Pregnant women and the obese have similar problems. Why do we treat them differently?

I know this is going to sound a little weird but stick with me here. Overweight and obese people and pregnant women have several similar mobility/postural difficulties, and also suffer some musculo-skeletal problems due to carrying lots of excess weight. They might easily tire after standing for longer periods of time, have trouble fitting into smaller spaces, have some digestive problems (heartburn, constipation), not be able to walk for long periods of time, have lots of lower back pain, etc.
However, I think people in general are much more generous and accommodating of pregnant women’s special needs than those of the obese. There are special “pregnant women” parking spots that are closer to the store entrance, without a counterpart for obese people (although I suppose if you are overweight enough for it to qualify as a handicap, then you also get to park close). People will jump up to give a pregnant woman a seat on a bus or in a crowded room, and no one does that for the overweight. I’m sure we could find more examples.

So why do we treat the two groups of people with similar problems so differently? My first thought is that because overall, pregnant women are serving a function that everyone benefits from, i.e. producing children, which are generally necessary for today’s middle-aged and young people to live a life of leisure once they get older (taking over their jobs, paying social security, etc). No one really benefits from obese people being overweight, except maybe the junk food industries. However, there is usually as least as much, if not more, intention involved in getting pregnant as opposed to becoming obese; most obese people do not set out to become that way, it just happens due to a variety of factors, one being decreased vigilance or control of calories in versus calories out. Many pregnant women planned to become that way, and the majority of others had a problem with their birth control method that was probably user-generated. Also, most pregnant women don’t have children because of their obligation to populate the world for future generations, but for more self-centered reasons, because they simply want a child. And finally, overpopulation is a significant problem in many countries, so by having children pregnant women might be doing the world a net negative, if that makes sense.

So why the difference in attitude towards these groups? I feel like it should be obvious, but I can’t really think of it . . . it seems more of a gut feeling that pregnancy is neutral to good, whereas obesity is bad, and shouldn’t be encouraged. But that’s all I can come up with. And even the most staunch zero-growthers would still not look up pregnant women with the same disdain that many people use for the obese, would they?

I have never seen, or even heard of, ‘pregnant women parking spaces’.

Most obese people chose to become that way. I know I did. It’s not like being born with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, which are uncontrollable disabilities and thus deserving of compassion.

Pregnant women are treated better because bearing children is (usually) seen as virtuous, and there is a societal benefit to encouraging the occasional reproduction. Pregnancy is a necessary first-step to that end.

Being obese is not virtuous, does not benefit society (in fact it significantly burdens it with unnecessary expenditures) and is not necessary for any greater purpose.

They exist. Disabled parking is required by federal law, though pregnant-woman parking is not. It is a feel-good measure used by a few big-box retailers with parking-lot space to spare.

No? They have them at quite a few stores. I’m childfree and one of the few (it seems!) that don’t mind them.

ETA: As far as the OP question… I’m happy to give up my seat to anyone who needs it more than I do whether it be a pregnant woman, the elderly, the obese, a person with a lot of packages, someone who just isn’t feel good, etc etc. It sucks to think that someone would want to screen who they allow a chair if they’re willing to give theirs up.

I have been pregnant, and I have also been obese, and being obese was in no way as debilitating as being 9 months pregnant was. In my third trimester of pregnancy, it was hard for me to get up from a seated position, my sciatic nerve (sp?) hurt when I walked, and I was incapable of bending over to pick things up from the floor. As a non-pregnant obese person, none of those things were true. I was an unfit obese person, so I did have trouble with getting winded when walking up stairs and so forth, but there was nothing about me that would have required me to use a handicapped parking space or anything like that. Not to mention that there are people who are obese and also fit. I have a friend who weighs over 250 pounds and runs marathons.

Anyway, I think the basic difference is that pregnancy is pretty much universally uncomfortable, and “disabling” in very similar ways. Not 100% of pregnant women will experience significant discomfort, sure, but most will. There is no similar universal experience for obese people. Some obese people might have back pain, but others might not. Some might have trouble walking across a parking lot, but others won’t. And so forth.

That’s almost crazy to me. I see them daily, but my wife always laughs about how she never got the chance to use one when she was pregnant. Of course, she was playing tennis at a pretty high level a few days before she gave birth, so I doubt she would’ve used one anyway.

Couple more vague thoughts…

Pregnancy has a specific end date as well. Assuming a particular service exists, no single woman will make use of the service for more than 9months at a time, and, statistically speaking, not more that 1 year 6 months in their entire lifetime.

Pregnancy is productive; it is a process which produces a specific result (a baby). Obesity produces no result, and is not occuring for any purpose.

they can keep you warm!

Re “pregnant lady” parking spaces: Around here, the only two places I’ve seen them are at Babies R Us (which makes sense, because their customer base consists primarily of people who are pregnant or were recently pregnant) and Whole Foods. And Whole Foods only has one.

Probably this. I don’t mind the guy in the office barrowing a pen from me if he left his in the office but if he does it every day I’m going to be pissed. Pregnancy is seen as a temporary condition while being obese is more of a permanent thing so people don’t mind help out someone temporarily but feel put out doing the some for someone long term.

So wait. People are saying they would be reluctant to give up their seat to an obese person because they “chose” to get fat? Most of us (one way or another) will bring about the circumstances of our own health issues whether it’s eating too much, smoking, drinking, driving too fast and being in an accident, etc. People are actually willing to make judgment calls about someone’s intent for their health issue before extending a courtesy? Yikes!

A number of grocery stores around here have “stork spaces”, look something like this. The sexist slant on them bugged me a little. When I went to the store with my six-month-old, lugging that heavy, awkward carrier in from a distant space, I thought it a bit unfair that the spaces are specifically for “mothers”.

To be fair, most people seem reluctant to give up their seat to ANY person. It’s not that they’re specifically withholding from obese people, but that they’re not specifically shamed into it as with visibly pregnant women and the elderly. (And even then it’s rare, if L.A. buses are anything to judge by.)

But two people have to give up their seats!

And since most pregnant women only have the obesity-like problems during the last trimester, the amount of time during which they take advantage of the “perks” is even shorter than the pregnancy.

The real reason is that pregnant women appear fragile and to some extent they are, whereas obese people are merely uncomfortable in certain situations. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to lift really heavy things, right? I’ve never heard of a prohibition on fat people lifting heavy objects. Lot’s of obese men are quite strong and capable of doing manual things but are still physically uncomfortable due to their weight. It’s just not very sympathetic because they don’t seem weak and in need of protecting the way a pregnant mom and her unborn child do.

It can be hard to see the distinction because there’s often a lot of overlap but I think people like to help people who can’t or shouldn’t do things, not people who are merely uncomfortable doing things. If we are supposed to give up our seats to obese people we might as well give them up to women in stilettos with pointy toes.

I am currently in my 3rd trimester–just four weeks to go, ugh–and a huge distinction, at least in my perspective, is that I am at the complete mercy of my body. I’ve heard it said that when you’re pregnant, you are no longer in your body’s driver’s seat–you are bound and gagged and locked in the trunk.

Heartburn and digestive ails? Sure, but I can handle those. But, the doubled blood volume strains my heart so that I get light headed randomly, and I get random uncomfortable palpitations that interrupt my ability to rest. I have not been able to exercise because anything remotely cardio shoots my pulse over 140, which is the “do not pass” line for a preggo. Headaches, swollen hands and feet, joint aches, hemorrhoids that will NOT go away until Son 2.0 makes his appearance, suppressed immune system that has me sick every time I turn around (I had what my OB was sure was H1N1, and six weeks later my lungs still have not recovered), extreme fatigue, insomnia, sleep apnea (apparently I snore like a chainsaw right now)…ooof. Good times.

I think the main perceived distinction is my condition is short term, and much of the effects on my body I am fairly helpless to remedy. Again, I am at the mercy of my body and its growing parasite. :wink: Whereas, obese people are (however accurately or inaccurately, fairly or unfairly) seen as “doing it to themselves” and viewed as capable of doing something about it. It is also not viewed as a necessary short term condition with a definite end; it’s more of an “in perpetuity” or “until they do something.”

Plus, in general, people like babies, and people who either like babies or have had babies of their own have a warm fuzzy spot for women carrying babies. With that affection comes not just, perhaps, preferential treatment but a shitload of unsolicited advice, space invasion (belly rubbing), and nosey questions into personal life.

Although that said–I’m sure the obese get their share of unsolicited advice and rude comments as well, but in those cases the offense is probably, sadly not unintentional.

Prayers for the safe delivery of a health Ruffian-ette.

The difference is that nobody has to be obese to ensure the continuance of the species. And pregnant women are so cute!


I also felt when pregnant (baby was safely delivered 12 days ago, yay!) that much of the physical impact was rapid onset - i.e. things like weight gain, edema, the impact on posture, blood pressure etc all happened fast (in the last 3-4 months), without a lot of opportunity for my body to adjust itself. This means the physical discomfort was high, certainly higher than it was when I was at this weight in the past.

Pregnant women are also at the mercy of changing hormones such as relaxin, which is present at up to 10 times its normal concentration. Relaxin helps to relax the joints in the pelvis, but can also causes abnormal motion in many other joints of the body, causing inflammation and pain. I suffered very mild pelvic instability in the last few weeks, but some women end up on crutches or wheelchairs for their pregnancy, and in a lot of pain. Then there are conditions such as pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes.