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PRC May 12-18, 2002
Hilton Washington and Towers, Washington DC

Robin's Story

LEAD - Overweight woman spend millions of dollars on their quest to be thin. Researchers say woman do this to be healthier and feel more attractive. But some scholars say there are other factors pushing women to be thin at any cost. Next Generation News' Robin Shannon has details.

It's noon at the weekly weight watchers meeting on K street in downtown Washington DC. A group of roughly 50 women and one man stand patiently in line, waiting to check their weight and pay the organizations 12-dollar fee.

(Sound of weight watchers weighs in)

Weight Watchers is among the country's more moderately priced weight loss programs, and there are many others. Woman in the US spend billions of dollars each year in an effort to reach an ideal body size.

Kimberly Steel lost 44 pounds as a member of Weight Watchers. She now leads some of the downtown DC meetings. Steel says she hated herself when she was heavier and feels that there are negative consequences to being overweight.

Kimberly Steele
Track 5: - 2:00
("People make fun of you, people laugh at you. None of the clothes are geared to look good on you. There's a terrible stigma to being overweight. Things don't fit. Amusement park rides don't fit…

Steele adds that being overweight is a health concern.

…2:24. People get sick. They have terrible health consequences to being overweight. And it's not a matter of just wanting to fit in. It's a matter of "I'm gonna die if I don't do something about this."

The idea that "fat is not fit" is a recurring theme in the weight loss and healthcare industries. Obesity has been linked to health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. Amelia Peterson-Dozier is a nutrition specialist for the Washington DC health department. She says losing excess weight is healthy for your body.

Amelia Peterson-Dozier
"Track 3 - 1:49"
There are certain things in your body that respond to that extra weight making it harder for your body to use the insulin that you have . And so as you loose weight your body can use your insulin more efficiently. That's why your blood pressure can goes down and your blood sugar can go down.

Yet fat acceptance advocates say health is not the real factor pushing most women to be thin-- they want to look good. Jeanine Cogan (Koe-gan) is a Washington DC psychologist, and an independent consultant for the eating disorder coalition. She says there's another, often veiled motivation behind the weight loss industries efforts to entice woman to be thin. Their primary goal is the same as all businesses…and that's to make money. Women's desires to be thinner have proven lucrative for such programs as Weight watchers and Jenny Craig. For example, Jenny Craig's revenues jumped to more than 250-million dollars last year. Psychologist Jeanine Cogan…

Jeanine Cogan
29:53 - 31:
It's a huge industry and 33 billion, it's probably gone up cause that's an old quote, but it's is spent on weight loss efforts and that doesn't include if you have gastric by pass surgery and than you have complications. That doesn't include the health cost associated with complication or the cost associated with complication after very low calorie diets. So we could even say cost are higher.

Yet the cost of weight loss is not only measured in financial terms. There are also social and emotional costs. Donna Mont-Ta-nair-o Dolphin is an Associate professor of communication at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey. She says women are driven to loose weight for a complicated web of reasons…

Professor Dolphin
Track 2 -: 34- 1:14
Some of it is..Im sure…very psychological and very internal. Something that the woman has grown up with as a girl. And a lot of it comes from our environment and the culture around us. We are bombarded with images of woman who are so thin that they are in fact unhealthy.

Groups like the National Association for Fat Acceptances and Overeaters Anonymous stress that there is a need to build self esteem in women as well as promote social and political changes to help alter the stigma associated with being overweight. Psychologist Jeanine Cogan says we need to measure the weight loss industry's success with better scrutiny. She says we have to differentiate between the urge to loose a few pounds and the necessity of dieting for health. Cogan says there should also be a closer examination of the financial issues surrounding the weight loss industry.

Jeanine Cogan
31:43 - 32:14
Until we can start addressing getting more accurate and complete information from our experts in the federal government, really exposing the economic profit motive involved in keeping people unhappy with their body size and thus attempting to always change it. And than also recognizing how personal this ends up being. That each individual has a relationship with their body and it was created through the environment that they are in.

Fat advocates believe that when fitness becomes the focus as opposed to "weight loss at any cost" then woman's attitudes about their bodies will be transformed. Dealing with the personal issues of weight loss will continue to be a concern for many people as they open there wallets and continue to hop on and off the scale. One thing seems certain at the moment; neither the pounds nor the coffers are going down. For Next Generation News I'm Robin Shannon