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How Krispy Kreme's Vaccine Incentive Exposed a Fatphobic Culture

This time last month, Krispy Kreme announced that its U.S stores would, for the rest of the year, offer a free glazed doughnut every day to anyone presenting a Covid-19 vaccination card. The announcement came after the Census Bureau survey conducted in February found that only 54% of American adults who haven't already been vaccinated said they definitely would take the vaccine when offered. In light of these findings, Krispy Kreme’s ploy seems like a clever one; I mean, who can’t you entice with the promise of free doughnuts? However, the company’s promotion, intended as a show of “sweet support”, has instead sparked a raging Twitter war over the prevalence of fatphobia in modern-day culture.

 

Following Krispy Kreme’s announcement, a range of people came forward to criticise the promotion. Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician who previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, tweeted; “Hey @krispykreme, I love that you want to thank people for getting the #covid19 #vaccine... However, donuts are a treat that's not good for health if eaten every day.” Dr. Wen later added that having a daily Original Glazed donut, without otherwise adjusting diet or exercise habits, would lead to about 15 pounds of weight gain by the end of the year. Dr. Wen faced a mass backlash from the Twitter community who felt her tweets encouraged negative attitudes around weight-gain and advocated shaming people’s food choices. Not only is it unlikely that anyone would claim a free donut every single day for the rest of the year, but even if they did, surely a 15 pound weight gain is preferable to the 4000 daily deaths we saw in the US at the peak of the pandemic in January?

 

The message given by Dr. Wen, and other health professionals who criticised the promotion, is that avoiding weight gain is paramount - even amid a pandemic. This message is a common one and is often seen in public health advice, but at what point does it cross the line into fatphobia?

 

The term fatphobia refers to the irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against obesity and people who are obese. In a society obsessed with diet culture, the negativity directed at those who don’t conform to the expected ideals of beauty can be brutal. Editor of ‘Ask: Building Consent Culture’, Kitty Stryker, described her experience in an article for HuffPost, stating that she receives “at least 20-30 comments a week on average telling me that [her] fatness means [she] must be inactive, eat poorly, and [be] unhealthy” when in fact her medical records show she is perfectly healthy. Stryker also describes her experience with fatphobia when attending appointments with her GP, noting that every health complaint she has is put down “solely to being fat”.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has only worked to fan the flames of fat-centred prejudice. In early May of last year, a rumour on Twitter was suggesting that doctors were refusing patients ventilators on the grounds of them having a high BMI score. BMI refers to Body Mass Index, a controversial system used by health-care professionals to determine whether a patient is a healthy weight for their height, the score does not take into account a range of important factors such as muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, and racial and sex differences. The rumours were proven to be semi-true as several proposed triage guidelines cited in The Washington Post and The New York Times listed ‘pre-existing conditions’ as potential markers against patients waiting for one of the few coveted ventilators. In the United States, some state guidelines list pre-existing conditions as being of old age, having dementia or having AIDS. Morbid obesity was also considered to constitute a pre-existing condition. Someone is classified to be ‘morbidly obese’ if their BMI scores greater than 40, but as previously mentioned, the BMI system is seriously flawed and cannot take into account the fact that it is possible to be both fat and healthy. So, not only is fatphobia real, it’s creating a genuine threat to the lives of millions of people.

 

So, what can we do? Well, not a lot in terms of fatphobia in the health-care profession, but we can work to resolve our own issues with fatphobia. In January 2020, online publication Tempest released an article by Marie Southard Ospina listing ten ways we can combat fatphobia and truly embrace body positivity - you can check it out for yourself here.

 

Words By: Rosie Harkin-Adams

Edited By: Abby Winstone