- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Overweight activists, unashamed of their size, fed up with fat jokes and angry at the national obsession with dieting, are mounting a feisty protest movement against the medical establishment’s campaign against obesity.

“We’re living in the middle of a witch hunt and fat people are the witches,” said Marilyn Wann of San Francisco, a militant member of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). “It’s gotten markedly worse in the last few years because of the propaganda that fatness, a natural human characteristic, is somehow a form of disease.”

The association, NAAFA, holds its annual convention starting today in Newark, N.J., bringing together activists for social events and workshops on self-acceptance, political advocacy and the “fat liberation” movement.

“I hope we can be a viable force of sanity in the midst of hysteria,” said NAAFA spokeswoman Mary Ray Worley of Madison, Wis. “I’ve found allies in all kinds of unexpected places, but overall there’s a lot of animosity. Some people act like obesity is the next worst thing after terrorism.”

The convention comes as the movement is scrambling to counter federal government pronouncements that obesity is a “critical public health problem” costing more than $100 billion and 300,000 lives per year.

Jeannie Moloo, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman who counsels overweight clients at her nutrition practice in Sacramento, Calif., empathizes with the activists’ fight against bias, but says they should be wary of oversimplifying obesity-related health issues.

“Some people can be overweight all their lives and not end up with diabetes or heart disease or hypertension,” Miss Moloo said. “But the majority are probably going to develop one of these life-altering conditions.”

Fat-acceptance groups were dismayed when federal officials announced last month that Medicare was discarding its declaration that obesity isn’t a disease. The policy change likely will prompt overweight Americans covered by Medicare to file medical claims for treatments such as stomach surgery and diet programs.

“Obesity is not a disease,” insisted Allen Steadham, director of the Austin, Texas-based International Size Acceptance Association. “All this does is open the door for the diet and bariatric surgery industries to make a potentially tremendous profit.”

Most fat-acceptance activists endorse the concept of eating healthy food and exercising regularly, but they oppose any fixation on losing weight and contend that more than 95 percent of diets fail. They also decry the rapid growth of stomach-shrinking surgery; the number of such procedures has quadrupled to 100,000 annually since 1998.

Miss Wann depicts bariatric surgery as “stomach amputation” that imposes anorexia on patients and exposes them to long-term risks.

Kelly Bliss, a self-described “full-figured fitness instructor” from Lansdowne, Pa., predicts that future generations will look back on stomach surgery as “comparable to lobotomies.”

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