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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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