The Old “But Fatties are Costing Us Money!” Argument

Published July 11, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Reading the comments on Rebecca Sparrow’s excellent post on Mamamia about fat discrimination (in particular Stephanie Payne’s story of abuse on public transport) has had my face meeting my palm a few times today.  It’s the same old tropes that are trotted out on every single article about the “obesity epidemic” and anything else to do with fatness – you know the ones:

“But that’s not healthy!”

“Well nobody should be bullied but being THAT heavy/fat/obese is just wrong.”

“If they don’t want to be bullied, they should just lose weight.”

“Well there’s fat and then there’s just obese, that’s disgusting.”

“I’m not fat but I work really hard at staying thin, so they’re just lazy.”

“If you take up more space then you should pay for two seats.”

And even this one bothers me:

“Well you don’t know if they’re doing something to lose weight or not, so you shouldn’t risk bullying them.” (As if people who are not being “good fatties” and losing weight don’t deserve the same respect and fairness as everyone else.)

Blah blah blah blah blah!  I know, we’ve all heard them a million times over, as if they justify fat people being treated as though they are sub-human.

I want to focus on one I keep seeing repeated tonight.  Are we ready?


“But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!!”


Let’s just think about that shall we?

Firstly, the implication is that fat people are nothing but a drain on the public infrastructure.  That somehow, fatness means that one can never have a job, pay taxes, engage in volunteer work, support a family (either children or elderly parents or any other members of family), have an education, be creative, be nurturing, be intelligent, be passionate, be hard-working or devoted.

Because all fat people do is sit on the sofa and eat cheeseburgers amirite?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I’d love a little more leisure time to sit on the sofa and I wish cheeseburgers didn’t give me reflux!

Funnily enough, fat people go to work just like anyone else.  They work hard (if not harder, because of the amount of discrimination against fatness in the workplace) and pay taxes.  I work in a capital city, and I see fat people coming and going from their places of employment every day.  I am served in shops by fat people, waited on in cafes and restaurants by fat people, see fat bus drivers and fat cleaners and fat lawyers and fat doctors and fat police and fat tradies.  In my own job, I have fat colleagues and fat vendors and fat suppliers that I work with, and they’re all hard working people who do their part to help me do my job.  They do so just the same as the thin people I work with, and the in-between people I work with.  Body size has absolutely no bearing on how people do their job.  Well, unless you’re a window cleaner, and I don’t know about you, but the thought of dangling down the side of a building as the wind whistles by has absolutely no appeal for me, whether I was fat OR thin!

Secondly, let’s address the “driving up the cost” aspect.  This of course implies that the only people that are utilising health care/insurance are fat people.  Or at best, that fat people are using up more than “their fare share”.  So where are we with smokers, drinkers, drug users, those who engage in violence to themselves or others, sports people who sustain illness or injury due to their sport, DIY-ers who injure themselves while cutting/hammering/demolishing etc, people who drive cars and cause accidents, people who spend too much time in the sun and get sunstroke or severe sunburn, folks who get into trouble at the beach/pool/other waterway and need rescuing and subsequent medical attention… the list could go on and on of people who engage in behaviour that causes them to require medical attention.

And of course we have no concrete proof that fatness is because of any behaviour, can be controlled or reversed in any way, but I’m giving the “But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!” crew the benefit of the doubt here.

Finally, let’s talk about the whole thing about taxes, levies, rates, tariffs and other public funding.  Part of being an adult in our society is that you are required to contribute a share of your livelihood in taxes and other public fees.

Ok, so you pay those monies, but you don’t want any of that money to go towards the fatties getting this perceived “extra” health care, because you’re not fat right?  So you shouldn’t be letting anyone else have “extra” that you don’t need right?

Well… do you have children?  Because if not, your money is going towards education, which you might not directly reap the benefits of.  How about drive a car, do you do that?  Because if you don’t, your taxes etc are going towards roads, bridges, highways and street-lights, the oil industry, and all the other infrastructure required to for motoring on, that you may not directly benefit from.  Do you use public transport at all?  If not, your tax dollars are going towards buses, trains, ferries, taxis and trams, not to mention cycle paths and walkways that you might not directly use yourself.  Do you go to the library?  Your rates and taxes go towards them too – how dare all those horrible people use your tax dollars to borrow books, enjoy story time, use the library space and take computer classes at your expense!

The reality is, we pay taxes and other public fees to go towards a pool of funds that are used to build the very infrastructure of our world.  To pay for roads and schools and libraries and parks and yes, even health care, among many other things.  If you want to quibble where your tax dollars go, how about you take a look at politicians pay packets.  Or how  much money goes into the military every year.  Believe me, it’s far more dollars that go to those two than go to health care for any people, let alone just the fat ones.

If you want to talk about things that drive the cost of private health insurance up, let’s look at the profit margins of health insurance companies.  Or better still, the pay packets of their CEO’s!  Let’s just say that these CEO’s aren’t going to be lining up for public health care with the rest of us any time soon.

In short, it’s a pretty redundant argument to say that fat people are driving up the costs of health insurance/taxes.  Health insurance is an industry created to make a profit for their shareholders, and taxes are a public pool of money that we all benefit from in various different ways.

And every single one of us has the same rights as the other, regardless of our body size, or our health.


23 comments on “The Old “But Fatties are Costing Us Money!” Argument

  • This is a great post (as always), Kath!

    One thing I have noticed however, is that in these discussions people who complain about the taxes issue are usually just capitalists who wish to pay no taxes whatsoever and begrudge absolutely everything. Here in the UK, people who complain about their taxes going on fatties in the NHS/public transport usually end up admitting they wish the NHS didn’t exist, and that everyone should pay for themselves anyway. (Hopefully it goes without saying I think they’re selfish dicks.) xx

  • Of course I love this post, I had to stop reading the comments in that article because they really did get me so down (as you read in my blog). It’s disappointing that the nay-sayers always yell the loudest.

    • Yeah I’ve had to disengage. Some cowardly “Anonymous” just can’t get it through their judgemental head that it’s none of their damn business! They even told me I’m getting “uppity”!

  • I had to laugh at one of the comments Mia made in response to Sparrow’s post. It was just so hypocritical. I read down to your comment and then couldnt go any further.

    And this post of yours? So totally on the money. Love your work.

  • OMG, I can’t read anymore of that. My head is ready to explode! I will never understand how people believe they have the right to judge someone without any knowledge of their situation. I am not going to try and explain my sitution to anyone anymore.

    They want us to pay for two seats, etc., etc. How about they make seats bigger? If the world population is growing larger and there is a large percentage of obese people now, how about some accommodation? How about making it easier for us?

    A thin person may feel uncomfortable trying to squeeze in next to we fatties, but how do they think we feel about it? Do they think we’re entirely comfortable with that? It’s humiliating. And, I don’t know about anyone else, but I can’t afford to buy two seats. Maybe I should stay in my house!

    Between that article and the fact that some government officials in the U.S. are talking about requiring ALL obese people to enroll in Weight Watchers, I am about ready to have a meltdown.

    • You know the real shocker La… it’s ok for anyone to speak about fatness (though they insist on using fat =/= obesity, go figure) so long as they’re not ACTUALLY fat.


  • I was getting bored with the comments on that blog post too. Same old, same old. Not sure whether to pity them or chuck things at them. Good points as always Kath. I hear this so much and have had to set some people straight. It really shits me when they trot this old furphy out. It is just parrotting (sp) at it’s worst.
    It seems that medical care should be accessible for those healthy ones.

    • Sometimes you just got to walk away Jan, because people just have their own agenda.

      And I think you’re right – these people think medical care should only be for the thin and healthy.

  • What I always ask these people is: Have you worked in health care, and had a chance to actually examine people’s medical records to see who is actually in those hospital and emergency room beds, and why? (Hospital and ER visits for any reason are WAY more expensive than outpatient doctor visits. It’s not even close.) Because I have. I’ve seen close to 150,000 medical records in my life, from hospitals all over the U.S., over the past 15 years. Anyone who thinks all those beds contain fatties could not possibly be more mistaken.

    OLD people (70+) “use up” most of the health care. (I love the “using up” concept too, like you can’t get in to see your doctor because someone 3,000 miles away is having an angioplasty.) In fact, an elderly person presenting to an ER with the same symptoms as a younger person is much more likely to be strongly recommended admission; if you are 45 and they diagnose you with pneumonia, in the absence of other immune compromise you will probably be sent home with antibiotics and outpatient followup, but if you are 75, they probably want to admit you (although you are allowed to refuse, provided you are conscious and aware of your surroundings). So if we fatties actually are gonna DIE DIE DIE from our fat, that probably means LOWER lifetime health costs. Once again, this comes down to who they think is “deserving,” and who is not.

    • Meowser I read that somewhere a while ago about the age being the best indicator for the amount of health care being required.

      You’re absolutely right – it’s all about judgement and creating a “them” and “us” scenario for people who cry “But you’re driving up the cost of health care!”.

    • Ugh, I just don’t have the spoons to go there this morning. And you raise a good point – when she regains the weight, as the poor woman is highly likely to do… what will people say then? Of course they’ll turn their congratulations around to criticisms.

  • Did anyone see the study on TV last week where they did a controlled experiment on a group of people to see if they would all gain the same amount of weight? Factoring in BMI and various other things, they were essentially fed the same amount and type of food and not allowed to exercise. The outcomes were different for everybody, some gained bodyfat, some gained muscle mass, some didn’t gain anything and some people’s base metebolic rate increased to compensate for the amount of food. The outcome of the study was that though you can influence the size of your body to some degree, it will always try to get back to it’s own prototype. In a previous study, a sample of people were put into a situation where they all lost 10kgs and then kept in an environment to maintain that 10kg weight loss. Despite supposedly becomming accustomed to the new diet, MRI scans of their brains showed that there was an area in the brain that was lighting up which they had previously identified as registering hunger. Come on scientists out there help us out we are sick of emotive propaganda! (I’ve forgotten the channel, I think it was TVS)

  • ““But you’re driving up the cost of health insurance/taxes!!””

    This is an argument of such silliness that one has to plumb the depths of snark and general misandry to replay.. .


    “Don’t worry. Not only am I fat, I also drive a motorbike and fix my own roof. There is a high likeliness that I’ll die young. Now, what are *you* doing to spare us all the expense of caring for your old ass one day?”


    “Are you worried you are not getting enough pay out from health insurance because you’re unfat? Have you considered getting hit by a bus? That should fix your balance nicely.”

  • Great post! This argument is so tired. We support people who want to jump out of helicopters wearing skis, jump out of a plane, jump off a bridge, and run Iron Man Triathlons (which are tremendously hard on the body). We also support people being as unhealthy as they want to as long as it doesn’t make them fat.

    I think that the bottom line for the people who continue to espouse this is:
    Even if you could prove that being fat makes me unhealthy (which you can’t). And even if you had a method that was scientifically proven to lead to successful long term weight loss (which you don’t). And even if there was proof that losing weight would make me healthier (which there isn’t). And even if you were going to go around yelling at smokers, drinkers, jay walkers, and thin people who don’t exercise (which you aren’t) this slope is still too slippery. And that doesn’t take into account the reality that your premise is completely flawed, your assumptions are faulty, and your method of shaming people is utterly ineffective since you can’t make someone hate themselves healthy.


  • I wound up getting drawn into a few debates in the comments. (You can search them for my name, if you wnat) Oddly enough, I realized that two of them were with the same person, “I love to exercise”. It’s a shame she couldn’t seem to comprehend an entire comment I made, because her parting comments seemed to show she had a glimmer of sense.

    When I gave stats for seat width (16-18″ for an economy seat) and my shoulder width (19″ not counting my arms) and said that the problem was the seats not being big enough to accommodate an average person, she replied that shoulder size is something you just can’t change, and seats are designed to fit the average person so oh well. *sigh* So close and yet so far.

    I also managed to talk myself out of getting worked up over a criticism of Ragen about halfway thru when I posted a link to the “The problem with proving it” post.

    Honestly, there were more than 50% of the initial posts that were condemning of the hooligans described in the article. Other than the insane urge I get to convince those who just don’t see it (the uber-skinny girl who feels comfortable that way but thinks all fatties who say they like themselves are just lying being one), I came away remarkably encouraged that so many commenters seemed to “get it.”

    • Amber I had to walk away from the comments, because a) it was like arguing with an excited dog “Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!” without actually listening to or reading anything that was said in response and b) my sanity points ran out.

      But yes, there overwhelming majority was condemnation of the bullying in the original story, and Rebecca tells me that they only get 1% of readership commenting, so it’s good to know the message is getting out there.

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