What Do "Fat Lesbians" Have to Do With Public Spending?


Ever wonder why lesbians are so fat? Me neither.

According to conservative news outlets headlines across the nation discussing the funding of research interested in the links between obesity and sexual orientation, you’re totally right. How offensive! Who the heck cares? Why spend hard-earned tax payer money on this useless issue?

When the right-wing media received the news that the Obama administration was investing in a study of the "interplay of gender and sexual orientation in obesity disparities" the right wing media collectively lost it.  As the Atlantic points out, conservative outlets went on a rant about government funding while relying on unflattering Rosie O’Donnell pictures to prove their point. Unfortunately, most of the conservative pundits covering this story are misconstruing the topic of the research in an effort to make a point about frivolous big government spending.

First, the research is not just about lesbians; it’s about gays too. Oh, and it’s actually also about straight people too. So I guess it's pretty much about everyone. Although this may come to a surprise to the conservative media, heterosexuality is a sexual orientation too, hence is covered in the topic of the research. Thus, exclusively mentioning lesbians in their titles is slightly misleading to say the least. The study, titled Sexual Orientation and Obesity: Test of a Gendered Biophysical Model" and headed by Harvard's School of Public Health associate professor S. Bryn Austin, aims to determine why straight men tend to be twice as likely to be obese than gay men and why an opposite trend seem to exist amongst females.

The researchers explain:

"One area of disparities that is only beginning to be recognized is the striking interplay of gender and sexual orientation. Women of minority sexual orientation are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic, with nearly three-quarters of lesbians overweight or obese, compared to half of heterosexual women. In addition, heterosexual men have almost double the obesity risk as gay men. With both substantial burden and pronounced gender modification now documented, these disparities are of high public-health significance."

The Atlantic points out the hypocrisy of focusing on "the pudgy lesbians" despite the study being concerned with pretty much everyone:

“... these headlines would have been accurate as the inverse: 'Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why straight men are fat.' Or: 'Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why gay men have rocking bodies.' Or perhaps: 'America is overweight (except for gay men?) and scientists are trying to determine why.'"

Second, why should it be so controversial to study the links between obesity and orientation? Racial and socio-economic differences in obesity have been studied without raising any eyebrows for years, so why should unveiling the relationship that it has with sexual orientation create so much outrage?

Finally, considering that obesity is responsible for a whopping 21% of medical spending (the equivalent of $190 billion per year), shouldn't commentators who are worried about government spending be relieved that a measly 1.5 million could help us get closer to understanding and preventing the plight of obesity in America?

Instead of publishing offensive and sensationalist headlines that overstate the magnitude of lesbian’s weight problems (both in society and in the said research), conservative pundits should examine the inconsistencies of their own arguments first.  Investing in research will help us gain a greater understanding of obesity and therefore reduce government spending on dealing with obesity in the first place. Whining about fat lesbians won’t.