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Pingbacks, and obesity clusters

May 25, 2010

I haven’t been so good at keeping up with blogs lately, but I’ve gotten pingbacks from a couple of interesting posts. There’s a good one at on the precipice, a blog I hadn’t run across before: Mindfulness tools for dealing with emotional and physical pain.

The one that really interested me today, though, was a recent one from Lindsay at Autist’s Corner: Fat Panic as Front-Page News (Again). I was a bit flattered that she linked to several posts here. Again, I thought I’d bring an expanded version of my comments there over to a post of their own. Then I started to ramble some. 😉

An excellent observation from her executive summary:

The study’s author, Gopal Singh, has found that lots and lots of things contribute to a region’s, or demographic group’s, relative prevalence of childhood obesity, and a lot of those things have to do with economic inequality. But the newspaper article ignores these larger, systemic aspects of public health and seems to promote constant vigilance over children’s diet, lifestyle and body size as The Answer to the Childhood Obesity Epidemic. I don’t think that’s the answer, because dieting for weight loss — i.e., chronic low-level undernutrition — is also very bad for people, and it’s especially dangerous for children, who are not yet done building the bodies they’re going to have to live in for the rest of their lives.

Yep, it’s depressingly predictable. So much easier to point to individual problems which can be solved through increased control over the problem individuals. 😦

I have been interested in the geographical groupings, as well. Not only does pointing at horribly obese Southerners (adults and kids) reinforce classism and regional bias, from my own experience I find it very interesting indeed that the folks judged most obese are clustered in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and in areas from which an awful lot of people ended up in those places. And in which a lot of their relatives still live.

Not to mention the large numbers of Black and Red-Black people living in these places, for obvious historical reasons. (Whom I forgot to mention in the original reply, off on another track.) This article on African American history in Tulsa, Oklahoma gives some idea of how a lot of Black people ended up in Oklahoma and surrounding areas. There was the more Anglicized, slaveholding contingent of the “Civilized” Tribes (kind of amazing, given the number of their own people who were enslaved earlier, but hey). Like the number of Natives who poured into TX-OK-AR on their own, in advance of Removal, a lot of escaped African-descended slaves headed in that direction as well. From pretty much the same areas as the Natives, from now “highly obese” states which still have large Black populations.

Both Native and African-American populations (along with Mexican-Americans) have high obesity rates by unadjusted BMI. There could be a number of explanations for this, mostly based in inequality and racist standards.

Graphic from this page, with states color-coded by levels of obesity in 2008. The patterns are interesting: Oklahoma, Arkansas, and some Southeastern states stand out in dark red, with the highest rates. This pattern sure does send up some red flags in my mind.

I mean, Oklahoma ought to be a tip-off that some racist standards might be involved, right there; it’s hard not to have some Native ancestry (mostly from the “fat” Southeast) there. I mean, 7.9% of the population listed themselves as Cherokee on the Census, and that’s not even counting the other 38 federally recognized nations. Along with all the state recognized, unenrolled, and earlier “passing” people (both huge groups). Throw in the adjoining Arkansas and Texas, and anybody who knows their history might start wondering what’s up. Hint: it probably has more to do with the intersections of race and class than with people living there being stupid, disgusting, and generally inferior, thereby succumbing to Teh Fat. No matter what the oh-so-popular regional bias would have people believing; it ain’t exactly subtle.

My own experiences tally pretty well with Billy Brady’s:

I did my own research about who was and who wasn’t Indian very early on. In 1952, I was polling my housing project in the poor part of San Diego as to who was of Indian heritage.

I could easily see those who were Hopi and Navajo but I knew we were mixed with Indian and I wanted to know who else was because we didn’t look classically “Indian”.

In a 55 acre housing tract of scattered former Navy duplexes; perhaps 250 people; over 90% of those I asked said they, too, were “part-Indian”. For all that our racist system cared they were probably considered “white”. I knew better. I know better.

They hailed from Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Arizona, New Jersey and many other places. I knew them to be “just like us”: part-Indian.

That 90%+ sample already had some class bias built in, since this was in a poor neighborhood. I was interested to see how heavily the Southeast (and East in general, with its much longer history of forced assimilation) was represented in a housing project in California, with the history of migration to find work.

I originally had a brain fart, reskimming his article, and thought he was talking about military personnel and dependents. Which gives us some class bias, right there: people from socioeconomic backgrounds which make them consider the military as a good career and educational option. I do not find this coincidental, either, especially coming from an area (Southern Appalachia) which provides a disproportionate amount of cannon fodder. There is more troublesome race+class stuff going on here, besides some specifically indigenous issues Julia Good Fox addressed well in #40. Whose Honor Guard? An Open Letter.

As a side note, I’d have some ethical problems with joining the US military, just coming from a background in which Granny may or may not have still been considered a fugitive from the Trail of Tears*, and in which individuals in West Virginia were apparently getting shipped off to Oklahoma into the 1950s. Given the history there–besides major differences in philosophy and levels of control over other people deemed acceptable–I never wanted to join the military. Then again, I never felt like it was my best option to make a decent life for myself. My stepbrother is/was career military, out of western North Carolina; growing up dyslexic with my abusive and poor** biodad and stepmother, he did not have nearly as many other options. From a distance, I get the impression that it did help him make a better life for himself, physically and emotionally. Nobody should be in that situation to begin with.

Yeah, sometimes I feel like a broken record when this kind of thing comes up. But it’s hard not to see this kind of thing as the next step in forced assimilation: you will starve yourself in a futile effort to look the way we think you should. And now you should also starve your obviously inferior children, who need to be more tightly controlled. 😦

Also, a bit of comment spam I left where it was because it made me laugh so hard at its utter inappropriateness: “A fresh and light skin is very necessary for you to look attractive…”


* This was really the case with my maternal grandfather’s Taylor grandmother. That portion of the family had little enough use for official records (for good reason!) that I am not entirely sure whether she was born in North Carolina or after her family followed the New River up into Virginia (to join Adair relatives already there). She used the Black Dutch designation, and didn’t want to talk about it beyond that. When my mother, as a child, asked one of my Papaw’s aunts, “Who are the Black Dutch?”, she got the terse response: “They came from North Carolina.” Yep, a few steps in front of the U.S. military, in that case (and with some records written in the syllabary, which have recently resurfaced in a box of old junk). Whether or not Granny was technically a fugitive, they just did not want to talk about it. At all.

** Not connected in the nasty way some people would try to connect it. Rather, the same mental problems that made my biodad behave abusively–and refer to my stepbrother as “The R*t*rd”–also led to his being chronically under-/unemployed. My stepmother had her own problems. (Even better, in context, his dyscalculia and dyspraxia are pretty severe! That’s where I got them, though I’ve learned to work around them better. Talk about projection.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 25, 2010 9:21 pm

    Yep that’s where half my family’s from. Oklahoma and Arkansas, “white” but also Indian descended. And nearly all fat with a specific body type that I also inherited (all except they’re all way taller than me)

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