Lisa asked me a really interesting question in response to my blog about ending fat talk starting with yourself:
How would address if you could our society’s so called called concern for the “Obesity Epidemic”. I know as a fat child who was bullied from the time I was very young, for being fat, the concern about my weight was about aesthetics not health. As I rode my bike a lot, walked a lot and was very active and both then and now prior to my wls had no health issues that society tends to blame on being overweight. The health issues I have now are from chronically dieting, becoming bulimic and my gastric bypass. How do we tell all those people who may be genuinely concerned about weight affecting health of how deadly and life ruining it can be to constantly be put on diets and teased unmercifully because of weight?
I have two answers, the technical and the simple:
The Technical Answer
The diet industry started in the 1800s and continues to grow, currently making over 60 billion a year. Yet statistically, intentional weight loss (whether you call it a diet, a lifestyle change, an eating plan etc.) fails 95% of the time within five years.
Studies of obesity and health problems show a correlation between the two (meaning that, in the study population, the two things sometimes happen at the same time). There is no proof of CAUSATION – meaning nobody can prove that being overweight causes health issues. The words “in the study population” are important because studies only prove things for the statistical population that they study unless they can control for those variables. For example, studies performed in the United States typically don’t account for the fact that they are dealing with a population who are constantly stigmatized. That’s particularly interesting because studies done in cultures where there is no stigma on obesity are finding that there are no negative health outcomes of obesity either.
The measure of what constitutes obesity was created by a committee that included three scientists who were paid by pharmaceutical companies that manufacture weight loss drugs, and the chief scientist of Weight Watchers. Most of the studies that we see are funded by weight loss companies. We currently give the diet industry $60,000,000,000 A YEAR of our money. I would love to see what would happen if we took it out of their pockets and gave it to people who were actually interested in doing research about health.
Bottom line: Nobody has proven that being overweight causes health problems, and nobody has a method of weight loss proven to work (or create better health) more than 5% of the time. Therefore, suggesting that people lose weight to be more healthy is telling them to do something nobody can prove is possible, for a reason nobody can prove is valid. It is therefore scientifically unsound and medically unethical to prescribe weight loss as anything other than a 5% chance of weighing less.
The Simple Reason:
I believe that healthy habits have the best chance of creating a healthy body. I know that health isn’t just about behaviors, it’s also about genetics and access. I can only affect the things within my control.
I think that people who like themselves (including their bodies) are more likely to take care of themselves and make healthy choices than people who are stigmatized into believing that they are lazy, unattractive, and unhealthy. I think that if you truly believe that shaming people into hating their bodies is going to have positive health outcomes for them, then you are a moron.
Bottom line: You cannot make people hate themselves into health. Everyone gets to choose both what they feel healthy behaviors are, and whether or not they want to engage in those behaviors, and their health will still be affected by things beyond their control. Health is an intensely personal choice for many people and it may be best to keep your concerns about someone else’s health to yourself. Failing that, I would definitely recommend that you avoid confusing weight with health, and speak only about behavior concerns that you know to be true. Do not make behavioral assumptions based on body size or health.