Really, Trek?

John Burke, President of Trek Bicycle Corp decided to grace his audience of Chicago business people with his wisdom yesterday morning. According to Burke, obese people are bad for business what with their health insurance costs and all. He further asserts that his overweight employees shouldn’t be his company’s responsibility “Because seriously, if people don’t care about their health, why should companies be paying for it?” Aside from being incredibly callous, Mr. Burke clearly doesn’t understand obesity. A quote from this DNAinfo article demonstrates this: To help employees stay healthy and keep the weight off, Burke on Wednesday outlined the mandatory eight-step wellness program he recently introduced at the 1,000-employee company, which he said has “changed lives.” Maybe before making such comments Mr. Burke should read some of the pile of evidence about how fat-shaming people doesn’t work and can even make them gain more weight, such as this or this or this.


A picture of me in 2009, too obese to be riding my Trek, clearly.

Dear Mr. Burke,

Being fat doesn’t mean I don’t give a shit about my health. I actually really wish I could afford to buy fresh produce all year. Even so, I like to eat pizza, I like drinking beer. I know that neither one of those things is particularly good for me, but WHY DOES THIS MATTER? See the thing about being fat is: it doesn’t guarantee you have adverse health effects. Actually, being conventionally thin doesn’t guarantee freedom from health problems down the line (heart disease, high cholesterol and osteoporosis to name a few). If you’d like further proof that obesity doesn’t guarantee terrible health and can be healthier than just being thin, read this article, check out this website, or watch this video. Being skinny isn’t a magic bullet any more than being fat is the cause of all ills. SorryNotSorry you have to provide health coverage for all of your employees.

I really liked my Trek, but I don’t know how I can stand to ride it when you think so little of me. Thanks for alienating me!


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  • Owen February 28, 2014 at 3:19 am

    Judging by your (old photo) you aren’t obese by any stretch of the imagination, and the comments made by Trek’s CEO are about health of employees, not about “shaming” fat people.

    What is up with fat-enablers going around the internet taking offense to every use of the word ‘fat’, whether aimed directly at them or not?

    • Emily February 28, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Owen: while you mean well, I’m wondering if you’ve actually read much about how obesity is defined? Someone that small can be “obese” based on the charts.

      You might say “oh no, I mean those other fat people, those super gross people who are just huuuge and have no self-respect.” Because that’s what most people think of when they think “obese.” They don’t think “me” or “my friends” or “my family” but some nonexistent other. Because our society uses this term as a way of othering and shaming. Obese people are seen as having less value than “normal” people.

      But we do have value. And when people refuse to recognize that value and instead treat us as lesser beings who need someone else to watch over us because we can’t do it ourselves, we get upset. Just like normal people.

      You were right about one thing though: Lisa’s an excellent baker and has enabled me to eat SO MANY CARBS.

  • Adam H February 28, 2014 at 3:45 am

    Mr. Burke may not have gone about this in the best way, but you can’t deny that obesity is strongly correlated with heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. Yes of course, you should still get health coverage, but losing the weight should still be encouraged.

    • kaz February 28, 2014 at 10:38 pm

      I disagree. I think being active and eating a healthy, varied diet should be encouraged, not weight loss for weight loss’s sake.

      My company has a wellness program that gives points for weight loss program participation, but also has plenty of other options for point-earning such that weight loss is not required to get the insurance discount. Simply being active (through an activity tracker) counts, as does attending in person or virtual seminars on all manner of health issues.

      There are other, way more accurate definitions of “health” than just a person’s BMI, so why the focus on that? (Spoiler alert: because by making weight a moral issue, people like Burke enjoy the moral high ground they may or may not have achieved through any fucking effort of their own.)

      I say this as someone who doesn’t have to make a lick of effort to stay within the acceptable BMI range. The difference between me obsessively calorie counting and exercising every day and me doing nothing and eating cake is about 10 lbs. I was born this way and didn’t do a thing to earn it.

      This winter, while I’ve been off the bike for 3 months due to the cold and snow, Lisa’s been out there bike commuting to work almost every day because she is a Supreme Badass. Who’s healthier right now?

  • Steven Vance February 28, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    I was there, too, sitting next to Lizzie. I got some weird vibes from John Burke. I took a lot of notes and I recorded it (the Executive Club may post the video on their website soon), so if you have some specific questions…

    The guy is a total dudebro and speaks with a misogynist tone. He couldn’t stop talking about how cool all of his male employees are, to give on example.

  • Steven Vance February 28, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    The Trek eight-part wellness plan is such, from my notes:
    1. 100% of employees have to participate in the health risk assessment (this is what employees are required to do to earn health insurance, not enroll in a weight loss plan).
    2. Built an on-site clinic.
    3. Opened an on-site fitness center.
    4. Changed food in the café.
    5. Started a “Biggest Loser”-type program.
    6. Brought in a doctor to meet each month, personally, with the least healthy employees (16 right now).
    7. Banning tobacco from the site.
    8. I’m not sure if this is a point, but this is how I wrote it down in my notes: “If you don’t care about your health, I’m not going to pay for it.”

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