“Nobody faults your adorable grandmother for getting Covid, but everybody faults a person at a higher body weight.” —Jeffrey Hunger, PhD, assistant professor of social psychology at Miami University of Ohio
I have to say, I’ve written about health long enough to know there are a subset of truly special humans who will comment on a story about, say, a child with a congenital heart condition that “not everybody is meant to live.” (Especially if we’re talking about how expensive that child’s healthcare is, and who should pay.) But this excellent Jeffrey Hunger quote still stands: We rally around anyone we perceive as a blameless victim, but judge people (fat people, but also queer folks, addicts, etc.) if we think their illness is somehow “their fault.” And I’m seeing A LOT of that vibe in the response to my latest for Elemental on Covid and weight stigma. (Even though that’s WHY I put this quote in the story… sigh.)
This is a response rooted in fear. Covid is terrifying. We want to find a reason why it can only happen to other people, so we can feel safer. And it’s especially murky now when we know small, concrete actions like wearing masks, washing hands and getting vaccinated can make a huge difference in whether you get sick. It’s easy to extrapolate from there that it must also matter whether you take vitamins, or exercise, or lose weight even though none of these things have been proven to reduce risk in the same way (or at all).
But what we’re forgetting when we decide to blame people for getting sick is that health, in general, is largely out of our control. Genetics, biology and social determinants (that’s your race, socioeconomic status, trauma history, level of lived oppression, environment, and so on) make up most of the health puzzle. Lifestyle choices matter, but not nearly as much as the diet industry wants you to think. Plus, most healthy lifestyle choices require a level of privilege that can make them inaccessible for many. Healthcare needs to meet people where they are, not where you think they should be.