Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: If I'm fat, I'm in good company

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Kerre Woodham is fitter than BMIs suggest.
Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Kerre Woodham is fitter than BMIs suggest. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

According to the Body Mass Index calculator, I'm overweight, bordering on obese. I'm in good company, though - most of the All Black forward pack are also in the fatties section.

The rigid mathematical equations that make up the index mean that I am one of the one in four Kiwi adults classified as obese.

Yet I'm as fit as a buck rat.

I don't take heart medication and never have. My blood pressure is normal to low. I wear size 12 off-the-rack clothes, and my diet is healthy - although I accept my portion sizes are generous.

I don't have Type 2 diabetes and I've run five marathons. I have a sixth coming up at the end of the year.

So I can understand the frustration of fat activists such as Dr Cat Pause, the woman behind the first Fat Studies conference that was held in Wellington this week.

Pause, a human developments lecturer at Massey University, believes that weight shouldn't be used as a gauge to measure health or fitness and I'd agree with her - up to a point.

There is no doubt that many of our Olympians, half of our All Blacks and a good number of our representative netballers are big people and would be classified as overweight on the BMI scale.

But there's a huge difference between people who are big slabs of muscle, leading active, healthy lives and eating sensible food, and fat people who are barely able to walk, who get out of breath climbing stairs and are on a host of medications to help control obesity-related illnesses.

Pause's assertion that fat people have no say in how big they are is just nonsense.

Certainly, we all have different types of builds - I will never be skinny and there are many fine-boned skinny people who find it terribly hard to put on weight.

But when you look at the very fat people, the ones with rolls of fat that cascade from their chins to their ankles, they didn't get that big by eating broccoli and tofu. It wasn't as if the fat fairy crept up and slapped the fat on them while they were sleeping.

Years of poor dietary choices and inactivity will make most people unhealthy and the majority of those fat.

Look at the lives of people who lose a lot of weight. They come off asthma medication, heart pills and antidepressants. Their health improves when they go from being dangerously overweight to a healthy size. How does the good doctor explain that?

Pause also believes fat people live in a world in which their rights are constantly violated and they are forever being discriminated against.

Anyone who flies, however, would argue that it is the skinnies who get the raw end of the deal. They're the ones who have to pay extra for their luggage, despite the fact that their body weight and luggage combined doesn't equal the weight of the obese traveller next to them.

They're the ones crowded into a corner of the aircraft because the obese person is spilling over into their seat.

And hospital boards around the country are spending money they simply don't have on beds and hoists that will cater for the morbidly obese to make life for them, and for nursing staff, just a little more comfortable.

I fail to see how the human rights of the obese are being violated. Interestingly, not one speaker at the Fat Studies conference was a medical professional or a nutritionist.

There were sociologists, a couple of whom specialised in queer and transgender studies, a geography professor, a historian and a fitness instructor but no one representing the profession that looks after people with failing joints, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease - all conditions of the morbidly obese.

I agree that fat is a feminist issue. I do think that Fight the Obesity Epidemic can be alarmingly shrill. I think it's important to accept we come in different shapes and sizes. And I'm glad Pause is comfortable in her own skin.

But I don't think we should accept morbid obesity as the new normal.

Editor's note: An editing error in last week's column meant the gender of the Marquess of Queensberry changed from male to female. We apologise to Kerre and readers for the error.

- Herald on Sunday

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