Skip to content

Chasing an Elusive Epidemic

This is the Obesity Message We All Need to Hear


No, you are not healthy at every size. Yes, fat acceptance is dangerous.

Daniel Callahan writes about the obese in The Hastings Center Report. When reading Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic you’ll find:

 Only a carefully calibrated effort of public social pressure is likely to awaken them to the reality of their condition. They have been lulled into oblivious-ness about their problem because they look no different from many others around them. They need to be leaned upon, nudged, and—when politically feasible—helped by regulations to understand that they are potentially in trouble. They should not want to be that way, nor should others.

Before folks get all screechy with me, nowhere does it say that the obese person is a bad person. It simply points out that as everyone is getting fatter people aren’t noticing it because if you look left or right you’re surrounded by people who have gotten fat with you. Sort of like putting a frog in water and slowly turning the heat up.

About Stigmatization he writes:

Misled by the public health community’s acceptance—and even enthusiastic embrace—of supply and demand measures against and outright stigmatization of smoking, I naively assumed that community would do the same against obesity. I had not realized that smoking was the exception—that the public health community generally opposes anything that looks like blaming the victim. This fact was surely evident in the struggle against HIV, as well as in other campaigns over the decades against the stigmatization of people with many other diseases. It has not been hard to fnd examples of stigmatization turning into outright discrimination, even (notoriously) in health care.

Why is obesity said to be different from smoking? Three reasons are common: it is wrong to stigmatize people because of their health conditions; wrong to think it will work well, or at all, with obesity; and counterproductive with the obese because of evidence that it worsens rather than improves their condition. Ethically speaking, the social pressures on smokers focused on their behavior, not on them as persons. Stigmatizing the obese, by contrast, goes after their character and selfhood, it is said, not just their behavior. Stigmatization in their case also leads demonstrably to outright discrimination, in health care, education, and the job market more generally. The obese are said to be lazy, self-indulgent, lacking in discipline, awkward, unattractive, weak-willed and sloppy, insecure and shapeless, to mention only a few of the negative judgments among doctors and nurses.

Clearly there’s a difference between stigmatization (which is subconsciously happening whether you choose to believe it is or not) and having the very real, very frank discussion that obesity is an unhealthy condition and that there’s quality of life to be gained by being a healthy size. Callahan wraps up with:

What I am suggesting—empow-ering the victims, not blaming them, and that individual responsibility is necessary—has its risks. But if the individual and public health impact of being overweight and obese is dangerous, then it is hard to imagine any kind of strong and effective efforts that will not meet resistance. The failure of efforts to date to make much difference suggest that a change of strategy is necessary.

Things you’ll find when you read the full text:

  •  Most of the 67 percent who are overweight or obese will remain so for the rest of their lives, guaranteeing serious health problems as they get older.
  •  Meanwhile, the food industry fights back, debunking scientifc evidence, minimizing the harm, and spending considerable money lobbying legislators.
  • Whether or not they [the public] recognize their own role in it, they need to understand that obesity is a national health problem, one that causes lethal diseases, shortens lives, and contributes substantially to rising health care costs
  • It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when the most important studies of obesity count a 5 to 10 percent weight loss a “success,” adding that even that much loss has a health benefit, not to be dismissed.

This is not a condemnation of you if you have weight to lose. I absolutely condemn the folks who keep shusshing me when I say that it’s not healthy to be fat. You cannot be obese and have the same quality of life as a typical sized person. It’s a simple impossibility. It’s okay to tell your kids that it’s better for your body to be normal sized than to be fat. It won’t give them an eating disorder… of course overeating IS an eating disorder that Americans love to pass on to their children.

Please. Read this study and rethink the wisdom of fat acceptance.


UPDATE: This is a great article too: Gap widens between actual weight and people’s imagined weight