Equal and Opposite Reactions to Obesity’s Burden

Obesity’s burden sparks intense, equal, and yet opposite reactions in two groups of people who deny the medical nature of the problem. Last week, U.S. News and World Report invited the AMA, the Obesity Society, the Obesity Action Coalition, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), a UCLA sociologist concerned with fat acceptance, and the Hudson Institute to offer contrasting views on obesity as a disease for a “Debate Club” format.

This format flushed out two extreme viewpoints, devoid of objectivity, that complicate an evidence-based approach to the health impact of obesity. At one extreme is the common view that obesity is purely a personal issue of bad choices, articulated by Hank Cardello of the Hudson Institute.  “Calling obesity a disease gives consumers less incentive to watch what they eat or to adopt healthier lifestyles,” he writes.

At the other extreme, fat acceptance advocates, reacting to such shame and blame strategies, lapse into denying the health implications of obesity. “Overnight, I transformed from being fat, but healthy, to a diseased woman,” writes Peggy Howell of NAAFA.

Deborah Graham and Andrew Edwards published a recent analysis that sheds light on the source of this absurd clash of dogmatic extremes. Given the psychological burden of obesity, they write that:

Messages exhorting obese people to eat less and exercise more may do little except increase the stigmatization and levels of despair experienced by them.

It’s time to move beyond dogma and get on with the task of understanding obesity and empowering people be their healthiest selves.

Click here to read the analysis by Graham and Edwards in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education. Click here to read conflicting views on the medical aspects of obesity in U.S. News and World Report.

Look What I Found for Lunch, photograph © Tetsumo / flickr

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