Bioethicist Suggests More Fat-Shaming Will End Obesity Crisis, Calls This Strategy “Edgy”

Prominent bioethicist Daniel Callahan says our current obesity issue could be solved by just trying a little harder to make overweight people feel bad about themselves. He calls this strategy “edgy.” We call this strategy offensive and stupid.

Stigma can play an important role in promoting social goods. I’ve argued here before that drumming up a little more stigma around unhealthy food couldn’t hurt.

But that’s not Callahan’s angle; no, the good doctor suggests we increase social pressure on heavy people based on body image. His strategy would include posters with slogans like:

“If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

Making people feel bad for not being thin enough or not meeting a certain body ideal–what could be ‘edgier’ than that? Oh, right, maybe something that hasn’t been the norm for hundreds of years in media and society.

Sadly, Callahan is no random nutjob. A senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, he’s the author or editor of 41 books and has contributed to HarpersThe Atlantic, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical AssociationThe New Republic and more.

“He must not have any contact with actual free-range fat people,” Deb Burgard, a California psychologist specializing in eating disorders, told NBC News. “For him to argue that we need more stigma, I don’t know what world he’s living in.”

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    • BFD

      The most ridiculous part of this is that he compares being fat to smoking. People do not take up being fat as a “habit.” What a fool.

      • Julia

        Overeating is most definitely a habit… Fat people could limit their diets and caloric intakes, but they don’t, and similarly smokers could give up cigarettes. In both cases these people are voluntarily harming themselves because they don’t have the will power to stop it… It’s very sad and, quite frankly, disgusting.

      • just me 83

        Honestly it’s disgusting thinking that ppl with problems can just “stop”.
        That’s why its called addiction and FYI most overweight ppl
        eat LESS than your average person and its their metabolism and
        genetics that keep them from losing. Sweetie you need to grow up
        because as long as you have that attitude you will be just as
        “Disgusting” yourself.

      • Julia

        “most overweight ppl eat LESS than your average person and its their metabolism and genetics that keep them from losing” Some people do have slower metabolisms than others, but not to the extent that it would cause the massive obesity epidemic we have today. It’s our poor diets doing this, not our genetics… And, anyway, most people who are larger do eat more than those who are thin. Your body isn’t just going to go off storing fat that you’re not putting into it.

    • Jayelle

      I’ve mentioned this under another article about Callahan’s “edgy” effort, but shaming is counterproductive because it keeps people stuck in bad habits and uninterested in taking up good habits. If you can’t express love and care for yourself by wearing clothes you like, if you can’t go to the gym without feeling ridiculed, if you can’t enjoy dancing or sports out in public, you’re not going to lose any weight. You will, however, feel tempted to stay home and eat comfort food, which is seldom the same as healthful food.

      Even if a person is learning healthy habits and losing weight, shame derails them. When I went from a size 20 to a size 16, people would sometimes mock me on the bus or in a restaurant. They didn’t know where I’d been or how hard I’d worked; they still saw me as a fat woman who needed to be ridiculed for…I don’t know…daring to appear in public and do stuff? I still get this sometimes wearing a size 12, which is the thinnest I’ve been since high school. And then there are lovely people who think they’re “helping” by peeking into a fat person’s shopping cart (of course it’s on the day you’re shopping for a dinner party!) or reminding one that a latte with skim milk still isn’t health food just as one’s putting the Starbucks cup to one’s lips.

      There’s plenty of shame in this world. I needed support and compassion from people who know and love me to lose weight, not public scoldings. The world needs a lot more of that. I shudder to think of this strategy tried on impressionable teenagers and children. Sorry to write a whole new blog entry under this, but Callahan isn’t available for me to slap.

    • Alea

      This is absolutely disgusting. It should be about health not appearance. Sure, most obese and overweight people are unhealthy but so are lots of normal and underweight people. This will only lead to more eating disorders. There’s already enough fat shaming in the media.

    • Claymore

      I disagree that it’s a good idea to create more stigma around “unhealthy” food.

      A) I would argue that unhealthy eating habits on the whole are the problem rather than specific foods.

      B) I have been shamed for eating unhealthily my whole life and it hasn’t actually done anything to encourage me to eat more healthily or for that matter address the psychological issues that got me eating this way in the first place (eating disordered mother who passed on her attitudes about food, exercise and weight to me, emotionally abusive parents and constant bullying at school leading to comfort eating to cope with the pain), or address the physiological things that made it hard for me to exercise such as my being migraine-prone, with a lot of weather triggers. The question was also never asked as to why I became so easily out of breath when I was only slightly chubby rather that fat as my mother convinced me to believe (I’m not arguing that fat shaming would have been ok if I had actually been fat, rather that I assumed that the health problems I had in childhood were caused by my weight and my mother must have assumed this too and thus nothing was done to actually address them, and BTW I still don’t know the answer to the question).

      Furthermore, it just validates ascetics and masochists who spend all their time saying shit like “ooooh cheesecake that’s naughty”… in fact as far as I’m concerned there’s more than enough stigma around unhealthy food as it is. Educating people to make their own choices would be better than telling them they’re bad because they ate a bucket of chicken wings to help them cope with their pain, I always say that if I hadn’t turned to food I probably would have become an alcoholic/drug addict and then I’d probably be far more socially isolated (which is another reason I don’t want unhealthy food to be stigmatized more because it just increases the difficulty people with unhealthy eating habits will have in making friends and makes them more likely to end up comfort eating to cope with the pain of that) because those habits tend to have a substantial negative effect on personality that eating too many cakes doesn’t, and quite possibly in jail for drunk and disorderly behaviour, possession of illegal substances (I don’t think these substances should be illegal because people own their bodies and also because criminalizing them makes it harder for people to end their addictions and has a negative effect on the safety of sex workers and because a lot of addicts are addicts because they were abused so it seems absurd to argue about what’s bad for society when you’re not addressing the root problem, but I don’t make the laws) or stealing to feed my habit. I don’t condemn or judge drug addicts, but I’d much rather eat too many sweets and cheese sauces than be addicted to drugs.

      B) It’s my body and I can eat what I damn well want, I don’t deserve to have my morality considered suspect because of what I put in my mouth anymore than I deserve to have it considered suspect based on who I choose to have consensual sex with.