The Scornful Woman

Hate and Prejudice Do Not Go Quietly

People do not like it when deep prejudices come under challenge. Folks in the UK are processing some despicable hate speech from a public figure, Michael Buerk. He casts the death of people with obesity as a good thing for saving money in the NHS. But a brief discussion on Good Morning Britain perfectly illustrates the angry reaction of prejudice facing questions.

Scorn for Pesky Facts

This popular morning breakfast television show brought a pair of starkly different experts together to discuss the controversy. One, Steve Miller, is a reality TV star and hypnotherapist. He’s an author of pop weight loss books and says shaming people with obesity is a good idea. The other, Peter Swinyard, is a GP and Chairman of the UK’s Family Doctor Association.

When Swinyard correctly pointed out that a person’s genetic profile plays a large role in their risk of obesity, Miller was irate. “You’re complicating it, doctor,” he said.

Indeed, facts are quite stubborn – and annoying. For decades we’ve known that 70 percent or more of a individual obesity risk is genetic. It’s not a single gene that confers the risk most of the time. It’s many genes acting together. That’s why you see families where people have lived with obesity for generations. Also, that’s why one child in a family has obesity from an early age while another is skinny. Different genes responding to the same environment.

While genes have not changed, our environment has. A perfect storm of changes in the food supply, restrictions on physical activity, and other stressors is activating obesity in more people. People who are susceptible.

“Nobody Is Fat in a Famine”

Hypnotherapist Miller would have none of this. He cried out repeatedly, “Nobody is fat in a famine!”

He’s exactly right. But some people starve to death. And some people – with adequate fat stores – survive. That is precisely why the ability to store extra fat is a genetic trait that survives in the population.

When prejudice meets inconvenient facts, the response is denial. After years of publishing a daily commentary on ConscienHealth, we’ve seen a lot of denial. For people who are certain that obesity is a voluntary, reversible condition, the genetic basis of obesity is a very inconvenient fact. The haters reject it with angry retorts – just like Miller did. This is cognitive dissonance at work.

But sharp quips don’t make the facts go away. And they should not make anyone accept prejudice and stigma about body size and shape. It’s simply wrong.

For more on challenging prejudice, click here. To view the segment we’ve described on Good Morning Britain click on the video above or click here.

The Scornful Woman, watercolor by Egon Schiele / WikiArt

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August 8, 2019