A new study in the journal Current Anthropology shows that fat stigma is going international, and the New York Times‘ Tara Parker-Pope reports that public health messages are, in large part, responsible for giving obesity a negative connotation. Researchers surveyed 700 people in 10 countries, some of which have traditionally had positive attitudes towards larger body types, but they found that across the board, people tend to associate obesity with laziness, blaming weight gain on personal choices rather than environmental or social factors. While we’re all for correcting the stereotypes that stigmatize the obese, but I don’t buy that public health messages are to blame. After all, how can anyone approach the topic of health and weight without asking individuals to take responsibility for (and control over) their lifestyle?
There are plenty of environmental and social factors that make it incredibly difficult to be healthy (we write about them frequently on Blisstree, and face them daily ourselves), but when it comes down to it, weight loss depends on the decisions of the individual and their close relatives and friends. I don’t think fat people should feel bad about themselves, or that anyone should associate negative (or positive) personality traits with the numbers on a scale. But teaching people (mostly women) that they should look like supermodels is one thing; teaching them about good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle is another, and it doesn’t seem like a bad thing, to me.
Another Blisstree writer, Maggie Vink, recently argued that we don’t need any more studies or doctors to make overweight people feel like crap, citing a study that reveals that most obese moms and kids underestimate their weight: “When you’re uncomfortable with the truth of a certain situation, you’re not likely to share that information, even if you know it to be true. But that doesn’t mean you’re not conscious of what you’re doing. And overweight people have enough indicators in society that they are not the recommended weight without passive aggressive reminders like this,” she said. But I tend to disagree: However uncomfortable it is to admit, facing the real problem of your weight is a prerequisite for improving your health (and that shouldn’t be something that we ignore). Likewise; pointing out that high-calorie food and an inactive lifestyle are the main reasons people get obese hardly seems like a hate campaign to me. It’s just the hard truth that people need to accept in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Of course, public health initiatives should do a lot more than just remind people to put down their Big Macs; they should also make it easier and more appealing to get a plate of steamed vegetables than a burger and fries (fast food should not be less than half the price of healthy groceries, for example, and cities should be built with more walking, biking, and sports in mind). But unless people have some knowledge of what’s making them fat (both here and abroad), how can they make better choices about their health?
via New York Times