Respecting Truth and Personal Autonomy in Obesity

Step right up! Many people are handing out unsolicited advice about obesity and what’s best for you. This sort of advice comes from two dramatically different extremes. We hear it from ignorant, biased individuals who think that solutions are easy. But it also comes from people who say, forget it. Obesity is no big deal and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. At each of these extremes, we see disrespect for both truth and personal autonomy.

Easy Answers

The only real truth about easy answers to obesity is that they’re easy to find. The Independent serves up the prototype:


You gotta give them credit for putting it in all caps. It’s not bad advice – forget the diet fads. But the part about eat less and move more has been tried and studied. It winds up being easier said than done. Even with persistent, intensive effort, it doesn’t cure obesity. It brings a little bit of weight loss (~5%) that’s enough to improve your health. And with a great deal of effort, it’s sustainable. But it’s no miracle.

Jamie Oliver has launched yet another of his campaigns to end obesity. “It’s really simple. Just cut the rubbish junk food ads! It will clearly help the huge, huge problem of childhood obesity. Surely that’s a great thing!” His campaigns have yet to reverse the problem. But he gets good publicity from them.

Another tact is catastrophic warnings. The Daily Express tells us that “unhealthy lifestyles of mothers-to-be could wreck the lives of future generations.” That’s supposed to be helpful?


At the other extreme, fat acceptance advocates offer this advice:

So many “experts” comment as if we had an effective treatment for obesity . . . Why keep harping on fat people to lose weight when we know it isn’t possible?!

Along with that advice comes a healthy dose of derision for anyone who might seek help with their weight or – God forbid – opt for bariatric surgery. They advise that “weight-loss surgery (WLS) intentionally damages healthy organs” and brings “death and malnutrition.”

Don’t look for objective truth there.

How About a Little Respect?

Our wish is simple. Respect for truth and personal autonomy. People can make good decisions for themselves. We don’t need lies about how easy or utterly impossible weight management is. Nor do we need lies about how disaster lies ahead if we don’t follow someone else’s instincts. We make choices and sometimes, our circumstances make choices for us.

We do the best we can with what we’ve got. Respect and truthful information help along the way.

For more on the intersection of public health and personal autonomy, click here, here, here, and here.

Angel, photograph © kay / flickr

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April 18, 2018

One Response to “Respecting Truth and Personal Autonomy in Obesity”

  1. April 18, 2018 at 11:46 am, Ginny Erwin said:

    Welcome to the world of weight management.
    Just as in other “worlds” related to healthcare, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular, etc it’s open season, so let the buyer beware.

    My mother provided me with the best advice ever, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.

    Steer clear of 95% of the diet advice found on FB and Google.