Stretching for Martial Arts

Getting a Better Picture of Obesity

The Obesity Action Coalition stepped forward this week to provide a better picture of living with obesity, free from bias and stigma. The OAC Image Gallery launched with 500 respectful images that can be used freely in news, social media, and educational media. By 2017, the gallery will expand to more than 4,000 images, making it the world’s largest non-commercial bias-free stock image gallery.

Vice President James Zervios said that this gallery can help to correct a terrible problem with demeaning depictions of people with obesity that are seemingly everywhere. He said:

Editors are choosing pictures that are really stigmatizing, when we know people with obesity have active lives. They’re firemen. They’re policemen. They’re productive members of society. They eat food in a normal way. And, of course, every one of them has a head.

Headless ObesityZervios was referring to the dehumanizing practice of depicting people with obesity as “headless fatties” – a term coined by fat activist Charlotte Cooper. Fat activists such as Cooper reject the notion that obesity is a medical condition.

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s easy to find people with false assumptions who endorse bias against people with obesity. Commenting on a Washington Post story about the new image gallery, one reader said:

In the vast majority of cases, obesity is a personal choice. It’s a choice that imposes costs on the rest of society. Bad choices SHOULD be stigmatized. That’s how to reduce their incidence.

Of course, every bit of this comment is false. Obesity is mostly inherited, not chosen. Multiple factors in our society trigger obesity in susceptible individuals. Stigmatizing obesity makes it more difficult to address, leading to more, not less obesity.

It’s an uphill struggle, but we know that blaming and shaming people with obesity is in decline. Now people have no excuse for continuing to use stigmatizing images to depict people with obesity. In addition to OAC, the Rudd Center and the Canadian Obesity Network also offer stigma-free image galleries.

So we’re drawing a line in the sand. When we find headless and disparaging images of people with obesity we’re going to speak up every time. We hope you will, too. Any form of protest will do – online comments, emails, letters to editors. Those editors have free, beautiful, and respectful images they can use instead.

There’s no excuse. #PeopleHaveHeads

You can send people to the OAC Image Gallery here: Read more about the OAC Image Gallery in the Washington Post here. For a bit of the evidence base behind this concern, click here.

Stretching for Martial Arts, photograph © Obesity Action Coalition

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


September 10, 2016

3 Responses to “Getting a Better Picture of Obesity”

  1. September 10, 2016 at 7:03 am, Angela Meadows said:

    And every single time a speaker at an obesity conference uses a stigmatising slide or a fat shaming joke. Every time. You’re going to be busy.

    Also, I know you’re involved with the OAC but I do think you could have mentioned and linked to the existing non-fat-shaming image galleries.

    • September 10, 2016 at 7:28 am, Ted said:

      Thanks Angela. The link I provided includes links to all the other stigma free image galleries.

  2. September 10, 2016 at 9:52 am, David Brown said:

    The Washington post reader wrote, “In the vast majority of cases, obesity is a personal choice.”

    In his 1939 book “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” Weston Price wrote, “It would be fortunate indeed, if our problems were as simple as this statement might indicate. We have, however, in the first place, the need for a strength of character and will power such as will make us use the things our bodies require rather than only the foods we like.”

    The food environment has changed continually throughout the industrial age. The most pronounced change is the increase in omega-6 linoleic acid consumption in general and soybean oil consumption in particular.

    Sadly, the appetite deranging effects of excessive linoleic acid intake are generally ignored by obesity experts. For example, in a 2003 Orlando Sentinel article entitled “Hunger Confronts Bigger Issue” global obesity expert Barry Popkin mentioned the vegetable oils several times noting that people in developing countries “add a lot of vegetable oil to their dishes” and “the steepest increase is in the use of edible vegetable oils for cooking” and “edible oil is a most-important ingredient in enhancing the texture and taste of dishes.”

    Another example is found in a recent article Published in the Times of India. “Clarified butter remained India’s culinary star for centuries till it was sidelined in the 1980s by vegetable oils because of its high saturated fat. The new oils were aggressively marketed as superior and heart-healthy. Of late, research has shown that saturated fats have no link to obesity, heart disease or early death.”

    Although scientists continue to ignore the linoleic acid problem, the public is beginning to realize that a mistake was made. the Credit Suisse Research Institute notes that “Consumers are making new choices, switching away from carbs to food containing fat such as red meat, butter and eggs… A high intake of vegetable oils (containing omega-6 polyunsaturated fats) has not been proved to be as beneficial as earlier thought, and trans-fats have been shown to have negative effects on our health. In short, saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are not behind the high rates of obesity and metabolic syndrome in the US. The two leading culprits are the higher intakes of vegetable oils and the increase in carbohydrate consumption.

    As noted earlier, the heart associations are strongly in favor of swapping linoleic acid for saturated fats. In practical terms how is that working out? Primate obesity researchers use American Heart Association dietary recommendations to fatten monkeys. “Dr. Hansen, who has been doing research on obese monkeys for four decades, prefers animals that become naturally obese with age, just as many humans do. Fat Albert, one of her monkeys who she said was at one time the world’s heaviest rhesus, at 70 pounds, ate ‘nothing but an American Heart Association-recommended diet,’ she said.”

    As the clues linking the obesity epidemic to excessive linoleic acid consumption continue to accumulate, the scientists debating the merits of high vegetable oil consumption remain clueless. “Is a particular dietary recommendation harming people in the U.S.? For almost 20 years, scientists have been arguing over whether Americans and others on a typical Western diet are eating too much of omega-6s, a class of essential fatty acids. Some experts, notably ones affiliated with the American Heart Association, credit our current intake of omega-6s with lowering the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Others, which include biochemists, say the relatively high intake of omega-6 is a reason for a slew of chronic illnesses in the Western world, including asthma, various cancers, neurological disorders and cardiovascular disease itself.”

    Perhaps it’s time to stop debating the character issue and begin paying more attention to the biochemistry aspect of the obesity epidemic. For example, “Endocannabinoids and their G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR) are a current research focus in the area of obesity due to the system’s role in food intake and glucose and lipid metabolism. Importantly, overweight and obese individuals often have higher circulating levels of the arachidonic acid-derived endocannabinoids anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and an altered pattern of receptor expression. Consequently, this leads to an increase in orexigenic stimuli, changes in fatty acid synthesis, insulin sensitivity, and glucose utilisation, with preferential energy storage in adipose tissue.”