Mother's Joy

Plummeting Childhood Obesity and Skyrocketing Happiness

Wishful thinking is not the foundation for sustainable health strategies. But when the subject is obesity, it’s abundant. In the bioethics journal Sound Decisions, we find an author telling us this month that skyrocketing happiness will result when obesity declines. Thus, more happiness per person justifies government regulation of food portions, writes Shelby Kantner.

NYT Headline: Plummeting Childhood Obesity

Wishing for a Decline in Childhood Obesity

Perhaps the prospect of skyrocketing happiness explains a recurring theme in obesity headlines. We see regular, but false, declarations that we have turned around the depressing upward trend of childhood obesity. Back in 2014, the CDC found an anomaly in the numbers for obesity among toddlers. Headlines roared with the news. The folks at Let’s Move! celebrated with a big birthday party for the program.

But more recent data proved that the supposed plummet was just a blip in the data. Regardless, the impression that childhood obesity is headed down persists. Facts alone – unfortunately – just aren’t enough to stop a runaway train of wishful thinking.

What’s the Harm?

Hope is powerful and important for motivating people to carry on toward a challenging goal. But promoting wishful thinking can destroy hope in the long run. Facts come into play.

The thought that losing weight will solve all of a person’s problems leads inevitably to disappointment. Unrealistic expectations might play a role in slightly increased suicide risk after bariatric surgery.

Harsh weight bias often stands on a false presumption that most people with could lose weight and return to a “normal” BMI if they would simply try. The facts say otherwise.

But we can find a middle ground. We don’t need to catastrophize obesity to pursue solutions to the serious problems it presents. We can try reasonable strategies – like a beverage tax – while acknowledging that it might not work. Achieving and maintaining a modest weight loss can have important benefits, even if one’s BMI is still in the range of obesity. And bariatric surgery can improve a person’s life and health, even if it doesn’t erase every problem. Even if a person has some setbacks.

What we should stop, though, is all of the unrealistic thinking we attach to obesity. It will bring us just the opposite of skyrocketing happiness.

Click here for Kantner’s paper and here for a further dose of reality about obesity.

Mother’s Joy, Painting by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller / WikiArt

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May 28, 2018

3 Responses to “Plummeting Childhood Obesity and Skyrocketing Happiness”

  1. May 28, 2018 at 11:12 am, Chester Draws said:

    Trying strategies like a beverage tax that are extremely unlikely to work is not a good idea.

    It will encourage the fanatics to try harder, imposing increasing taxes in the vain hope that eventually they will work. Meanwhile that just means the poor will have less money for other things, while the rich won’t notice anything. Regressive taxation is the opposite of a good society. (Soda taxes are often mooted, because the poor like soda. Have you ever seen anyone advocate a paté or foie grad tax? Rich people food is good food, even when pure fat or sugar.)

    In general doing stupid things is stupid. Doing stupid things knowing that they are stupid takes a health fanatic.

    I’m not also convinced that the “facts” are on your side about weight loss. Eating less and better will reduce weight, if done in conjunction with some exercise. That most people are incapable of the self-discipline required, doesn’t make it untrue that eating less and better is effective. The facts are that most people won’t, not that they can’t.

    There is a key difference here. If obesity is a “public health” problem, then people will tend to think the authorities should solve it. Hence Soda taxes and other absurdities. Trying to solve a problem by treating a population.

    But it isn’t a public health problem, because we don’t over-eat collectively. It is a personal problem. Best solved, or at least mollified, by personal behaviour.

  2. May 28, 2018 at 11:56 am, Allen Browne said:

    I particularly like the article about myths by Sharma – essential reading.

    Thanks.

    Allen

  3. May 28, 2018 at 5:21 pm, Ted said:

    Thanks, Chester, for sharing your suppositions about what will and won’t work to reduce obesity. In the case of taxation, I tend to agree with you, but I see nothing wrong with an intellectually honest test case. Such experiments are already in progress and the truth will out.

    In the case of personal behavior, extensive research has shown that, even with highly motivated individuals, behavior modification usually does not reverse obesity. It helps. It’s useful. But it’s not a complete solution by any means.