In the United States, obesity is one of the most pervasive health issues we face as a society. In 2017-2018, the CDC reported that 42.4% of the US population was obese (CDC, 2021). This puts an incredible strain on our health care infrastructure as obesity is a risk factor in diabetes, heart disease, and generally worse outcomes from all disease (Harvard Health Publishing, 2012). Today, I’d like to examine 2 common and competing schools of thought on curbing obesity.
Travel to any local high school or hop onto an internet forum and you are likely to see “fat shaming.” The use of weight descrimination to restrain obesity has been and continues to be a prevalent deterrent to overeating. Philosopher and former President of the Hastings Ethical Research Institute, Dr. Daniel Callahan, was a strong advocate for using social pressures to push people to discard their high calorie diets in favor of healthier, more socially acceptable ones (Callahan, 2013).
Health Psychology professor and researcher at UCLA, Dr. Janet Tomiyama has suggested an alternative path toward a healthier society. Research on the psychological effects of weight descrimination have consistently shown that the additional social stressors lead to physiological changes (such as increases in cortisol levels and inflammation) that further slow the metabolism, increase food cravings, and negatively impact general health. Additionally, the psychosocial effects of this stress often encourage obese individuals to avoid health-positive behaviors, such as exercise, due to fear of judgement (Harvard Health Publishing, 2017; Spiegel, 2014; Tomiyama et al., 2018; Vogel, 2019).
Realistically speaking, there are hundreds of both biological and psychological studies that have been published on the matter and the scientific community seems to have come to a consensus. “Fat shaming” does not work, period. In fact, the stigma and mistreatment of obese individuals causes a significant amount of health harm. Therefore, being mean, judgemental, or discriminatory does not “help” this public health issue, but rather, it hinders our progress in solving it. If you actually want to help obese individuals the best thing you can do is show them kindness and compassion and support governmental programs designed to offer cheaper healthier food alternatives to the public!