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Let Us Shun the Obese This Holiday Season


In the tradition of “Yes, Virginia, &c.,” DrRich once again reprises his classic holiday message.


‘Tis once again that time of year when we Americans gather together with our extended families and friends to celebrate the Season. It is a time for catching up – renewing acquaintances and making new ones, sharing in good news and commiserating in bad, welcoming our new arrivals and mourning our losses. It is a time for giving thanks, counting our blessings, and putting our sundry individual problems into perspective. Indeed, it is perhaps most importantly a time for each of us to remind ourselves that – despite the trials and tribulations that may cause us to become relatively self-absorbed in our daily lives – we are all part of something much greater than ourselves.

So, in a way, it’s a shame we must now cull out our obese relatives and friends, and disinvite them from these joyful and fortifying reunions.

It’s not something we should do lightly, as the obese are people, too. They enjoy the holiday gatherings as much as anyone else (more, some would say, given the abundance of sugary foodstuffs which are typically provided there). But alas, excluding the obese is now something we must do – for our own sake, of course, but more importantly, for the sake of our social networks, and indeed, for America itself. For, to allow the obese to continue participating in our traditional seasonal gatherings is something we now know (as DrRich will shortly explain) to be simply too dangerous and too counterproductive to our collective interests. We can no longer permit it.

Before demonstrating why, DrRich ought to digress for just a moment to address the burning question many of his kindly and generous readers must already be asking, namely, What about Diversity?

On the surface at least, it would seem that the exulted goals of Diversity – the uber virtue, from which all the other, more subsidiary virtues must necessarily spring – would be well-served by our including the entire panoply of body types in our holiday celebrations, from the very thin to the very fat. Must we really exclude from our table our obese family and friends, whom we know and may love, while at the same time, in the name of Diversity, welcome into our collective bosom, say, self-declared Islamist terrorists who openly aim to kill us?

In a word, yes.

For the terrorist, as much a danger to our persons as he or she may pose, is merely a fervent adherent to a minority (and therefore oppressed) religious sect, whose fundamental beliefs (though they center around the utter destruction of Western Civilization) we may not legitimately place ourselves in a position to judge, and therefore, whose tolerance by us, and proximity to us, greatly enriches our appreciation of the wondrous diversity of the human experience.

In contrast, obese people are just fat.

They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever which ought to merit their protection under the beneficent umbrella of Diversity. In this way, fat people resemble Sarah-Palin-lovers, global warming skeptics, tea party fanatics (at least 40% of whom, by the way, are overweight or obese, judging from photos of their rallies), and other groups of narrow-minded or otherwise inferior people the benign tolerance of whom would quite obviously do material harm to the true goals of Diversity. But the obese pose a greater threat to us than even these other unworthies do.

And unfortunately, as we approach that charitable season in which our natural inclination would be to temporarily overlook the sins of our obese friends and relatives, to allow ourselves to fraternize with these individuals – even if only for a few brief hours during this one time of year – is to place ourselves, our non-obese loved ones, and our nation itself, in immediate and immeasurable peril.

This sad fact came to light just a few years ago when a landmark study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine proving that obesity is contagious. Merely having fat friends (and not necessarily living with or near them, or even interacting with them regularly, but merely enumerating them among your friends at a distance) can make you fat as well.

The study came from the studios of the famous Drs. Christakis and Fowler, who have embraced a software package, comprehensible only to themselves, that churns out complex images of “social networks,” from which they can derive all manner of heretofore unimagined associations. These academic stars have turned their shop into a veritable factory of peer-reviewed publications, thereby solidifying their scholarly reputations and (doubtless, now that they have done so much good for the anti-obesity movement) their ability to secure NIH grants, and other favors from government agencies.

Using data from the venerable Framingham database, these pioneers combed through old records for information about the body weight, relatives, and social contacts of individuals who were enrolled in this famous study. They then used their esoteric computer modeling software to create various “animations” depicting the evolving social relationships of the subjects, and the development of obesity, over time.

To summarize their findings: A person is 57% more likely to be come obese if a friend becomes obese, even if that friend lives hundreds of miles away. (This finding is really quite remarkable, considering that the only other natural force that acts on bodies instantaneously and at a distance is gravity. This newly discovered force that produces obesity at a distance – shall we call it “obevity?” – will have to be incorporated, with great difficulty no doubt, into the Grand Unification Theory now being sought by physicists everywhere.) The same effect was not seen when close neighbors became obese, or even (to such a great extent) when family members became obese. Furthermore, if the friendship is mutual (that is, if the fat person considers you a friend in addition to you considering the fat person a friend), the odds of your becoming obese triples. And even worse, this study shows that, even if you wisely avoid the company of fat people yourself (in an attempt to remain acceptably svelte), fat people who are acquainted with your acquaintances may still have an impact on your BMI. That is, obesity is a contagion that tends to spread throughout the social network.

So clearly, if anyone within a given social network associates with fat people, then ultimately nobody in that network is safe.

(Here is an animation the authors have provided, to show a time-lapsed view of how obesity spreads. If this doesn’t convince you, nothing will.)

Now, to be sure, there have been critics of this study – individuals, DrRich thinks, who are nearly as dangerous as the obese themselves. Since this issue is so critically important, please allow DrRich a few brief paragraphs to debunk the debunkers.

Some have complained about this landmark study because the list of “friends” employed by the authors was determined decades after the fact, from administrative records that had been used in the Framingham study for follow-up purposes, in which subjects had been asked to list relatives and a “close friend” who would know their whereabouts at all times. Critics claim that somebody who can reliably provide your contact information may be a good friend; but perhaps not. Perhaps subjects were simply more inclined to give the name of a fat person as a round-the-clock contact. After all, it’s always easier to get ahold of an obese person who, being slothful, is likely to be parked in front of his TV, popping chocolates and munching chips, than it is to contact somebody who’s thin, and is likely to be out and about, probably jogging. The researchers, in other words, were not operating from a list of BFFs, but instead from a list of acquaintences judged by the subjects at the time to be most likely available by telephone. (The subjects, remember, had been enrolled long before the era of cell phones.) So, critics insist, the baseline assumption made in this study – that the researchers actually knew who the subjects’ close friends were – is highly suspect.

To which DrRich replies: These critics likely have fat friends, and are probably even fat themselves, and thus their complaints can be dismissed with a definitive, “Bunk!”

Moving on, critics have also complained because the kind of computer modeling used in this study is not for mere mortals to understand, and therefore amounts to a black box. And indeed, DrRich must admit that the authors’ description of their statistical maneuverings is enough to make your head spin – replete as they are with the running of numerous simulations, using differing assumptions along with a quite unembarrassed manipulation of all the variables (almost as if they were seeking the “right” combination of factors to yield the desired answer, reminiscent of the scientific techniques revealed in the emails of those global warming experts). Critics go on to complain that there are only a handful of humans who claim to understand this kind of complex computer modeling, the results of which, therefore, resemble “received knowledge,” akin to what the medieval clergy used to dole out to the unwashed masses, when most people were illiterate and there were no Bibles in the vernacular.

Bunk again, says DrRich. While the computer modeling used here is indeed unfamiliar to physicians, it is very familiar to a few theoretical economists, who have used similar modelings for years in the attempt to predict the behavior of markets within social networks. DrRich even found a formal critique of the Christakis/Fowler analysis, written by two such economists (Ethan Cohen-Cole from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and Jason M. Fletcher of Yale University). And while this pair of economists, in fact, concluded that Christakis/Fowler bollixed-up their analysis of obesity to such a great extent that their conclusions are completely illegitimate, DrRich counters with this query to said economists: If you know so much about computer models, how’d your investments do during the big crash in ’08? Eh?

Finally, critics say, all the reports appearing in the popular media (which often have included provocative quotes provided by Christakis and/or Fowler themselves), seem to have exaggerated the conclusions of the study way beyond what the published study actually says. For instance, all media reports stress the general contagious nature of obesity. But when one reads the study itself, one finds that the highly-publicized ability of obesity to “spread” from friend to friend actually did not hold up for the following combinations of friends: man-woman, woman-man, and woman-woman. It only reached statistical significance when both friends were men. So while the results of this study have been mercilessly generalized, in fact only one real finding was actually suggested by this data. If either you are a woman or your friend is a woman, then your friend’s obesity is not contagious to you – even if you buy the results of this study.

To this criticism DrRich responds thusly: Having fat friends makes you fat, OK? So get over it. If you choose to believe only the details of the study, instead of its spirit (as clearly expressed by the media and by the public utterances of its authors), then go ahead and enjoy your obese female friends, and see where that gets you.

The real beauty of this study is that, since it comes from a completely unique database that will never be duplicated, the data we have is the only data we’re ever going to get. So, the quibbling of the critics aside, the very best study ever conducted or that ever will be conducted on this issue shows definitively – to the satisfaction of the people that matter – that obesity is contagious.

Since the obese are rapidly becoming the witches of the 21st century, we are obligated to do everything in our power to stop them while we can. (DrRich points out that burning witches is an evil act only if you don’t believe that witches are real. If you, supported by all the respected authorities of the day, believe that real witches are present in the community, and that they indeed are capable of producing extreme harm to innocent individuals, surreptitiously and at a great distance – kind of like the obese – then burning them is at least reasonable, if not the only responsible thing to do.)

DrRich of course is not advocating burning fat people at the stake. He is already on record as saying that committing such an act would be a crime against the environment, just based on the carbon emissions alone.

But, my goodness, why would you befriend a fat person – let alone invite one into your home for a holiday supper – when doing so will put you and your family, all the way down to the second-and-even-third-degree acquaintances in your social network, at grave risk? Until the day comes when our leaders develop the courage to do what needs to be done about the menace of obesity – perhaps gathering up all the fat people and concentrating them, say, in special camps – we must do our bit to keep them from contaminating our own social networks.

As our President says, our new healthcare reforms, to be successful, will rely utterly on the straightforward and unprejudiced application of the very best medical science available, rather than on emotions, on biased opinions, or on unsupported traditions.

Until our leaders grow the teabags to begin following their own advice, let us regular folks do what needs to be done in our own homes, especially during this very special holiday season.

May God bless you and keep you – thin.

DrRich wishes his readers a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – whatever their BMIs – and will return here to the CRB shortly after the holidays.

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

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