Scolding Instead of Helping with Chronic Illness

Cover Illustration of “The punishments” by Victor HugoWe have a problem with the health of America and it is fundamental. Chronic illness is killing too many of us too soon. It’s not getting better, either. Instead of helping with chronic illness, much of the response amounts to scolding the people who suffer with it.

Much of the problem can be traced to the high and rising prevalence of obesity. For example, Johns Hopkins professor Otis Brawley tells the Washington Post that obesity is poised to overtake tobacco as the number one “preventable” cause of cancer.

But if obesity is “preventable,” the track record of obesity prevention efforts is sad.

“Obesity Kills,
Prevention Is Easy”

An infographic credited to the World Health Organization paints a pretty clear picture of the dysfunctional approach to obesity. “Obesity is killing the world. Obesity is preventable,” it says. Prevention is as easy as ABC. “Adopt new healthy habits, Balance your calorie intake, Control your weight gain.”

Reality Is More Complicated

But if you take the time for a deeper look at the interaction of all the factors, social and economic, that interact to produce rising levels of obesity and chronic diseases, one thing is clear. Preventing obesity is not as simple as ABC. No way.

Yale professor Marcella Nunez-Smith explains that the public largely misunderstands these factors and acts as if they are someone else’s problem:

“There is a great deal of harm in the way that we somehow stigmatize social determinants, like that’s code for poor, people of color or something. And while that risk is not shared evenly, everyone is at a risk of not having these basic needs met.”

Meeting the Challenge

Scolding can have no place in strategies for helping to overcome the burden of chronic illness that impairs our health and prospects for long, productive lives. People do not “need to be educated” about how to lead a healthier life as so many self-professed gurus of lifestyle medicine are eager to tell us.

Rather, we need a fair chance to actually do it.

Click here for a deeper look at the burden of chronic illness we bear and the complex reality that contributes to it.

Cover Illustration of “The Punishments” by Victor Hugo, illustration by Émile Bayard / WikiArt

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October 8, 2023

One Response to “Scolding Instead of Helping with Chronic Illness”

  1. October 08, 2023 at 10:10 am, Allen Browne said: