Whose Fault Is Obesity?

News about obesity is filled with speculation about what causes obesity, who is at fault for the problem, and often, personal responsibility. Dialogue about obesity is stuck between seeking a  perfect villain at fault for spiraling obesity rates and personal responsibility as a total solution to obesity.

Martin Binks recently published an excellent reflection on the quest for a perfect villain in obesity. Sugar, salt, fat, Pepsi, Coke, McDonald’s — they’re all attractive candidates. But, as Binks explains, the quest for a singular villain proves to be a distraction from more fundamental problems with the entire food supply.

David Katz explores the absurdity of excessive focus on personal responsibility for obesity in the Huffington Post. He notes that “we are drowning in calories of mostly very dubious quality, and drowning in an excess of labor-saving technology.” And he goes on to apply some common obesity arguments to drowning:

The argument could be made that anything like a lifeguard is an abuse of authority and an imposition on personal autonomy, because the prevention of drowning should derive from personal and parental responsibility.

The discussion of personal responsibility for obesity quickly degenerates into an argument about whether or not “it’s their fault.” This argument is a huge waste of time. Some people are big and some are small. People whose bodies are at the high end of the normal distribution for BMI have health risks that go with that. Is all that risk their fault? Probably not. Can they act to reduce it? Probably so.

So when the blame discussion is about us, it’s a waste of time because it only takes us to rationalization and victimhood.

When the discussion is about someone else, it’s a waste of time because it can only serve as an ignorant basis for discrimination.

Energy devoted to pinning obesity on the perfect villain is equally wasted. We need to go after obesity as a straightforward health problem. That’s the kind of problem we can solve. All we need is a commitment to research, prevention, treatment, and respect for the people affected.

Click here to read more from Binks and click here to read more from Katz.

Coney Island Bird Man image © Barry Yanowitz / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.