Loose Truth

Alternatives to Dealing with the Truth in Health

When it comes to dealing with the truth of our health, sometimes we humans have a tough time. Sometimes we avoid the truth. We’d rather not talk about or face difficult subjects. At other times, the truth is difficult to find or know. Perhaps it’s unknown and, under present circumstances, unknowable. But on the important subject of our health, that kind of ambiguity can be even worse than blissful ignorance.

We find ourselves thinking that these dilemmas of facing truth about our health are equally difficult in public and private matters. They pop up in dealing with obesity and likewise in dealing with the new coronavirus.


Surely you’ve noticed that people don’t like dealing with the O-word. Obesity is so stigmatized that doctors avoid using the word. Patients and consumers will frequently tell us that they’d really like to lose a little weight, but obesity has nothing to do with them. Their issue is not that bad, they say.

Other people reject it altogether. Urging people not to think about World Obesity Day, RDN Christy Harrison told us:

There’s no evidence higher weight “causes” health problems. Weight stigma and weight cycling likely explain all the excess health risks we see in higher-weight people.

Unfortunately, medical facts don’t line up with her assertion. Obesity treatment can reduce the health impact of diabetes and sometimes put it into remission. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is a real diagnosis that results from obesity and requires real medical attention.

Likewise, we’re learning that avoiding the harsh realities of a new coronavirus does not make that reality any less harsh. A couple of weeks ago, the coronavirus pandemic didn’t seem so bad in Italy – only 322 confirmed cases. Today, the country is overwhelmed with too many patients to give them adequate care.

Writing about it in the Atlantic, Yascha Mounk tells us that this experience offers a grave warning for countries in the early stages of this pandemic. Confront the crisis honestly now, before it overwhelms you.


Uncertainty sucks. Our brains rebel against it. It’s stressful to our bodies. And yet, health issues present uncertainties. We don’t presently know exactly how the coronavirus pandemic will unfold in every part of the world. The health impact of obesity is slow, accumulating over time. Some people experience less harm. For others, it is devastating.

One response is polite fiction. Doctors naturally avoid dispensing unpleasant diagnoses. Scientists are reluctant to communicate uncertainty. Doctors often don’t discuss obesity because they’re not sure they can help. Politicians speculate that the coronavirus will magically disappear. Declaring an emergency is not politically expedient.

However, problems do not disappear because we ignore them. If they are real, they grow larger. Comforting fiction does us no favors. It takes away our future opportunities.

Loose Truth, photograph © Mike Maguire / flickr

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March 12, 2020