bariatric surgery is become a HUGE moneymaker right now, and I'm guessing that its practitioners are trying to cash in on the phenomenon as much as possible before it comes crashing down a la fen-phen or Vioxx. Please note: I am not saying that all doctors are bad people trying to keep us sick for their own profit. There are many, many good doctors out there, mine included--but there are also a lot of hacks out there amputating stomachs when they don't have the experience to do it well, and the complication and death rate for even skilled bariatric surgeons is, in my opinion, unacceptably high.

6. The food industry - Our food supply is controlled by a relatively small number of enormous corporations like ConAgra. Do you think it's a mistake that they put less product in a package, then charge twice as much for it when they slap a "100 calorie pack" label on it? Or when they use cheaper ingredients to make a soy product instead of beef patties, and tell us it's healthy, so we pay more? As a vegetarian (for animal welfare reasons), I'll be honest and say that I like my soy burgers. But, I remember when they used soy protein as filler in school lunch hamburgers to save money. So when I'm paying a lot more money for soy burgers than I would for real dead animal parts, I'm not terribly happy about it. After all, it's cheaper to take the soybeans and make them into a burger than to feed the soybeans to a cow, let the cow process ~10% of it into cowflesh, then make the cow into burgers.

There are many more organizations and people that profit from weight-loss culture, including therapists, thin celebrities, and snake-oil manufacturers. So, you'll have to excuse me if I'm mistrustful of their motives, especially in the face of studies that indicate that being fat is generally not a cause of major illness or premature death.

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