Fining fat people unless they exercise is a bad, offensive idea. Here are 10 reasons why.

"What's the key to tackling obesity? Fine fat people if they don't exercise, say experts," shouted a headline in The Daily Mail on Tuesday.

Photo by Anthony Hyatt/U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons.


"FINE fat people if they don't exercise," is actually what it said. With "FINE" in all caps. When The Daily Mail yells, you better believe it yells.

But, um. Fine people for being fat? Like, charge them actual money? Seriously? This is a thing? Why?

The righteous declaration was based on the results of a single study recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which looked at 281 people who had BMIs over 27 (around 27 is considered "overweight" on the Body Mass Index scale, although the actual usefulness of BMI as a measure of how fat or not fat someone is has been a source of much controversy). The researchers rewarded people in one group with $1.40 per day if they met a set goal of 7,000 steps. They gave people in the other group $42 up front, but docked them $1.40 per day if they didn't meet the goal.

Sure enough, the people in the group that was being fined met their step goal more frequently.

As a fat person who likes keeping all my money as opposed to forking an arbitrary percentage of it over to judgmental scientists, this didn't really sit right with me. So I did some digging to prove this idea is, in fact, as ridiculous as it seems.

Spoiler alert: It didn't take much digging.

1. The whole premise of the study rests on a really shaky assumption.

A money fan. Photo by Steven Depolo/Flickr.

Researchers tested their monetary loss/reward hypothesis specifically on fat people. And it's not surprising it worked! It's pretty well-established in psychological research that people are typically more motivated by fear of loss than possibility of reward. And, fat people are, of course, people.

The problem is that this particular experimental setup assumes that "obesity" is the opposite of exercise. Which is a bit like saying that going to a French restaurant is the opposite of going to a Mexican restaurant, or that kayaking is the opposite snorkeling, or that watching "The Bachelor" is the opposite of hitting yourself repeatedly in the head with a small hammer. The things are kinda-sorta related, but actually not directly opposed. You can do/be both!

It's hard to blame the experts for framing the study that way. The assumption that fat people are people who don't exercise and that people who exercise aren't fat is super-double-plus-infinity ingrained in our culture.

But that's not actually true.

2. Exercising doesn’t necessarily make people lose weight.

"With obesity levels reaching epidemic proportions. Global experts in the field are focused on one goal — reversing the trend. Key to the battle is encouraging people who are overweight or obese to exercise more." That's how The Daily Mail frames the study. Exercise more, shed pounds.

To that I say: This is Prince Fielder.

Prince Fielder. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

He's a professional baseball player. Not just any professional baseball player — a really, really good professional baseball player. One of the best, even. In order to be such a good baseball player, he has to exercise virtually every second of every day. He's constantly in the gym. He runs wind sprints after batting practice. He has to do that high knee thing.

If exercising reliably made people skinny, Prince Fielder's torso would look more like Trey Songz's torso.

Trey Songz x 2 = Prince Fielder. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.

But he doesn't. He's fat. Which is not surprising! And not a bad thing! Lots of researchers believe that exercise has little to nothing to do with weight loss.

"A lot of people probably think I'm not athletic or don't even try to work out or whatever, but I do," Fielder told ESPN in 2014. "Just because you're big doesn't mean you can't be an athlete. And just because you work out doesn't mean you're going to have a 12-pack."

"OK," you're probably yelling at your screen, "But that's just one guy! I am a casually professional statistician, and that is what we in the stats biz like to call an 'outlier.' Little statistics jargon for ya. Like what I did there? "

To which I say: Fine. Exhibit B, suckers.

Take a gander at Cecil Fielder.

Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images.

Back in the '90s, he was one of the best baseball players alive. He hit over 300 home runs in his career, including 51 in 1990. He can probably lift three of you. And he was also fat.

He also happens to be Prince Fielder's dad.

What are the odds? Two men in the same family — a father and son! — both athletes who, when at the top of their game, were better than basically any of their peers, who also happen to both be fat.

It's almost as if how fat you are has a lot more to do with your genes (and environmental factors) than with the fact that you're a lazy bum who just lacks willpower and doesn't deserve respect or even love.

3. You can be fat and in good shape.

The premise of the study presumes the need to force fat people to do more physical activity. But not only is it completely possible to be fat and not in bad shape, it's possible to be fat and actively in good shape. Really good shape, even.

Like Mirna Valerio.

Photo by Mirna Valerio, used with permission.

She's fat. She runs ultramarathons. Ultramarathons are like marathons, but longer, and for people who are so physically superior to the rest of humanity, they think regular marathons are too easy.

There are fat people who are amazing at yoga. Fat people who kill it in endurance events. Fat people who pole dance (That takes work! You try that shit). Fat people who could beat you in any contest of physical supremacy known to man while still being undeniably, incontrovertibly fat.

Also, remember Richard Simmons?

Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images.

He was in amazing shape. Dude was in such good shape he got paid millions of dollars to yell at other people to get in shape. And he was kind of fat.

(Side note: Remember when the mere fact of Richard Simmons' existence was a joke that people would laugh at? Just "Richard Simmons!" That was the whole joke. That was all the work you needed to do. Because he was sorta fat and seemed gay? People 25 years ago were so dark!)

4. Who’s going to enforce this fat person fine and how?

Sir, please step out of the vehicle. I need to jiggle your tummy. Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images.

OK, so let's say we take the conclusion of the study at face value and we start fining fat people. Who serves the fat people fines in this scenario anyway? Doctors? Personal trainers? Will cops start pulling fat people over on the street? What if a fat person is driving a car instead of jogging? That's not physical activity! Can you be pulled over for driving while fat? What if the fat person is riding a Segway? A fat person on a Segway! Is that exercise? Are enough muscles engaged? Some poor state legislator will have to miss his daughter's T-ball game to stay late at the office in order to game out the precise policy and legal status of a fat person riding a Segway.

It would be chaos! Bureaucracy will explode! Your taxes will go up!

But I'll give the paper the benefit of the doubt. The Daily Mail is published in the U.K., and the laws are different over there. Maybe they've figured out an easy way to go about this. “We’ll just bobby the carriage on the loo!” the Nottingham North MP might be saying right now.

And that's great. Perfect, even. Perfect British solution. Don't understand it, but maybe they know what they're doing.

Next question, though:

5. Let's back up even a little further. Who decides who is fat and eligible for a fine in the first place?

Your Aunt Caroline. Photo via iStock.

Is it your Aunt Caroline? Because it doesn't matter how skinny you get, she still thinks you're fat. (Except when you're truly fat. Then she thinks you've lost weight.)

6. Is this another thing that's for "our own good?" 'Cause lots of people like being fat and/or really don’t give a shit about how much they weigh.

Barney Frank, patron saint of not giving a shit. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Former congressman Barney Frank once quipped, "The day I die, I will either be fat or hungry." It's a sentiment that a lot of fat people relate to. Which makes a lot of sense, as life is finite and food is delicious! So even if you do care about how much other people weigh or how much you weigh, there's a good chance that other people don't and they really aren't all that interested in inane policy solutions to their non-problems.

7. And by the say, that study the Daily Mail was citing? It wasn't as conclusive as the article makes it seem.

All studies, even psychology studies, happen in test tubes. Photo by National Cancer Institute/Wikimedia Commons.

The researchers were actually measuring two things with the study — whether participants in the "fine" group would achieve their step goal more frequently and whether the fines would lead to participants taking more steps. The group that was being fined did meet their goal on more of the days, but their average number of steps didn't increase by a statistically significant amount over the required baseline.

You'll also notice that participants weren't really "fined," per se. They were rewarded in advance and docked portions of their reward for not meeting the goal. Which is less like paying a fine, and more like ... paying taxes. Which everyone loves to do and is no problem at all. Ever. Right?

8. Why does anyone care how much other people weigh?

Undoubtedly, there are many people in this world who are both fat and don't exercise. You might think this is unjust. You might experience a surge of anger at this thought. You might have half a mind to burst into the apartment where the fat and lazy people live (we all room together) and shove a bag of celery down their throats. You're just so mad!

"You! Stop it you! Stop being fat!" Photo by PourquoiPas/Pixabay.

It's an interesting outlook, and it raises a critical question...

Why?

Why do you give a shit?

Don't you think it's weird to care about what another human being weighs. I mean, when you think about it? Are you trying to distract yourself from something? Are you bored? Do you need an activity? What about skiing? I went skiing last February with my old boss, and it was actually pretty fun!

Of course, I'm fat and don't exercise, so I was pretty much done after 90 minutes, but you'll definitely do better.

9. Really?

Just, like, really? Fining fat people? This is a serious suggestion?

GIF from "Saturday Night Live."

10. How about we all just STFU about how much other people weigh.

Basically, the best way to get fat people to lose weight is to STFU and mind your own business. It may or may not actually have your desired effect, but it will help you not lose friendships and/or get punched in the face by people who already know they are fat and don't need you telling them that's a bad thing (which is not only unbelievably annoying and rude, it actually does not work to make people not fat anymore).

In conclusion, regardless of whether or not they exercise, don't fine fat people.

In special extra conclusion, here are some fine fat people:

Ooh, 2010 Chris Pratt, you're fine! Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

Damn, Octavia Spencer! Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

William Howard Taft, you're not particularly fine, but you're so fat all the presidents after you stopped being even a little bit fat because why try? And that's just so much respect right there. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Rebel Wilson. Nice work! Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images.

And of course...

Richard Simmons in the '90s. OG. Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images.

via Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources-Ghana

Ghana kicked off an ambitious new program on Friday that its leaders hope will reverse over a century of significant deforestation and climate change. On June 11, the country celebrated its first Green Ghana Day by planting somewhere near five million trees.

"The exploitation of forest resources for national development has not been sustainable over the years," President Akufo-Addo said in a speech marking the country's inaugural Green Ghana Day.

"We don't have tomorrow or the day after tomorrow to do this. We have to act now," he added.

Ghana's current forest cover stands at 1.6 million hectares, down from 8.2 million in 1900, according to statistics from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. Much of the West African country's forests have been degraded by small-scale illegal gold miners and the indiscriminate chopping of trees without reforestation.

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via Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources-Ghana

Ghana kicked off an ambitious new program on Friday that its leaders hope will reverse over a century of significant deforestation and climate change. On June 11, the country celebrated its first Green Ghana Day by planting somewhere near five million trees.

"The exploitation of forest resources for national development has not been sustainable over the years," President Akufo-Addo said in a speech marking the country's inaugural Green Ghana Day.

"We don't have tomorrow or the day after tomorrow to do this. We have to act now," he added.

Ghana's current forest cover stands at 1.6 million hectares, down from 8.2 million in 1900, according to statistics from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources. Much of the West African country's forests have been degraded by small-scale illegal gold miners and the indiscriminate chopping of trees without reforestation.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."