OPINION: Numbers are a somewhat effective measurement of health and shouldn’t be ignored in service of a minority

CW: Mentions of eating disorders

On Nov. 8, TSL published an opinion article titled “Diet culture hurts students, silences those in recovery.” While I agree with some of the writers’ claims, such as Los Angeles being a “notoriously image-focused place” where weight loss and physical appearance are marketed as dominant measurements of beauty, the main message of the opinion was factually inaccurate.

Although diet culture, in reference to a culture that promotes beauty standards linked to dieting,  may be prevalent at the 5Cs, the Health and Wellness Fair put on by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Recreation was in no way trying to promote diet as a means to achieve beauty. The conversation CMS Recreation is trying to partake in is one about physical health, not mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just under 40 percent of adults were classified as obese in 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Being overweight is scientifically proven to be unhealthy and can lead to a variety of dangerous conditions and diseases.

The article argues that the body fat composition test, one of the main highlights of the fair, “brings attention to how central weight and numerical markers are in our conversations surrounding health.”

Of course numerical markers are used for physical health. Usually when one goes to the doctor for any reason, they are first weighed, their height is measured, and their blood pressure is taken.

These quantitative measurements mean something, otherwise doctors would not take them. Levels of iron and other vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc., are all measured in a quantitative way and can be directly linked to fatigue and other symptoms.

The article continues: “While these measurements might be important for athletes, numbers and weighing oneself can be incredibly triggering for people in recovery or anyone who has struggled with disordered eating and exercise habits.”

Claiming that only athletes want to weigh themselves and know numerical facts about their own physical bodies degrades the issue to an oversimplified black-and-white version. There are people from every walk of life, from professional football players to professional couch potatoes, that care about their body and want tools to be available to help them get started or continue along their path of health and fitness.

The most confusing piece is the claim that “this information is not in any way an indicator of health.” Although weight or Body Mass Index measurements may be crude (although still an indicator, no matter how inaccurate), a body fat composition test that directly measures percentage of weight due to excess body fat is undoubtedly a decent measurement of health.

Body fat composition and health do not have a direct relationship for everyone, but there is  generally a direct relationship that can be drawn showing those who have higher body fat are generally more unhealthy and those with lower body fat are generally more healthy.

Also, the statement “… [w]hile these measurements might be important for athletes…” is confusing. Numerical measurements of health can’t be important at all for athletes if they don’t show anything about their actual health (as the article seems to claim).

If we follow the logic that these measurements can be important for athletes, this means that numerical measurements do have intrinsic value related to health. If these measurements are useful for athletes in determining how well they will perform by giving information about physical health, then it logically follows that these measurements can tell us relevant physical information about anyone. Athletes are just humans, after all.

Physical and mental health are inextricably linked. I do recognize that numerical measurements can be triggering for people with various eating disorders, and I sincerely empathize with those people.

But the idea that the damage caused to one’s mental health from the possibility of knowing various numerical measurements about one’s own body outweighs the benefit this knowledge provides to people actually wanting to improve their physical health is unreasonable. There are significantly more people without eating disorders than those who are known with, and catering to the minority at the expense of the majority is an illogical allocation of effort.  

You have the right to not be tested for body fat and not know the numerical information pertaining to your health. You also have the right to seek out resources and advocate that institutions supply more resources to support the ability of students with eating disorders to be protected.

You do not have the right to take away or however slightly diminish the ability to get tested from other people. If the Health and Wellness Fair was not advertised to students, then no one would know that opportunity was present and that would void the purpose of the opportunity in the first place.

Society can’t pragmatically protect every single individual group from knowledge that may be harmful, and more importantly we don’t have a moral obligation to, unless that knowledge is false.

The opportunity to test one’s own body composition, a relatively scientifically accurate method of measuring one’s physical health, is exactly that: an opportunity. Take it or leave it, but you can’t try to get rid of it to the detriment of everyone that wants to use it.

Jensen Steady CM ’22 is from Santa Barbara, CA, and is interested in studying economics and government. He can be found reading, writing, and playing a little guitar in his free time.


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