Myth — The “Obesity Epidemic” is what’s causing the healthcare crisis.

How’s that for a catchy title, huh?

One of the things we hear ad nauseam is about how the “obesity epidemic”  is how it’s causing the “health care crisis”.  And of course, by that, it’s meant that our fat (and therefor unhealthy) selves have to go to the doctors and hospitals so much, insurance companies are having to raise premiums to everybody just to break even.

There are so many ways to debunk this myth it’s not even funny.

First of all, the “poor widdle insurance companies” are not hurting.  When I was working for the evil insurance company as an entry level phone slave (all calls were diverted through us, whether we could actually help the customer or not), we received quarterly statements about how the company was doing.  One statement (right after they changed our insurance policies to the most expensive to us, the customer and least expensive to them, the provider) stated that in the previous quarter they’d made a record profit of hundreds of millions of dollars.  Yes, the same quarter they implemented (what I liked to think of as) the “screw you, employees” insurance for us, they made hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.

The insurance companies are not out there to help you, they are out there to make money.  Health is a big business, and the insurance companies want their cut of the money that comes from the health care industry.

But I’m not going to talk about the realities of being a phone slave for the mega health insurance company.  No, I’m going to use two different examples.

One, is the governor of my state.  Recently (this week) he had a bicycling accident.

The governor is recovering from six fractured ribs and a separated ligament in his right shoulder. Ritter fell off his bike and did a shoulder roll onto the pavement of East 23rd Avenue near High Street while riding with four other cyclists. His front bike tire bumped the bike in front of him, causing the crash.

Read more:

From another source:

“He did a classic shoulder roll, and separated his shoulder,” Dr. Carlton Barnett said during a news conference at Denver Health Medical Center Wednesday. “Fractures are to his upper right ribs in front and back and around his shoulder.” The doctor says the governor has six broken ribs.

This is not an uncommon injury. We see two or three a week”, Barnett said. “The primary therapy (for patients) is preventative care making sure there’s pain control, and making sure they don’t develop complications from breathing problems.” Doctors want to make sure he doesn’t develop anything such as pneumonia.
(bolding my edit)

The story goes on to report that the governor is an avid bicyclist and regularly goes on morning rides.  So, what we’re looking at is a lifestyle choice some guy made which ended him up in the hospital for 4 days (so far) with 6 broken ribs and a torn ligament.  Don’t you think that he, and people like him, who get hurt doing the so-called healthy things and end up in the hospital, are pushing up premiums?

Or in other words, their lifestyle choices* are making my insurance premiums raise.

The other thing I want to post is this.  Today was the first time I’ve read Dr. Grumpy, and I saw the link in a friend’s blog.  It’s a hard post to read, about the economic cost of one man’s refusal to admit his wife’s cancer is, indeed, fatal, so click the link with care.

There were a lot of things this doctor stated about the cost of this woman’s care.  The most important thing was this: This woman’s care has cost at least a million dollars here, likely a hell of a lot more. I’m pretty sure this family’s premiums don’t cover that, and I know they aren’t wealthy. So the money is coming from their insurance company, which is YOUR premiums.

Again, the point he is making is a different point than I am making, but it comes to the same thing.  While this isn’t a “lifestyle” issue, but rather, one of a grieving husband in severe denial that his comatose cancer ridden wife won’t have some sort of miracle, it comes to the same thing.  He’s been to hospital after hospital after hospital, while his insurance pays the bills.  Do you really think that this type of action doesn’t affect anybody else’s premiums?  Remember what I said earlier about how the insurance companies really aren’t there to help you, but rather to make money?

We (the fatties of the world) make a very nice, handy target to blame for all the worlds ills.  Especially right now, with the media and politicians doing everything they can to demonize us further.   But look at the bigger picture.  Thin and normal weight people get sick all the time.  People who make a habit of working out (being an avid bicycling enthusiast) get seriously injured all the time.  People who are described as being “once a beautiful, vibrant woman” get cancer, and it takes over their bodies and destroys them.  Often.  People who are otherwise healthy all of a sudden have heart attacks or strokes or get diabetes.

And it doesn’t matter if the person is skinny, normal, or fat.  These problems happen in all weight and activity demographics.  It’s not just the “fat people” who are causing your premiums to rise.  It’s everybody who ever gets sick, or needs more than a quick visit to the doctor for an ingrown toenail.  Well, that, and the head honchos at the insurance companies greed.  But that’s a post for a different day.

*Note:  If you’ve read here long enough, you know I do not think obesity is a “lifestyle choice”.  I’m using the words of the opposition to show how something that really IS a lifestyle choice does actually effect them — such as a person who is an avid “insert sport/exercise here” can get hurt doing the thing they love doing and end up needing acute medical care that will cost tens of thousands of dollars.  Medical fees your premiums help to pay for.


14 Responses

  1. I play roller derby. This is the sport I play to stay “healthy”.

    EVERY TIME I play, scrimmage, or practice, I risk broken bones… trust me, I’ve seen plenty of players get them.

    Nothing to do with my weight – everything to do with my personal decision to play a full contact sport on wheels.

    Sometimes I wonder why my insurance company DOESN’T have a policy denying paying for injuries caused by stupid things I do (wait, don’t give them that idea)… but then I realize that there would be a MASSIVE outcry if they tried to deny “sports injuries” – while no one cares if they deny “fat” or “old” or whatever.

    People are only willing to bitch about things that impact them personally. The hell of it is, that even fat people have been convinced that fat people are “At fault” and so there’s no massive outcry.

    This is why medical care should not be a money making enterprise… but I’m not going to get started on THAT!

  2. Well done! This is a great post. I’ll be linking back to it!

  3. Hmmm, this is interesting because I just wrote about the same issue yesterday on my site. I think you and I completely agree that this “obesity epidemic” is not the source of our country’s health care crisis, just the most visible villain.

    I feel like I know what you are trying to say, but I heartily disagree with your examples. Yes, insurance companies appear to be making millions of dollars. Yes, there are other things besides diabetes and heart disease that put people in the hospital. But your argument almost seems to imply that we should not cover the expenses of a cancer patient or for people who have sport-related injuries.

    I don’t think it has to be either/or. I think we just need a change in dialogue. Let’s shift the conversation away from fatness equalling disease and talk about what we can do to help any person who is unhealthy, regardless of size.

    The logic the “obesity epidemic” runs on is that being fat is the *reason* people are unhealthy. And of course, you and I know this is not true. You don’t get diabetes from being overweight.

    Until the conversation is about the factors that really lead to metablic syndrome diseases (rather than about body size), we will continue to have a health care crisis.

    (Well, that and the lack of universal health care!)


    • But your argument almost seems to imply that we should not cover the expenses of a cancer patient or for people who have sport-related injuries.

      No, that is not what I’m saying, and why I did say that I was making a different point than the one Dr. Grumpy was making.

      My point is that people say (or the myth is) it’s only — or mostly — fat people and their “lifestyle” that is causing the healthcare crisis we are in. To that end I used the governor of my state doing a “healthy activity” and ending up in a hospital for 4 days (as well as most likely needing continued care for that torn ligament), and the example of a woman who’s husband won’t let her go, and who continues to seek out a medical miracle on her behalf.

      I was not making any judgement about what the husband was doing (unlike what Dr. Grumpy was saying). Neither was I saying that the governor shouldn’t go bike riding. I was showing how people make decisions all the time (whether to ride a bicycle or seek a medical miracle) that affect all the health insurance premiums (of people who are lucky enough to actually be able to buy health insurance). I was showing that it is not ONLY the fatties who make the insurance premiums rise “for the rest of us”.

      However, this blog is a fat acceptance/fat activist blog. My goal here is to point out the ridiculousness of blaming the fat people exclusively for all the problems on this planet. My goal here is to, hopefully, help people to see and understand that to do so is bigotry. My goal is to point out the violence inherent in the system. (Err, sorry, watched Monty Python the other night…)

      Do I think that there should be universal health care, and that everybody should have equal access to medical care when they need it? Yes. But again, that’s not the point of my blog, nor of this post.

      To me, I don’t care why a person is fat. I don’t care if the person has metabolic syndrome, is on medications where massive weight gain (in excess of 50 lbs) is a common side effect, or if they just eat what other people would consider to be too much or the wrong things. What I care about is the bigotry and discrimination that is heaped upon fat people. What I care about is attempting to do something to make that discrimination, bigotry and hate stop.

  4. i often think about the fact that we have an aging population. School are selling nursing problems talking about the retirement of teh baby boomers…..does nobody realize the “rise in healthcare costs” coiencides with the aging of the baby boomers? same thing for rising obesity levels…i bet those 10 lbs can be attributed to again too, dontcha think?

  5. Fair enough. Thanks for the reply.

  6. Really interesting post, basically what Dr. Grumpy reveals is part of how this kind of modern healthcare system is bankrupting itself.

    And you reveal who’s making money out of this. It doesn’t matter who’s blamed or not blamed, the fault is with the system itself, and that’s something that will not change any time soon I fear.

  7. What I always wonder whenever someone yet again points a finger at the fatties and says “but looka over there! They’re the ones who’re making your premiums rise, not us!” where the heck they’re really getting all their info from in the “fatty related healthcare costs.” It’s true my mother’s been heavy for nearly all my 24 years and has gone to the hospital quite a few times in those 24 years. For things like elbow breaks. And broken arms. And asthma attacks.

    Yes, she’s required quite a bit of healthcare over the years, but it’s not because she can’t fit into the jeans she passed off to me anymore. It’s because she’s clumsy and has really bad asthma that’s very easily triggered by allergies (and she’s allergic to nearly everything so…). And while I suppose one could argue that she could work on her balance, asthma’s a genetic thing.

    Same thing with my grandmother, after having children she was chubby for nearly all her years but didn’t really start having any health issues until she got into her late seventies and early eighties. Same thing with my grandfather who was known among his grandchildren for his huge beer belly.

    I know my family health history doesn’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never really known many fatties to really be so constantly in the hospital as health insurance companies would have us think. Which is why I still wonder, where are they really getting their numbers from? Because if they’re just ticking off every time a fatty visits the hospital regardless of whether it’s for a broken bone or a heart attack…

    • you made me think of my granny, my father’s mother. mama told me that some TWENTY FIVE years before she died, she was told that she had ruined her lungs by using the chemicals she was working with in her gardening efforts. she was a nurse by profession.

      did she give up the chemicals (malathion, for the record. its been shown to cause a lot of health issues) and let her body clear them out so that she could regain her health? no, she divided up the acreage between her 9 children, so that there wouldnt be any fussing about who would own what. she KNEW what continuing to use those chemicals was going to do to her body, that doctor was painfully blunt.

      but no. she didnt give up the chemicals. she continued to use them till she broke a hip (non related) and went for her first hospital trip, and found her lungs were only at 40 percent capacity. that was the begining of the end.

      being fat had nothing to do with her death. her stubbonness had everything to do with her death.

      how bad was the chemical use? when she entered the hospital, she finally said one of my cousins could have her car. the carpeting was so bad off that when it was going to be replaced, they literally called in HAZ-MAT to deal with it, and the whole car had to be scrapped, it was so dangerous. and she drove around in that thing for 2 decades.

      • Oh wow, that’s tough. I’m so sorry to hear that. You know though, I’m glad you shared that because that’s the exact sort of thing people would see and say “she brought it on herself!” Which, arguably, yes, she could have stopped using the chemicals, but this whole “I’m sick of paying for people unconcerned with keeping up their health in the first place” to me just reveals that A) people don’t understand that the insurance companies are the ones screwing them out of money and B) just goes to show you how greedy some people are.

        Regardless of whether or not someone “brought it on themselves” they deserve to be treated for health issues. One because they’re human and two because nearly everything can be argued from the angle of “they brought it on themselves!” from a broken bone to a stroke. I mean, what’s keeping people from saying “if you’d just stay inside and wrap yourself in bubble wrap you’d be perfectly fine!”? My point in all this rambling is, no matter what people are going to get sick and they are going to die. Discriminating on terms of supposed “deservingness” is like saying that if you don’t smoke and stay perpetually in the “normal” BMI range, you will never die. Which, again, we all know is not true.

  8. People want someone to blame, someone to be the scapegoat, and I guess it’s easy to blame the obese for our healthcare problems. I mean, we’re slow and not very strong (yeah, right!).

    It sickens me the way we handle healthcare. Instead of being focused on one priority, keeping people healthy, we have insurance companies. I would love to see the day when they are not making important decisions about our lives.

    • I would love to see the day when they are not making important decisions about our lives.

      You and me both.

  9. I just came across your website recently and it has gotten me thinking…a lot. Thank you =)

    Curious…have you read the book Reviving Ophelia? I am just starting it but it seems to address some of the things you have spoken about here. You might find it interesting.

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