Population-Wide Personal Preference Policies in Obesity

Devil by the PotPolicies to address obesity across the whole population often make perfect sense to the people who are promoting them. But often, they run into resistance from people looking at obesity from a very different place. Writing in the Guardian, Clare Finney offers a case in point:

“For the 1.25 million men and women with eating disorders in the UK, eating out is about to become even more stressful than it already is. From today, cafes, restaurants and takeaways in England with more than 250 employees will have to display the calorie information of all food and drink they prepare for customers.”

Worse yet, it’s all for naught. As Finney points out, calorie labeling in restaurants is like any other simple solution for a complex problem. It doesn’t work. But advocates for policies to “tackle obesity” press on with it, thinking it can’t hurt.

Personal Convictions About Nutrition Information

As an article of faith, many folks hold strongly to a conviction that more information is always better than less. Others would point out that this truism is not always so true. Information overload can lead to bad decisions. Flooding the zone with confusing or misleading information has become a classic tool for propagandists. So, as a matter of fact, more information is not always better.

Flooding public spaces with warnings about eating the wrong way makes life worse for people with eating disorders.

How Good Advice Becomes Toxic

Eating is a very complex behavior and likewise, healthy patterns of eating are very complex and diverse. Going one step further, obesity is even more complex because it’s not always the sole result of eating patterns. Many other factors, notably individual physiology and diverse life experiences, come into play.

This is why one size does not fit all for dealing with food, health, and obesity. It never will.

And yet, the impulse to share one’s personal convictions about the right path to good health can be irresistable. So a narrow personal perspective can become the basis for unfortunate population-wide obesity policies.

Bless their hearts. These apostles for healthy living mean well. But they can do great harm. Just ask folks in the eating disorder community about the harm of harsh anti-obesity campaigns.

Click here for Finney’s commentary. For more on the harm that poorly-conceived anti-obesity campaigns can do, click here, here, and here. Finally, for a cautionary note on the problem of catastrophizing obesity, click here.

Devil by the Pot, painting by Hugo Simberg / WikiArt

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April 3, 2022