Just like I’m tired of fat people having experimental medicine practiced on them without their consent, I am tired of people being encouraged to promote/sell/legislate whatever is in their heads as long as they say that it “fights obesity.” People are telling businesses what size of sodas they can sell, talking about taxing certain foods, suggesting a public shame campaign, suggesting that little kids have have a surgery that can kill them, all under the auspices of “fighting obesity” without much or any evidence to support that these things will change the people’s weight or their health.
I’ve recently been looking into some grants to help fund More Cabaret and I’ve been really disappointed at how many grants require that the program “fight obesity” in some way. Why, for the love of whatever, can’t we just create fine art using a fine arts grant?
Why is every health initiative marketed as a way to “fight obesity”? Increase vegetable consumption to fight obesity. Take a 30 minute walk to fight obesity. WTF Dude? Vegetables are only good for fatties? Walks are only for making people thin? Not only is it ridiculous based on logic, it’s exactly the opposite of what the evidence supports. Studies show that healthy habits, like vegetables and walking, can help increase the odds of being healthy (though of course health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, and there are never any guarantees) but have almost no chance of creating long term weight loss.
This kind of messaging does a disservice to fat people, who are told that healthy habits don’t work unless they make them thin, and does a disservice to thin people who are told that they are healthy by virtue of their weight and regardless of their habits which, again, is not what the evidence tells us.
Can you imagine the kind of world it would be if public health messaging was actually based on evidence, and was about making options for health available to the public rather than making fat people’s health the public’s business?
To be very clear, health is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness – nobody owes anybody else “health” or “healthy habits” by any definition. People of all sizes prioritize health in all different ways and that’s absolutely fine. The prioritization of health and the path one chooses are intensely personal decisions and private decisions that should never be up for public discussion or debate unless someone asks for that.
I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live. I’m asking a simple question: how would public health and health promotion be different if we took out the weight loss and “fighting obesity” rhetoric and actually created health messaging? (Which would make sense since there’s no intervention that has been shown to lead to long term weight loss in more than a tiny fraction of people.
Maybe we could get correct information. Instead of being lied to that the only way to pursue health is through weight loss, we could hear the truth – that simple, small, habits increase our odds when it comes to health. That, for example, around 30 minutes of enjoyable movement around 5 days a week has shown to have tremendous positive effects on health.
All of this anti-obesity messaging is completely superfluous – it’s not necessary at all for talking about health, and may actually do much more harm than good. So let’s just stop.
Imagine if you had only ever been given access to true information about health, and had been told that how you prioritize your health is your business . What if you had always had access to a variety of affordable foods, safe movement options that you enjoy, and evidence-based health care, without even a trace of body shaming. What if it has never been suggested to you that the purpose of food and movement was to attempt to manipulate your body size? Would your relationship with the concepts of health, food, and exercise be different? What else would be different for you? How would society be different? I don’t know about you, but, for me, I’d like to find out.
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