The Great Weight Debate: Is It OK to Be Fat?

Four fiery panelists debate whether you can be fat and healthy.

ByABC News
February 22, 2010, 2:50 PM

Feb. 23, 2010— -- From plus-size to big boned, pleasantly plump to succulently shapely, and Rubenesque to curvy, no matter how you dress it up, for decades, the world "fat" has been associated with laziness, filth and inactivity. It's become a pop culture punch line.

Recent headlines show just how mainstream the issue of obesity has become.

Last week, film director Kevin Smith was ejected from a Southwest airlines flight after being deemed too large for his seat. First lady Michelle Obama has recently launched a campaign to fight childhood obesity. Even former president Bill Clinton links his continual heart problems to poor eating habits as a child.

CLICK HERE to watch the full fiery debate

The message in all of this is that fat is bad. And with a $50 billion industry of weight loss drugs, bestselling books, and workout programs, there appears to be no end in sight.

But has it all gone too far? Linda Bacon, a professor of nutrition whose book, "Healthy at Every Size," has become a kind of bible for the so-called fat acceptance movement, thinks it has.

"That's an extraordinary amount of money that we are all putting out right now to support an industry that doesn't have our best interests in mind," Bacon said. ""I think that we've reached the point where these ideas about weight are now so strongly part of our cultural landscape that we don't even challenge them, we don't even recognize that they are assumptions. We just accept them."

Bacon says her research shows that we shouldn't be focusing so much on fat.

"There are about 40 studies that have been conducted that have looked at longevity and weight," she said, "and almost all of them are showing that people that are in the category that we call overweight are actually living longer lives than people that are in the category that we deem normal and advisable."

On the other hand, the federal government says that two thirds of adults in America are overweight, 72 million are clinically obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 2008, 9.1 percent of all health care spending in the U.S. -- $147 billion – was spent on obesity-related medical care, much of that paid for by taxpayers.

So who's right? Has America become a dangerously supersized nation or is it all an unhealthy obsession with being thin?

To help answer the question, "Nightline" brought together four outspoken people for a "Nightline Face-Off: Is It OK to Be Fat?" The debate is part of the "Face-Off" series, which has debated controversial issues including atheism, porn, Satan and adultery.

CLICK HERE to see behind the scenes photos from the debate