Truth and Illusion

How to Promote Self-Deception About Health and Obesity

Perhaps you noticed. This week, everyone is interested in the president’s BMI. Following a press briefing, Twitter became obsessed with the subject. But the only good we can find in this fuss is an object lesson on how stigma promotes self-deception about health and obesity.

White House doctor Ronny Jackson told the press that our president is in “excellent” health. But he also noted that he would benefit from a healthier diet, more exercise, and shedding about 10-15 pounds.

“He’s more enthusiastic about the diet part than the exercise part,” said Jackson.

BMI Is a Limited Tool

Writing in the New York Daily News, Caroline Apovian, Steven Heymsfield, and Ted Kyle pointed out that BMI doesn’t tell the full story. They said:

Understanding a person’s health requires looking beyond height and weight. Relying solely on BMI is not enough, given its limitations as a marker of adiposity and the disease of obesity.

Is this an opportunity for people to consider more than just physical appearances when thinking about health? We hope.

The public has long been interested in every president’s health, and for good reasons. But if they’re truly interested in health, they’ll move beyond wisecracks about weight.

Promoting Stigma and Self-Deception

This tweet storm also serves to show something that obesity researchers know very well. Promoting stigma promotes self-deception and poor health. Study after study has shown that self-reported height and weight is a measure of what we wish were true. People are always taller and lighter when they report their own height and weight. Measured heights and weights are shorter and heavier.

President Trump, reported this week to be 6’3″ tall, seems to be very similar in height to former President Obama, who is 6’1″. Self-reports are unreliable.

No one thought of mocking the president because his cholesterol requires a medication. He’s hardly alone in this. And mocking the president’s weight makes no sense either. As Erika Nicole Kendall tell us:

Mocking Trump for his weight is hypocritical and ignorant. Your overweight friends and family are listening to these jokes. Is this how you describe them when they’re not there?

Shaming someone based on body shape and size is abhorrent. If you’re getting a laugh from our president’s weight, you should feel ashamed. Period.

Click here for more on the president’s health. Here and here you can find more about conversation with healthcare providers about health and weight.

Truth and Illusion, photograph © Mia Felicita Bertelli / flickr

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January 18, 2018

4 Responses to “How to Promote Self-Deception About Health and Obesity”

  1. January 18, 2018 at 10:43 am, Susan said:

    They would have measured Trump’s height and weight as part of the physical – same with Obama. While a picture of the two standing side by side makes them look the same height, it’s only 2 inches which may not be noticeable in a simple picture. It depends on the angle.

    Regardless, 6’3″ would be what they measured him at – I highly doubt it’s a self-reported height even though it is Trump who tends to embellish everything.

  2. January 18, 2018 at 1:47 pm, Angela Golden said:

    This is great Ted. When I heard the news I wanted to yell at the physician that claimed he didn’t have much problem – “just needed to eat better and exercise” I was so angry – what a missed opportunity to educate our nation that the president has an obesity related complication and that he should be treated for it. And being of medicare age wouldn’t be eligible for any of the available medications. AND that treating his condition of being overweight with an appropriate eating plan could treat his hyperlipidemia – instead he (the physician) made it sound like everyone of that age has a little extra weight and elevated cholesterol. I was saddened at this incredible missed opportunity. Okay my rant is over – thanks for posting this and yes the awful things said about the presidents weight – people need to get a life.

  3. January 19, 2018 at 5:00 pm, John Dixon said:

    At his age quality diet and physical activity say it all. His BMI is fine. The role of dietary and lifestyle interventions should focus on function and healthy aging not a myopic view of the scales. I would suggest he does not gain weight.

    If I were his doctor I would drop the weight loss imperative and focus on physical activity. Seek out and address barriers to physical activity.

    • January 20, 2018 at 3:49 am, Ted said:

      Wise perspective. Thank you, John!