UCLA Medical School Criticized for 'Fat Positivity' Lectures Claiming 'Obesity' Term Is 'Violence'

UCLA medical school faces backlash over controversial "Structural Racism and Health Equity" course, with critics arguing it promotes political ideology over scientific rigor.

Mahnoor Jehangir
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UCLA Medical School Criticized for 'Fat Positivity' Lectures Claiming 'Obesity' Term Is 'Violence'

UCLA Medical School Criticized for 'Fat Positivity' Lectures Claiming 'Obesity' Term Is 'Violence'

The David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has come under fire for requiring first-year medical students to attend a controversial course titled "Structural Racism and Health Equity." The course, which was launched in the wake of George Floyd's death, includes an essay by Marquisele Mercedes, a self-proclaimed "fat liberationist," who claims that "fatphobia is medicine's status quo" and that weight loss is a "hopeless endeavor."

Jeffrey Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, has sharply criticized the curriculum, calling it "extensive and dangerous misinformation" that promotes a "socialist Marxist ideology" that is "completely inappropriate" for medical education. Flier described Mercedes' views on obesity as "deeply misleading," particularly her claim that "obesity" is a "slur used to enforce violence" against certain groups.

The course has also drawn criticism from other experts, including sociologist Nicholas Christakis, who called the curriculum "nonsensical" and "embarrassing to UCLA." In addition to the controversial essay, the course has included lectures from a pro-Hamas activist and teachings on topics like microaggressions and structural racism.

Why this matters: The controversy at UCLA highlights the ongoing debate over the role of social justice and identity politics in medical education. Critics argue that such courses promote a political agenda at the expense of scientific rigor and medical accuracy, while supporters claim that addressing systemic inequalities is crucial for improving patient outcomes and reducing health disparities.

Mercedes, who has led presentations on how "anti-fatness" shows up in healthcare, claims that "obesity" is a term used to inflict harm on fat people, particularly those who are poor, black, disabled, or transgender. However, Flier argues that this is a "profoundly misguided view" of obesity, which is a complex medical disorder with significant adverse health consequences. The course has faced further backlash for including a "bizarre lecture" by a pro-Hamas activist as part of the mandatory curriculum.

As the debate over the role of social justice in medical education continues, the controversy at UCLA serves as a reminder of the challenges and tensions that can arise when attempting to integrate such topics into the curriculum. While many experts agree that addressing health inequities is important, there is disagreement over the best way to do so without compromising the core principles of medical science and evidence-based practice.

Key Takeaways

  • UCLA medical school faces backlash over "Structural Racism and Health Equity" course
  • Former Harvard dean criticizes course for promoting "socialist Marxist ideology"
  • Course includes essay claiming "obesity" is a "slur" and weight loss is "hopeless"
  • Experts call curriculum "nonsensical" and "embarrassing to UCLA"
  • Debate over integrating social justice topics into medical education continues