The Situationist

Archive for March 27th, 2011

An Inspiring Story or Another Distorted Messages on Obesity?

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 27, 2011

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the problems I saw with Joe D’Amico’s all-McDonald’s diet “experiment” leading up to the L.A. Marathon.

It turns out that that was not the only potentially troubling obesity-related story coming out of the marathon.

The media was also very excited to report on Kelly Gneiting becoming the heaviest person to ever finish a marathon.

He is a 405-pound sumo wrestler and ran the race in 9 hours, 48 minutes, and 52 seconds.

At first, I thought that this might have a net positive influence on the obesity epidemic, encouraging the overweight and obese to see exercise as a positive and realistic pursuit.  But as I gave it more consideration, I became more concerned.

Might this story and others like it actually be sending a very different message: that obesity — even morbid obesity in Kelly’s case — can be healthy?  As Kelly explained to the L.A. Times,  “I honestly think I’m one of the best athletes in the world.”

There is sound research by Steven Blair and others that shows that some people who are overweight can also be fit, but I think there is a real danger in celebrating Kelly’s accomplishment — or, at least, in failing to capture the nuances to the story.  For many people, carrying around an extra 200 pounds (Kelly was 205 pounds when he married his wife) is a major threat to their health and although Kelly himself appears to be relatively healthy now, in the long term, maintaining his current weight is likely to greatly increase his risk of a number of serious conditions.

In a world in which the obese face considerable discrimination and abuse (just read the L.A. Times article to learn about some of Kelly’s own experiences), there is part of me that sides with Kelly’s desire to show the world that “[b]ig people can do the unimaginable.”  But I expect that the overall effect of publicizing his accomplishment may be negative.

What do you think?

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