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History of the Health At Every Size® Movement – Early 21st Century (Part 6)

by Barbara Altman Bruno, PhD, LCSW

In response to requests from our readers, the Health At Every Size Blog is honored to print Barbara Altman Bruno’s history of the HAES movement. Most of the installments of this history have been previously published in ASDAH member newsletters. This post is Part Six in a series.

The HAES movement and the war against obesity responded increasingly to each other by the 21st century. The war against obesity ramped up to what sociologist Abigail Saguy referred to as a moral panic, from the late 1990s on. It was abetted by biased research, which influenced publications and guidelines from the U.S. government, largely fueled by Morgan Downey. Downey, former Executive Vice President of the Obesity Society and Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the American Obesity Association, “dedicated more than 10 years to driving awareness, support and actionable change to policies affecting obesity in America.”

Among Downey’s many accomplishments were his successful efforts to have the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration recognize obesity as a disease, and his work to have obesity elevated in both Democratic and Republican Party platforms. This ultimately resulted in both political parties holding forums on future obesity policy, at their respective 2008 national conventions.

Other accomplishments include Downey’s success in changing Internal Revenue Service policies to allow taxpayers to deduct costs of obesity treatments as a medical deduction and in expanding National Institutes of Health research funding on obesity. He created the first series of conferences on obesity and public policy, collaborated with the Federal Trade Commission Partnership for Healthy Weight Management on efforts to control weight-loss fraud, and led efforts to create ‘The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity, 2001’.

According to, “Mr. Downey also served as the director of the Washington office of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, where he organized major expansions of Medicare coverage of bariatric surgery in National Coverage Determination…

“He consults with several organizations on obesity issues including Allergan Inc., Amylin Pharmaeuticals Inc., Arena Pharmaceuticals, Orexigen Therapeutics.”

Psychologist Bonnie Bernell published Bountiful Women in 2000. In her review of the book, psychologist Deb Burgard said, “Bernell’s gift is to make visible the everyday heroines all around us, the large women who prove through their courage, humor, and sheer heart that you do not have to be rich and thin to have a satisfying life.”

Fatima Parker, Activism Vice President of the International Size Acceptance Association, began appearing in British, French, and Middle Eastern/North African media in 2000, promoting size acceptance and the Health at Every Size paradigm.

Deb Burgard started the Showmethedata (SMTD) listserv in 2001. SMTD is a private association of research-oriented consumers and professionals who are working within the Health at Every Size model. The purpose of the listserv is to “promote responsible and accurately-reported research on weight-related issues, and ‘scientific literacy’ and critical thinking skills for the public.” Burgard started “Body Positive,” a website aiming to help boost body image at any weight. She had worked with the healthiest fat women and the sickest thin women, and found it impossible to prescribe for fat people, behaviors and intentions that harmed people with eating disorders.

Investigative reporter Alicia Mundy’s book, Dispensing with the Truth, appeared in 2001. It revealed the workings of drug companies, the diet drugs Redux and fen-phen, and some of their victims. It also named the new industry—combining drug companies, researchers, and obesity experts–”Obesity, Inc.”

In 2002, Dr. William Klish told the Houston Chronicle: “If we don’t get this epidemic [of childhood obesity] in check, for the first time in a century children will be looking forward to a shorter life expectancy than their parents.” The journalist of the Chronicle went on to explain the effect. “Since then, Klish’s statement has entered the lexicon of obesity scaremongers…without so much as a shred of credible research to back it up. Klish himself told the Center for Consumer Freedom that while he is the originator of this pessimistic prognostication, his claim does not come from ‘evidence-based research.’ Rather, he explained, ‘It’s based on intuition.’

Inspired by a Bruno activism workshop in AHELP, psychologist Claudia Clark of Bowling Green State University began participating in health fairs and observing No Diet Day at the university. She then created a size acceptance group on campus, and organized women’s body image retreats. Her college hosted an organizational meeting of the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) on May 16, 2003. Cheri Erdman and Paul Ernsberger presented at that one-day meeting to about 30 attendees. Approximately 14 people continued on later that afternoon to brainstorm potential organizational structure, mission and goals, membership criteria and fees, etc. Clark headed up ASDAH, Miriam Berg was the Newsletter Editor, Roki Abakoui was membership chair (followed by Anne Kaplan) and Dana Schuster took on Conference planning. The original group working as a ‘steering committee’ included: Donna Pittman, Roki Abakoui, Dana Schuster, Paul Ernsberger, Catherine Shufelt, Veronica Cook-Euell, Judy Miller, Lisa Breisch, Francie Astrom, Miriam Berg, Renee Schultz, Darshana Pandya, Judy Borcherdt, Joanne Ikeda, and Ellen Shuman. Miriam Berg and Dana Schuster were charged with the task to take all of the discussion and ideas and draft a mission statement and goals for ASDAH. It is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization, whose members and leaders are committed to Health at Every Sizeprinciples. LynnEllen Marcus started the ASDAH Yahoo listserv group in 2006.

Psychologist Peggy Elam started Pearlsong Press in the autumn of 2003. According to their website, “Pearlsong Press endorses Health At Every Size®, and promises that every book and product we publish or offer for sale…celebrates size diversity or at least does not contradict it.”

Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former Editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), noted in 2004: “On the question of obesity, physicians have been extensively involved with the pharmaceutical industry, especially opinion leaders and in the high ranks of academia. The involvement was in many instances quite deep. It involved consulting, service on speakers’ bureaus, and service on advisory boards. And at the same time some of these financially conflicted individuals were producing biased obesity materials, biased obesity lectures, and biased obesity articles in major journals.”

Colorado law professor Paul Campos wrote The Obesity Myth in 2004, which was subsequently republished as The Diet Myth. He continued exposing anti-obesity public health messages in newspaper and magazine columns, blogs, and debates, and recommended giving up the war on obesity.

Fat activist Marilyn Wann, author of Fat!So?, began the fat studies listserv in 2004, having been inspired by an exhibit on the fat body by Columbia University graduate student Lori Don Levan. Wann shares, “It was a weekend conference and a fat-positive art show at the school’s art gallery in the end of February 2004…I was a keynote speaker and so were Laurie Toby Edison and Debbie Notkin from Women En Large. Kate LeBesco gave a great talk. During Lori’s conference, I stayed with a friend, Anahid Kassabian…Anahid suggested that, ‘Someone needs to start the field of fat studies and it should be you.’”

Wann “realized I could invite every academic person I knew to join an email list and see what happened. I invited 50 or 60 people and many of them joined. I knew academic people with interest in weight-related topics because I had been going around giving talks on college campuses for 7 or 8 years.”

Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, entangled herself in politicized fat-fear mongering. “If you looked at any epidemic—whether it’s influenza or plague from the Middle Ages—they are not as serious as the epidemic of obesity in the terms of the health impact on our country and our society,” said Gerberding in 2004. Gerberding requested $6.9 billion for the CDC’s 2005 budget by claiming 400,000 deaths per year due to obesity.

A study by CDC researchers and others was published in Obesity Research, claiming that obesity-related medical expenditures in 2003 cost $75 billion, half financed by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid. In January 2005, the CDC published an erratum in JAMA, lowering the estimate of deaths attributable to excess weight to 365,000/year. (See Center for Consumer Freedom.)

Social workers and sisters Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel published Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Therapist’s Guide to Treating Compulsive Eating, in 2004. It was followed in 2006 by The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care. Their website is Matz published “Recipe for Life” in Psychotherapy Networker, Jan.-Feb. 2011.

In their 2004 book, The Spirit and Science of Holistic Health, health educators Karen Carrier and Jon Robison contrast traditional, Cartesian views about weight with holism, including Health at Every Size. Says David Sobel, MD, author of Healthy Pleasures, “Holistic health promotion replaces disease with joy, fear with meaning, and external control with inner trust.”

Published to the HAES Blog with permission from Barbara Altman Bruno. Copyright © 2017 Barbara Bruno. All rights reserved.

Readers can access previous and subsequent installments of this history here:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 7


Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., LCSW, is a clinical social worker,  size acceptance activist, and HAES pioneer.  She has presented at clinical conferences, appeared in television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and demonstrations, and has written many articles, including well-being columns for larger people, guidelines for therapists who treat fat clients, a brief history of HAES, and a book, Worth Your Weight (what you CAN do about a weight problem).  She is former co-chair of education for ASDAH and is on NAAFA’s Advisory Board.

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