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What we read: January 24, 2020

Between having to change all my passwords because security and continuing to write 2019 every time I have to write the year by hand, I’m basically lost. I wonder if, someday, someone reading my bullet journals (*ahem* because they are now ethnographic data, y’all) might read through this period of my life and wonder what was happening. Was there a major catastrophe? A life-altering event?

Yes, there was. I had to change my password because IT threatened to report me if I didn’t, I can’t access anything on that computer (but neither can hackers, win?), Australia is on fire, and like basically every millennial, I’m burnt out. I’d explain more, but I’ve got a side hustle to start to help pay down my student loan debt.

And then there is this headline: Obesity crisis blamed for a rise in fatty liver disease amongst young adults. Curious, I thought, as the clickbait headline motivated me to click through to read the ScienceDaily summary of a recent scientific publication. Curious because I research body image and this finding would conflict with the body of literature that finds, at best, a correlational relationship between body size and health (and, actually, being categorized as “overweight” as defined by BMI is actually related to better or equivalent health outcomes to “normal” weight persons). Yet, in the ScienceDaily article itself, I could find nothing that supported the sensationalist headline except for a description of fatty liver disease: “Fatty liver disease is a condition in which fats build up in the cells of the liver. It is broadly split into non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is usually seen in people who are overweight or obese, and alcohol related fatty liver disease, which is associated with harmful levels of drinking.” After reading the entire ScienceDaily article, from what I could see, it seems like the research found a correlational relationship between non-alcohol related fatty liver disease and obesity. That finding doesn’t support the headline that ascribes causality between the two.

Curious and curiouser.

I decided to read the original journal article that reported on the scientific study to see what I could find. Perhaps the original article reporting on these findings could explain this headline on the ScienceDaily article summarizing these findings (which I would call a “recontextualization” of the original article). That article, titled Prevalence of steatosis and fibrosis in young adults in the UK: a population-based study, described the results of their study that found a correlational relationship between fatty liver disease and obesity: “We found obesity to be the strongest factor associated with steatosis.” Yet, somehow, this finding allowed the authors to conclude: “In conclusion, this study provides evidence that the obesity epidemic is affecting the future health of young adults in the UK, by increasing their risk of NASH-related cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and complications of metabolic syndrome. Crucially, these outcomes can be avoided with stringent public health measures, starting with increased awareness of NAFLD among the general population. We identified participants in our cohort with NAFLD-related fibrosis, but the strongest association with increased severity of fibrosis was found in participants with harmful alcohol consumption and hepatic steatosis.” Oh dear.

It seems that despite the correlational findings from the study and a body of literature that has found the strongest correlation between poor health outcomes and fatty liver to be related to alcohol consumption, which the researchers controlled for in the present study (i.e., tried to remove as a variable). So this is a problem, not just because ScienceDaily, a publication that summarizes research findings for the general population, misstated the causation always relationship in a clickbait title, but because reporting something that is correlational as causational is not only incorrect, it runs the risk of guiding people to draw the wrong conclusions. And, for a part of the population that is already stigmatized and vilified, it is deeply problematic to continue to describe how those individuals are deeply unhealthy, continuing the stigma, when that isn’t actually the case.

And, then, as the research is recontextualized again and again, the correlational findings become causational findings and the perpetuation of the “obesity epidemic” continues. Not cool.

This is part of why celebrity trainers like Jillian Michaels feel justified in making public comments about Lizzo’s size, claiming to be concerned about their health. And the super gross reboot of The Biggest Loser, which has not only been shown to be the absolute worst way to lose weight but also further stigmatizes people who are overweight, even negatively influencing how overweight people view themselves. Ugh. No thanks, USA.

Not to mention that bias against weight is deeply gendered and racialized, as Michaels so adeptly demonstrates. This “health”-sanctioned surveillance of the body is even more insidiously perpetuated through the DNA tests that claim to “reveal” one’s ancestry. Not only are those not actually accurate descriptors of one’s actual ancestors, they are perpetuation of surveillance of the body. In some cases, some databases have been mined by police to search for criminals. That process in and of itself is racially biased, and as Vanessa Taylor points out, the criminal justice system disproportionately penalizes (read: criminalizes) persons of color, making the potential for one’s data to be accessed in a criminal case particularly race biased.

In a time and place where abortion rights are being eroded, this woman shows can individual action can make difference. She describes her experience as a volunteer to help women access abortion clinics and navigate through protesters there to misdirect.

Unrelated, but not unexpected, Twitter might be bad for the left.

And apparently peegasms are a thing?

Finally, Hulu is down again, which is definitely a first world problem. However, since they raised the prices last month, which means I’m paying more to access less, it’s time to cancel and switch to YouTube tv.

Don’t forget to check out our newest Spinster’s first article on her catalyst to spend a year traveling and Jaymee’s article on her evolving experiences at local Women’s Marches.

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