The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Obesity Awareness: Public Service or Public Nuisance?

New “public service” advertising from a Swedish foundation features the brilliant physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking. But the advertising is more public nuisance than public service. Its objective appears to be promoting obesity awareness. The message is tired and false:

We eat too much and move too little. Fortunately, the solution is simple – more physical activity, a change in diet. It’s not rocket science. And for what it’s worth, how being sedentary has become a major health problem is beyond my understanding.

The most enlightening part of this ad was the honesty of this brilliant man in admitting that he has no understanding of obesity. The ad prompted exasperation from people who know better.

“Clearly being a genius in one area doesn’t translate to others,” said the University of Ottawa’s Yoni Freedhoff.

“Despite admitting he doesn’t know about obesity, he proceeds to make tired recommendations. Unacceptable,” said Andrew Brown of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“A brilliant cosmologist…is a brilliant cosmologist. Not a brilliant obesity expert. Even the brightest minds have some gaps in knowledge about what obesity is, and what it isn’t,” said Texas Tech’s Emily Dhurandhar.

“OK. Fine. I will stick to obesity, and stop expressing my views about the cosmos,” said Nikhil Dhurandhar, a past president of the Obesity Society.

Awareness of obesity is not much of a problem. People with obesity have mirrors. Even without mirrors, plenty of bystanders offer up daily insults about weight and body image. Rude, insulting, and stigmatizing behavior is not helping. It’s hurting. So obesity awareness “public service” advertising is really just a public nuisance.

The only awareness that’s lacking is awareness of the complexity of obesity and the need for evidence-based solutions that actually work. Hawking inadvertently proved that point with his ad. Tired advice to eat less and move more has been tried by virtually everyone who has struggled with excess weight. More often than not, it doesn’t cure the complex, chronic disease of obesity.

For that we will need more curiosity, more research, and better obesity care.

Click here and here for more perspective.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Painting by Grant Wood / WikiArt

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December 3, 2016