Ah the obesity epidemic. The media can’t get enough of talking about it, now we have HBO partnering with all kinds of (heavily lobbied) government organizations who are producing the documentary “The Weight of a Nation” to focus more attention on it – to really whip us into a warring frenzy. I’ll talk more about the documentary in the upcoming days, but today I have some questions.
But what are we fighting against? Trumped up charges of fat people causing additional health care costs, or how much we cost the workplace? People who decided that we’ve have strayed too far from the stereotypical beauty standard?
And what are we fighting for? A world without people whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is greater than 30? A world where we find a group of people who we can identify by sight, decide that they are too expensive, and systematically attempt to eradicate them through means that hardly ever work but generate tremendous profits across multiple industries?
What weapons do we have? The first study that showed that weight loss fails 95% of the time happened in 1959. Since then the same result has been repeated in hundreds of studies and has never been disproved by any study. We have no idea how to make fat people thin, the thing that we suggest fails 95% of the time, and up to 2/3 of the time actually has the OPPOSITE result when people gain more weight than they lost. Yet the war on obesity encourages us to throw good money after bad on odds that I wouldn’t take on a hand of blackjack. Weight loss has been failing for 50 years and we’re still blaming fat people? The tool that is most often wielded is shame. Doctors, teachers, family and friends are encouraged to shame fat people, to make them feel horrible about themselves, hate the body they live in 100% of the time.
What we are really experiencing is not an obesity epidemic. It is a shame epidemic.
We know that shame/stigma is correlated with the same diseases as obesity. We know that concern about body weight was a stronger predictor of mental and physical illnesses than BMI (said another way, women who were concerned about their weight had more mental and physical illness than women who were fine with their size – regardless of their weight. We also know that healthy habits make healthier bodies of every shape and size.
It’s not just that shame doesn’t work. The problem is that shame, like weight loss, often results in the opposite of the intended effect. We know that 30 minutes of moderate movement 5 days a week provides incredible health benefits to people of all sizes. However, in addition to the negative affects of shame mentioned above, the fat shame and weight bullying that are encouraged in our society mean that many fat people don’t engage in movement because of a (well-justified) fear of being shamed. Fat kids aren’t able to develop a lifelong love of movement and a healthy relationship with food, and strong self-esteem and mental health because they are shamed by family, teachers, students all lead by the First Lady of the United States.
There is a possibility that all of the “negative” health effects that are correlated with obesity will end if we simply stop shaming fat people, if we create a world that respects a diversity of body sizes and provides access to the foods that people would choose, movement options that are enjoyable and safe (which includes the ability to go to the gym, pool, beach, ride a bike etc. without even the idea that we might face shame, stigma, and bullying), and affordable (or free) evidence-based healthcare.
Instead, we have government-sanctioned shame, stigma and bullying. The government encourages people to look at fat people as scapegoats for the Nation’s ills. Which is pretty convenient for the government – as long as we’re shaming and blaming fat people they don’t have to address real issues like a lack of access to healthy foods, safe stigma-free movement options and affordable evidence-based healthcare or the fact that the dieting that they’ve been pushing doesn’t work.
We’ve been trying weight loss for more than half a century and the best we have been able to do is 5% success. Which is exactly what all the evidence in those 50 years said would happen. I don’t believe that obesity is a disease, but since weight loss is considered a medical intervention, ask yourself this: If we were having a “war on cancer” and were trying the same treatment protocol and 95% of the time all the Cancer came back and 2/3 of the time the cancer got worse; on year 53 would the government declare a war on cancer using that same treatment?
It’s obviously time to try something different.
If we really feel the need to have a war, let’s have a war on shame. A war on stigma. A war on size bullying.
A world free from shame, stigma and size bullying is a world worth fighting for.
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