When Krispy Kreme announced earlier this week 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, my first thought was that it was not a particularly unique gimmick. Many bars and restaurants around the country are already offering similar discounts and gift cards to people with proof of vaccination, and one Michigan dispensary is even offering a free joint to anyone who gets the shot.
Still, these small tokens of gratitude are clearly intended to normalize vaccinations and, hopefully, even incentivize those people who don't plan on getting vaccinated to do so: 41 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of independents told NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist pollsters at the beginning of March that they don't plan to get vaccinated.
But during a deadly global pandemic that has already killed over a half-million people in the U.S. and is still killing around 1,000 people per day, some medical experts have chosen to focus on the real problem at hand: the danger of a Krispy Kreme doughnut.
For instance, public health advocate and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen took to Twitter to let folks know she just couldn’t endorse Krispy Kreme’s doughnut promotion because a “daily diet” including one Krispy Kreme doughnut, by her dubious math, could result in gaining — gasp — 15 pounds in a year.
Or take Eugene Gu, CEO of a smoking cessation telemedicine site, who tweeted, "Krispy Kreme offering free doughnuts for getting vaccinated is like Marlboro offering free cigarettes for getting a flu shot," and then followed up with (among other things over two days), "Heart disease is still the leading cause of death in America." He also called doughnuts "poison" and added, "I’m not here to tell you what you want to hear just so you can enjoy your donut."
Let us — for a moment — put aside that it's very unlikely that most people will bother to take Krispy Kreme up on its offer for a free doughnut every single day and even less likely that one doughnut will cause heart disease. We can even ignore the fact that anyone who does, actually, go to Krispy Kreme every day for the next year for one, free 190-calorie doughnut might actually be experiencing significant food insecurity more than sugar cravings.
The real issue is that, with everything else happening on the public health front at the moment — including a potential Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy rate as high as 33 percent, possibly leading to a percentage of vaccinated people beneath what experts estimate is needed to develop herd immunity — most people would not consider Krispy Kreme offering free doughnuts to people getting vaccinated against Covid-19 as a public health crisis.
But what is a public health crisis is that these sort of blanket statements from doctors and public health advocates shaming people's food choices and any amount of weight gain — especially during an ongoing pandemic in which people's normal routines and lives have been severely disrupted — is exactly the kind of thinly veiled fatphobia that prevents fat folks from going to the doctor at all.
Fat people suffer both horrible discrimination and health disparities compared to our thin or straight-sized peers. We’re less likely to access health care and less likely to receive evidence-based and biased-free care when we do go to doctors.
And why would we go to the doctor at all, when the same research shows health care providers are more likely to believe their fat patients don’t care about their health and are less likely to follow medical instructions, and they likely believe we are less interested in or worthy of preventative care?
This systemic fatphobia in the medical community is why body mass index continues to be used as a measure of health, despite it being debunked over and over as a valid concept. In reality, the only thing BMI ever did to help fat people's health was making us eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine earlier than usual in a number of states around the U.S. It’s exceedingly rare that fat people's health or well-being is prioritized at all, so if some states want to give fat people early access to vaccinations because of their size, it doesn’t really matter if BMI itself is actually an indicator of Covid-19 risk or whether just being fat means we'll get worse care than someone thinner if we do get Covid-19.
Studies show — and we know — that if we enter a medical facility, we’re not going to get the same kind of care as someone smaller.
I've experienced fatphobia in medical care firsthand. When I was at my thinnest — in my mid-20s — I was also on a steady regime of over-the-counter diet pills, I was celebrating days when I "forgot" to eat as triumphs in self-control and I was weighing myself multiple times a day. I had panic attacks when I ate, thinking I was “weak” for having “cheated” on my so-called diet; I couldn’t figure out why I was so unhappy — even to the point of self-harming — because, for the first time, I was finally thin enough to be considered "healthy" and my doctor at the time was gleefully cheering me on in my “weight loss journey."
It took years of therapy to realize that any doctor who wants to say I was healthier then than I am now simply because I weighed a lot less didn’t actually care about my health. Like any random person on the street, they were just looking at my body and making a judgment. And my health is so much more than the size of my body or what I put into it in any given moment to give it energy.
I hope one day the medical community as a whole will hear fat people when we tell the truth about how we are talked about and treated by doctors and the health care system. That one day they will stop speaking and writing and tweeting about how some foods are inherently “bad” because they "make you fat" (and being fat is always bad). That one day doctors will truly live up to their oath to do no harm and put the energy they put into stigmatizing foods and fat people into dismantling the systemic fatphobia and discrimination that prevents countless people from getting quality health care — which means understanding not every health concern can be solved by weight loss and if a patient does want to lose weight, it’s managed in a healthy, compassionate way.
Because if eating a couple doughnuts — and yes, perhaps even gaining some weight — has kept you alive and maybe helped you grasp onto some semblance of mental health this year, I say embrace it. Get vaccinated, eat your doughnut and then rub your satisfied belly and send your body, whatever size it is, some gratitude for getting you through all this.
I’m personally grateful that in a couple days, I will receive my second and final dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, for which I qualified because I am fat. And I just might take myself to a Krispy Kreme and get a free doughnut to celebrate that my body and I got through this together.