Ms. Meniscus,

I’m a single, working woman in my thirties who the medical world would call clinically obese. I deal with the drama of my size every day. Supermarkets are especially bad, but I have to say, the worst is work. There are people there who like to keep me informed on the latest medical findings. I’ve recently been informed that the reason I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis is, according to my co-workers sources (usually the National Enquirer) is because I’m fat. It’s hard enough coping with the drama of obesity in my everyday life without these buttinskis. Please advise how to shut them up in a kind way?

—  Delores from Delaware

Dear Delores,

Oh hon, way too many people think they have the right to comment on a person’s weight – especially a woman’s weight – right to their face. And my dear Delores, you have the added difficulty of people blaming you for giving yourself rheumatoid arthritis by eating too much.

This is a sticky wicket to answer and Ms. Meniscus will tell you why. If your co-workers had indeed read about a link between rheumatoid arthritis and obesity in a tabloid, I would suggest you respond to them by saying the tabloids also say you can cure arthritis by putting pennies in your shoes.

However, Ms. Meniscus suggests that your co-workers did read about a link between rheumatoid arthritis and obesity–but not in a tabloid. It’s been all over the mainstream press because of recent studies. Here is an NPR article on a Mayo Clinic study: “Obesity Stokes Rheumatoid Arthritis With More Than Just Extra Weight”:

Now here’s  where this wicket gets even stickier. Even though researchers, for example,  have found that obese individuals were 25 percent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than people of normal weight–they are not sure of the exact nature of the link. And many have said one can’t say being overweight causes rheumatoid arthritis when plenty of normal weight people get it too.

So researchers are not saying that overeating causes RA–but it appears your co-workers are. Why? They probably glommed onto a poorly-written news headline or didn’t read the entire article. And now they believe obesity causes rheumatoid arthritis and have decided to tell you for your own good (Ms. Meniscus assumes for your own good because you say that you want to be kind to these people and I’m hoping that you are not looking to be kind to big meanies).

What can you say to them? Ms. Meniscus would suggest that first you read this special issue of Arthritis Today on the impact of obesity on arthritis:

Read this, and then the next time a co-worker says something, tell them you are aware that there is some sort of link between rheumatoid arthritis and obesity—but no one knows exactly what that is—and thank them for their concern.

 — M 

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