America Needs an Open, Honest Conversation About Fat People

A TV news anchor yells "bully" when a viewer calls attention to her obesity, but she missed the mark.

America’s obesity rate, and whether publicly calling attention to it, as well as obese individuals themselves, should be on the table.

The obesity issue got cooking again after overweight news anchor Jennifer Livingston of WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin, received a private email from a viewer. Kenneth Krause called her weight into question, asking whether she considered herself “a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular,” and adding, “Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.” He ended by hoping that she would, “reconsider (her) responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”

Since Livingston’s skin was surprisingly thin for someone in the public eye, she responded with a four-minute, on-air editorial rebuking Krause.

Rather than giving viewers food for thought regarding her perspective on obesity, she left everyone wondering “Where’s the beef?” by barely weighing in on the issue at all. Instead, she ranted about bullying—yes, bullying—to the point where she encouraged those with sexual preference, skin color and even acne to stand up to bullying.

Bravo! Livingston has a long political career should her day job not pan out.

However, while many other media outlets are fawning over Livingston’s diatribe, I won’t serve up Grade A compliments so freely. First item on the menu are the facts:

1. Livingston received a private email, and chose to go public with it. Krause didn’t “bully” her, but offered his opinion to a public figure, which Livingston certainly is. She could have responded privately or simply ignored it. Getting nasty emails is part of the job. Hell, yours truly gets pummeled so often—including with occasional death threats—that a “bullying” email like Krause’s would be a dream.

And would someone please explain how a non-vulgar, non-threatening email can be even remotely considered bullying?

2. Every single aspect of the obesity epidemic needs to be discussed in an open, straightforward and respectful manner, regardless of whether feelings are hurt. That’s not bullying. It’s constructive dialogue, something quickly disappearing from the American scene.

3. The vast majority of obesity cases, which includes nearly 40 percent of the American adult population, are due to lifestyle choices, namely, immense overeating and a lack of physical activity. Only an extremely small percentage is related to medical conditions.

Let’s stop perpetuating the myth that thyroid conditions are more prevalent than the common cold. Not only are they rare, but there are numerous medications that treat that condition, combating weight gain. Interestingly, Livingston never mentioned during her editorial that she had a thyroid condition. That morsel only came out after the story—and Livingston herself—became an international headline.

In fairness to Livingston, it would seem that Krause formulated his opinion not knowing if she had a medical condition that contributed to her obesity. While the odds were certainly in his favor that she did not, it would have been prudent to have addressed that question in his correspondence.

That said, as big as Livingston has become, given her appearances on national TV shows, she is not the issue. Nor is Krause.

This isn’t about bullying either. Does bullying exist? Of course. Always has and always will. And reasonable efforts should be made to fight it. But “bullying” has become the catch-all phrase we use whenever someone feels jilted, offended or bad about themselves. The truly tragic part is that combating real bullying has taken a backseat to an all-appeasing political correctness running rampant throughout America.

From social media to the schoolyard, we’ve reached the point where children are no longer permitted to fight their own battles. That paternalism leaves children woefully unprepared for that pesky thing called The Real World. And now we are seeing the results of crib-to-college coddling: Our businesses are sanitized, risk-averse Petri-dish experiments for social engineering; wars are fought so as to not offend the enemy, and scoreboards are often turned off in youth sports so a team down by five goals doesn’t cry and quit.

Maybe if America prioritized growing up and not out, we’d be a whole lot better off.

The real issue is the exploding obesity rate, an epidemic that is all-consuming. Obesity-related medical costs are soaring (over 20 percent of all health-care spending) as cases of diabetes, heart disease and stroke meteorically rise. Health insurance premiums for everyone increase in order to subsidize the obese. Worker productivity is down. Even energy costs are up.

But perhaps most alarming, America’s young people are being desensitized to obesity and all its negative effects. In what is fast becoming a “do-whatever-makes-you-feel-good” society, that makes for an extremely dangerous recipe.

And the best way—maybe the only way—to change that fatitude is shame, a value in thin supply.