A Simple Meal

Virtue at Every Size

Michael BloombergBless his heart. Michael Bloomberg means well. And he’s done a lot of good for the health of New Yorkers. Life expectancy is up. He boldly took on smoking and trans fats. He’s worked tirelessly to nudge New Yorkers toward healthier diets and more active lives. Nibbling on blackberries, grapes, and carrots – artifacts of virtue – he lamented to Frank Bruni that world governments aren’t taking on obesity the way he thinks they should:

You have 80% that want you to stop smoking.
Zero percent want you to stop being obese.

Obesity Through the Lens of Virtue

Stop being obese?

There is no such thing as “the obese lifestyle.” Some people with obesity are very active and fit. Some are very careful about what they eat. Some are not. The same is true for people who live in thinner bodies. Bloomberg means to exercise daily, but it just doesn’t work out, as he told Bruni.

Lifestyle coaching or intensive behavioral therapy can yield important health improvements. It can produce small, but significant (5-10%) reductions in weight. But on average, that’s it. Lifestyle changes do not cure obesity. They just help keep it under control.

Bloomberg can point to some impressive accomplishments. But deep pockets of obesity persist in New York City, just as they do elsewhere. Noshing on blackberries and carrots will not erase the excess of obesity that has grown for decades. We must dig deeper to understand the biology of this disease.

Virtue is great. But looking at obesity through the lens of virtue stigmatizes people. It poisons efforts to address obesity.

Click here to read more of Bloomberg’s interview with Bruni in the New York Times.

A Simple Meal, watercolor by Pablo Picasso / WikiArt

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June 1, 2017

2 Responses to “Virtue at Every Size”

  1. June 01, 2017 at 6:58 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Really strong, Ted–thank you.

    I would commend a read of this post from Clive Bates: https://www.clivebates.com/who-or-what-is-the-world-health-organisation-at-war-with/

    Yes, the title ends with a preposition, but if you can look past that, it asks some really key questions that could use some discomfort of thought in obesity/nutrition policy circles, too, I suspect.


    • June 01, 2017 at 8:41 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe! And thanks for the excellent reference. Taking a stand for personal virtue feels good, but it shouldn’t be confused with taking a stand for public health.