The Monster

What’s Happening to the Obesity Boogeyman?

For three decades now, health policy to address obesity has followed the boogeyman model. Children, if you don’t behave better, the obesity boogeyman will get you. The boogeyman is an instinctive human response to to an ominous threat. Hundreds of variations thrive in cultures across time and all over the world, from Iceland to Indonesia.

Gallup: Public Concern About ObesityBut fear is not a great strategy for public health. So it’s no surprise that the obesity boogeyman is losing his grip on the public.

Public Concern About Obesity Is Dropping

Gallup has been asking Americans about the most urgent health problem facing the country since 1987. Cancer has always been a big concern. Obesity popped up in 1999 and concern steadily grew until about 2012. At that point, more people named obesity than cancer. But, as you can see, that concern is fading.

Likewise, Gallup finds that interest in losing weight has dropped a bit in recent years. According to Gallup polling, it was at its peak in 2004, with 62% of adults saying they would like to lose weight. In 2017, that number stands at 56%.

Strong4Life AdAs we’ve reported before, people are not blasé about obesity. But the sense of urgency has come down a bit.

Stigma Discourages Engagement

One lasting effect of the boogeyman approach has been to attach more stigma to the subject of obesity. Stigmatizing “awareness” campaigns such as the one mounted by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are hard to forget. But they mainly serve to discourage action and shut down conversations about obesity, as researchers have shown.

Though such grotesque fear mongering is less common, it has hardly disappeared. News stories about obesity are a mixed bag. You’ll find plenty of solid health-oriented reporting, along with more of the same old fear mongering.

The obesity boogeyman is a profound failure. We are delighted to see him fading. We hope for ever more focus on constructive approaches that promote health, not shame.

For more on Gallup research about health and weight, click here, here, and here.

The Monster, painting by Odilon Redon / WikiArt

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December 19, 2017

2 Responses to “What’s Happening to the Obesity Boogeyman?”

  1. December 19, 2017 at 9:01 am, Allen Browne said:

    Thanks Ted – I hadn’t thought about the phrase “bogeyman” is a long time.

    Health is good
    Things that comprise health are bad.

    Education is needed.

    • December 19, 2017 at 9:51 am, Ted said:

      Indeed. Thanks, Allen!