Stop That!

5 Things to Stop Doing about Obesity

Though there’s plenty we’re not doing about obesity that we should — like adequate research to really understand, prevent, and treat the disease — way too much energy is going into the wrong things. Here are five things to stop doing. Credit goes to to Ragen Chastain for providing a starting point in Dances with Fat.

  1. Shaming people based on weight happens all around you every day, so that most people tune it out completely. Every person, every size, every shape deserves respect, but way too many people think obesity is an excuse to disrespect people.
  2. Oppressing people because of their size. Objective research is abundant and clear that people with a high BMI get shut out of economic, educational, and social opportunities. Likewise people with obesity get inferior healthcare.
  3. Offering unsolicited advice to people about their weight and health. Zip it. If someone doesn’t seek it, it isn’t advice, it’s just obnoxious. One size never has and never will fit all. Unless you have lived in someone’s body, you cannot hope to know their true state of health. Even for the best doctors, understanding someone’s health is an exercise in give and take.
  4. Ignoring real health issues. “If I walked into the doctor with an ax in my head, he’d tell my my head hurts because I’m fat.” That comment says it all. It came in response to research about the poor treatment doctors give people with obesity.
  5. Conflating weight with health. Higher than average BMI is not the same thing as obesity. As useful as BMI is as a screening tool, diagnosing obesity requires an assessment of metabolic health, physical function, and health-related quality of life. But doctors too often can’t get past a superficial weight-based assessment.

Clearly, we don’t agree with people who deny that obesity is a disease — whether they think it’s just a bad lifestyle choice or they think it’s a bogus excuse for size and weight discrimination. But we do agree that there’s no excuse for weight bias and discrimination. It’s past time to redirect that energy toward something positive.

Click here to read a more emphatic perspective from Dances with Fat.

Stop That! Photograph © Leonard John Matthews / flickr

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2 Responses to “5 Things to Stop Doing about Obesity”

  1. March 29, 2014 at 3:08 pm, Ragen Chastain said:

    Thanks for including my work and advocating for treating fat people with basic human respect.

    I disagree that obesity is a disease – obesity is a body size – by currently definition Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise and a great many professional athletes would need “treatment” for being obese. I think that, based on the research, the best thing that we can do is take weight out of the health conversation and focus on providing options and information to people of all sizes about health including food, as well as providing options for movement that are accessible, and both physically and psychologically safe (so that anyone can go to the pool in a swimsuit without fear of shaming or rude behavior) and let people’s body sizes settle where they settle.

    The idea of considering a body size a disease, or trying to manipulate body size as a path to health isn’t supported by evidence (see Mann and Tomiyama 2007 and 2013 for a start) and does a disservice to fat people who are told that we are diseased unless we become thin and regardless of our actual health and habits, and does a disservice to thin people who are given the implicit message that they are healthy by virtual of their size and regardless of their health or habits. Putting the focus on health and not on weight is better for everyone, and is more supported by the evidence (see Matheson et. al, Wei et. al., and the Cooper Institute Longitudinal Studies, as well as Peter Muennig’s studies from Columbia about stigma and and health as well as body satisfaction and health for a start).


    • March 29, 2014 at 9:23 pm, Ted said:

      I understand your perspective and respect it. Obesity is not defined by body size. It is defined by metabolic and biomechanical dysfunction caused by dysfunctional fat tissue. So I agree with you that what matters is health. We have different vocabularies, but many of the same concepts.