British Museum

Does Sensational Blame for Obesity in Britain Matter?

Is it a coincidence? Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of sensational headlines from the UK, loaded with blame for people living with obesity. Some parts of the NHS have adopted rules to deny surgery to people with obesity. Tabloids run headlines about “obese patients eating themselves to DEATH.” Examples of sensational blame directed at people with obesity just keep coming. But do they reflect real attitudes?

Maybe so.

Britain Stands Out

Blame for People with Obesity, UK SE DE ITWe’ve been tracking attitudes of the public about obesity in ten different cultures and countries around the world. And indeed, the British public seems more inclined to heap blame upon people with obesity. Among UK adults, 45% agreed that people with obesity should be blamed and faulted for their condition. Only 21% disagreed.

These numbers exceed the numbers for the other European countries we polled: Italy, Sweden, and Germany. We first presented this data at the European Congress on Obesity in May. And in fact, those numbers are the highest we found in any of the countries where we’re collecting data.

Blame and Shame Is a Lousy Strategy

This is not a good idea. Blame and shame makes the problem of obesity worse. When people feel worse about themselves, they take worse care of themselves – not better. They avoid healthcare providers, who might shame them. Social support networks become narrower. Eating habits become less healthy.

The reasons are undoubtedly complex, but it’s unsurprising that Britain has a higher obesity prevalence than its peers in Western Europe. Blame and shame is a lousy strategy for reducing the impact of obesity.

Click here for the poster we presented at ECO2017 and here for more about the public health impact of weight stigma.

British Museum, photograph © Tim Dobbelaere / flickr

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November 8, 2017

2 Responses to “Does Sensational Blame for Obesity in Britain Matter?”

  1. November 08, 2017 at 8:17 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Thank you, Ted, for collecting this timely and important data and sharing these important perspectives.

    I fear that there has to be at least some “lessons from tobacco control” and “denormalization” behind this–though is the US even more in the “shame and blame” direction than the UK?


    My employer, PinneyAssociates, provides consulting services on tobacco harm minimization (including nicotine replacement therapy and vapor products) to Niconovum USA, RJ Reynolds Vapor Company, and RAI Services Company, all subsidiaries of Reynolds American Inc. In the past three years, PinneyAssociates has consulted to NJOY on electronic cigarettes. I also own an interest in intellectual property for a novel nicotine medication.

    • November 08, 2017 at 4:31 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joe. Good perspective!