Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SunTV and the gluttonous slob obesity narrative.

Last week I was invited onto Brian Lilley's Byline, a SunTV prime time news hour. I had contacted SunTV in response to a discussion that had aired the night before - one between Byline's host Brian Lilley and Ezra Levant. They were discussing Lillian Coakley.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Lillian's story, she's a Nova Scotian with extreme obesity, who out of frustration with her Province's 10 year bariatric surgical wait times, penned a mock obituary which I posted on my blog.

Ezra, when considering her case, suggested that while she doesn't want to be a burden on her children, that she, "apparently wants to be a burden on everyone else." Ezra then claimed that not only does Lillian have obesity, she has, "entitle-mania", suggesting it was an inflated sense of entitlement to health care that led her to believe bariatric surgery should be expeditiously covered (or even covered at all).

Brian then opined that he didn't think that Tommy Douglas (the father of socialized medicine in Canada), would have wanted bariatric surgery covered and Ezra agreed, "I don't think that in Tommy Douglas' time , even being fat was considered a health care issue, it was a personal responsibility issue". Next Ezra offered advice to folks like Lillian, "If you don't want to be fat, exercise, or eat less", and concluded by asking, "Why doesn't she take some personal responsibility".

I couldn't embed the video, so if you'd like to watch it yourself, click here.

I was glad they invited me to provide some balance to their chat, but here it's important for me to point out that their take on the story wasn't particularly unique, nor was it particularly ugly. Now don't get me wrong, it was ugly, but it was not any more ugly than the vast majority of commentators' takes out there, and certainly not unique to right wing viewpoints as evidenced by the commentators over at the Toronto Star.

It was important to me to go on the show to address their 3 main arguments.

The first had to do with burdening our health care system. I pointed out that statistically speaking, it's a far greater financial burden on our health care system to let Lillian wait on a waiting list for 10 years than to operate, with surgical costs being fully recouped in just 3.5 years.

Next, regarding responsibility I pointed out that virtually everyone who tries to intentionally lose weight on their own gains it back, and even putting aside the fact that commentators as a whole have no idea what Lillian has, or hasn't tried for weight loss, it's a fair bet that even were she to successfully lose weight, she'd gain it back and that here we're basically condemning her because she's incapable of doing something that pretty much everyone else is also incapable of doing.

Lastly I pointed out that it's an incredible double standard to suggest blame and personal responsibility be considered when determining if obesity treatment is worthy of public funding. Even if you were to continue to believe that obesity is entirely preventable/treatable by means of personal responsibility, the fact is a huge proportion of our health care expenditures are spent on patients who could have avoided or prevented their maladies. Perhaps the easiest example would be the incredible number of patients who require interventions as a simple consequence of their not bothering to take their prescribed medications. Whether it's diabetics, hypertensives, or hyperlipidemics who don't take their meds, - these folks cost our system an incredible fortune in dialysis, strokes, heart disease, and more, and yet no one, not even Ezra or Brian, is going to suggest we not treat them, or that we grill them about their medication use prior to providing them with life saving care. And here their issues stem from simply not taking their meds daily, whereas Lillian's stems from her inability to do something more than 95% of us fail to do - sustain a significant weight loss.

Saddest of all though had to be the graphic that SunTV chose to run to promote my piece. That's a still of it up above.

And it's the attitudes behind that image that we're fighting against. We're fighting against a society where the media feels comfortable promoting blatant, ugly stereotypes - because while I can certainly understand Brian and Ezra's views in regard to Lillian's case (they're pretty common off the cuff views after all), they don't excuse the hateful bias of the gluttonous slob obesity narrative that their graphic supports.

Cartoon gluttony aside, it's a shame that SunTV, despite choosing Brian and Ezra's anti-Lillian rant for posting on their website, didn't choose to provide their web viewers with balance by posting my interview as well.

If you want to watch my piece, you can do so here (or see it embedded down below).