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Intolerant and Offensive

Entry 1022, on 2009-05-31 at 21:32:13 (Rating 4, Politics)

I love it when the truth comes out ahead of political correctness. Considering how many people despise PC I always find it surprising how widespread it is. Why would politicians and other public figures be so dedicated to PC when they know the vast majority of people are opposed to it?

The specific example I read about on this occasion was the case of a nutrition expert, John Birkbeck, who says it is your own fault if you're a "fatty". He says anti-obesity efforts won't work until society refuses to accept being overweight as normal and makes it a negative thing like it has for smoking.

Of course all of the politically correct people have come out and condemned the idea. The coordinator of the Eating Difficulties Education Network, Maree Burns, said the comments were "flagrant", "inappropriate", "intolerant" and "offensive" (I'm not sure if she's a "fatty" herself or just making the criticisms on behalf of others).

She went on to say "Shaming and blaming people has never been effective. This is the worst example of fat phobia and doesn't achieve anything except building discrimination." and "People that are bigger already experience profound levels of discrimination and feel like health pariahs and social outcasts without these kinds of attitudes. With comments like that I am glad he's retiring." And, no surprises, she was particularly upset by his race-based comments.

So obviously some people are offended by the comments, but are they true? And if they are true is it still OK to make them if they are offensive to some people?

Birkbeck points out that obesity basically results from eating more calories than you expend. Since people can have control over both of those things its really up to them if they consume a surplus of calories. While some people do have a genetic propensity for getting overweight that doesn't change the basic facts.

Just to stir trouble up even more, he also said "over-fatness" was a bigger problem for Maori and Pacific Islanders than Europeans as well as being an emerging issue with Asian migrants. Wow, talk about living dangerously! Its never been safe to make comments which could be construed as being critical to minority groups. Again, the truth seems to be of only secondary importance.

I don't know enough about nutrition to know for sure whether he's right or wrong, but I suspect after 50 years as an academic in the area he'd know a lot more than the people who have objected to his comments.

So maybe to some people his comments were intolerant, offensive,flagrant and inappropriate but I think he was right to make them anyway. I think someone who is an expert in the field and who genuinely has something to say which is potentially important should say it even if it might be offensive to some who are overly sensitive on the issue.

I don't know if Birbeck's comments will actually make any difference to the obesity problem we have in New Zealand (which is probably less of an issue than in other countries like the US, but still significant, especially with those minority groups!) but I always say that the first step to solving a problem is accepting it exists, and the second is being honest about it by rejecting political correctness!

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Comment 1 (2064) by SBFL on 2009-06-04 at 09:03:55:

If I didn't know any better, I would say that you were of the right-wing political persuasion. How dare you tear apart the vested views of lobby groups such as the so-called "Eating Difficulties Education Network". My goodness, I don't even want to find out who funds them.

Anyway, good post. All in agreement.

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