Humility to Know What We Don’t Know About Obesity

Pride of PlaceThis is a heady time for people pursuing scientific insights into obesity. Better knowledge of the physiology that regulates healthy weight and adiposity has brought breakthroughs in medicine for obesity. Some people living with great harms from obesity are finding profound benefits because of these advances. Further advances are on the way. Yet all this growth in knowledge about obesity also brings a sharp reminder of the importance of intellectual humility on the subject of obesity.

Professor Jim Hill explains it succinctly for Jerilyn Covert on WebMD:

“Most obesity researchers will tell you that we really don’t know why obesity occurs. We know a lot, but I can’t sit here and say, Here is why we have so much obesity.

Intellectual Humility Finds Favor

It isn’t just obesity. Thoughtful people are coming to recognize the importance of recognizing the possibility of errors in their own beliefs. Writing about it has exploded in the last ten years. Brian Resnick describes it in Vox:

“It’s about entertaining the possibility that you may be wrong and being open to learning from the experience of others. Intellectual humility is about being actively curious about your blind spots.”

Humility and Convictions Can Co-Exist

In no way does humility preclude confidence in the knowledge we gain or the convictions we hold. Asking hard questions can serve to refine and strengthen them. Perhaps it can also help us moderate our expressions of these convictions. Philosophers Michael Hannon and Ian James Kidd recently wrote about the interaction of political convictions and humility. Hannon explains the opportunity for improvement in public discourse:

“A humble person might keep quiet, speak only about the very limited range of topics about which they are genuinely informed. Such quieter forms of humility are rarely appreciated in our noisy, know-it-all society, with its onus on having lots of views and loudly broadcasting them.”

Without a doubt, we can be confident that we know much more about obesity than ever before, and in fact, we know enough to value humility about the limits of our knowledge.

Click here for further perspective from Covert on WebMD, here for more from Resnick on Vox, here and here for more from Hannon and Kidd.

Pride of Place, painting by Briton Riviere / WikiArt

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July 9, 2023

One Response to “Humility to Know What We Don’t Know About Obesity”

  1. July 09, 2023 at 10:09 am, Mary-Jo said:

    ITA with Jim Hill, except to say that I think we’re here with so much obesity because of the thinking for SO long — way TOO long — that we “knew” ‘eat less, move more’ was the answer to treatment, to prevention, for public health campaigns! Since the 70s, thankfully, obesity has been identified as multifactorial, but the onus on treating, preventing, and DOING something to decrease its occurrence was on individuals. People with other health conditions and diseases were taken much more seriously than people with obesity. I don’t mean to minimize the importance of helping people with other diseases, but folks with obesity need help, children with it or at high risk need help, populations around the world need actions to address it. May progress and momentum continue.☀️