The largest "minority group" in the United States is not the Hispanics, nor Asians, nor blacks.
Instead, it is those Americans who are overweight and obese.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third (35.7 percent) of U.S. adults were obese as of 2010; while almost 17 percent of youths were obese. This means that there are at least 78 million obese adults and about 12.5 million obese children and adolescents in the country.
These figures do not even include the millions of people in this country who are simply "overweight."
All told, the number of "fat" Americans far surpasses those of any racial, ethnic or religious minority – despite this, they have no voice in government, nor does any national politician explicitly seek out their support.
While it is true that poor minorities are disproportionately obese and overweight (i.e., the people many politicians tend not to care much about anyway), rates are so high across all racial and social classes that it puzzles me as to why they are not considered a viable voting bloc, like the elderly or disabled are.
“Politicians haven’t offered direct appeals to obese voters, because there isn’t a structured ‘obesity demography’ to appeal to; as there is when it comes to ethnic and racial demographics,” said Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York City.
“Behavioral targeting in political communications hasn’t been broadly applied yet. But could in the future.”
Chandler noted that there have been a number of indirect political activities that seeks to advance the rights of obese people, including lobbying to Congress to address "size-ism" as it relates to air travel, i.e. making large people by two plane tickets.
Moreover, when first lady Michelle Obama unveiled her anti-obesity initiative to promote healthy eating among children, she was assailed by some Republicans like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, as well as some libertarians, for denying Americans the freedom to eat whatever they want (that is, slamming more unnecessary government regulations).
However, in that case, Mrs. Obama was not really "attacking" the rights of the obese; rather, she was seeking to prevent the next generation of U.S. children from becoming overweight. That sentiment would tend to alienate or embarrass fat people.
Chandler also noted that congressmen tend to be very friendly with the agribusiness sector, especially corn producers who derive significant profits from sales of high-fructose corn syrup, one of the leading causes of obesity.
“This relationship tends to block any potential fitness and health-related legislation designed to lower obesity rates,” he added.
Thus, many politicians seem to be fond of pushing policies that will keep the numbers of obese people high, without showing much concern about their health and welfare.
It is inconceivable that Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will make any direct appeals to attract the votes of this huge portion of the electorate -- indeed, the weak economy, high unemployment and the costs of wars overseas are far more important to most voters (regardless of their size) than the daily sufferings of fat people.
In addition, being overweight is not an innate condition – no one is born to be fat, like they are born with black skin, or blue eyes or curly hair. No one WANTS to be obese and those who are probably would not want to be associated with others of their own kind under an unified political banner.
Most overweight U.S. adults likely identify themselves by another of their attributes (black, white, Christian, Jewish, Republican, Democrat, wealthy businessman, hunter, liberal, etc., that is, anything but "fat").
There are, however, a handful of activist groups that seek to represent the rights of fat people – including The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and the International Size Acceptance Association (ISAA).
But it is unclear how many members these organizations have (for example, the link to the NAAFA website leads to a blank page), or if they conduct any active lobbying in Washington.
On a personal basis, I have noted that fat people are probably the most despised "minority" group in the country, regardless of their race or income. No segment of the population suffers more slights, insults or derision than them.
I have seen fat people moved to the back of restaurants by managers who don’t want passers-by seeing them through the front window; I have witnessed passengers on trains and buses move away from obese people; and I have heard endless cruel insults and jokes hurled at fat people (often behind their back).
I would also not be surprised if overweight people have been discriminated against with respect to job hiring or apartment rentals. In these cases, that would clearly represent a violation of civil rights.
On the whole, I sympathize with the obese, because it’s obvious how much they feel marginalized and stigmatized by a condition that (for the most part) may not even be their fault.
It is a “prejudice” that will likely never go away, despite the fact that there are so many fat people in this country.
And who will speak up for them?
I have written before that Chris Christie, the rotund governor of New Jersey, will never become president because most Americans simply do not want an obese person as the head of state.
Over the past century, most of the chief executives have been tall and slender. The last obese president was William Howard Taft, but he left office 100 years ago, long before the age of television and Internet.
While Christie has referred to his heft a number of occasions, I have never heard him actually declare that he wanted to represent the interests and concerns of overweight Americans. (He might be laughed at if he ever took such a step).
High-profile celebrities who are fat -- including Michael Moore, Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell -- have also shied away from any kind of "fat activism."
Consequently, at least 80 million Americans (perhaps any more) have little or no voice in this country’s political affairs.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.