The Political Science of Diabetes and Obesity

The political science of diabetes and obesity is a tragic result of attention to the health consequences of increasing obesity rates. Though weight bias and discrimination existed long before our present problem, it has flourished as many health policymakers are guided more by bias than evidence. An opposite and equally toxic approach can be found in folks who start with a rejection of weight bias and move on to deny the health implications of excess adiposity and obesity.

The result is a trampling of scientific inquiry in the service of predefined agendas. “Welcome to the age of denial,” says astrophysicist Adam Frank in a thoughtful New York Times op-ed. Frank laments a political climate that breaks with the American tradition of respect for scientific facts. “Today,” he says, “it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact.”

Darlene McNaughton points out how obesity biases come to dominate the common understanding of type-2 diabetes in a recent analysis published in Critical Public Health. She says:

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the etiology of diabetes and there are a number of potential risk factors at play include ageing, gestational diabetes, genetics, under nutrition, poverty and family history, many of which are beyond individual control. Despite this, overweight and obesity are increasingly depicted not only as risk factors, but also as the central cause of the disease.

The presumption McNaughton describes leads people to wrongly think that a visual diagnosis of a person’s health and obesity status is reasonable. But it’s no more reasonable than the folks who cheer pseudo-scientific claims that the health effects of obesity are myths.

Health policy grounded in bias has given us a response to obesity that has been largely ineffective. Greater investment and respect for scientific evidence and inquiry will be necessary to reduce the burden of this disease.

Click here to read Frank’s op-ed, click here to read more in Medical Xpress, and click here to read McNaughton’s analysis.

Slender Cacti of Almería, photograph © Rhisiart Hincks / flickr

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