Does Treating Obesity Make Us Fat-Phobic?

Birds, Also Birds, Fish Snake, and ScarecrowIn The Conversation this week, Emma Beckett tells us that drugs for treating obesity won’t cure it, “but they might make us more fat-phobic.” Her rationale is simple enough. All the buzz “plays into ideas of fat stigma and fat phobia.” No matter that doctors, scientists, and the FDA all say otherwise, she says these drugs offer nothing new. They are merely “the latest in a long line of weight loss drugs.” She explains that diet culture keeps doing this to us, “continuing the cycle of hope and shame” because inevitably these drugs will disappoint us.

Her narrative is all too clear. If a medicine doesn’t work miraculously for everyone, then it’s a pointless scam.

Reality Is a Bummer

We suspect that Beckett knows a thing or two about coping with infirmities and illness. We all get these lessons. Some of us learn it at a very early age. Others might be lucky enough not to bump into serious or chronic health problems until later in life. But sooner or later it becomes clear that we will have to face the reality that health problems accumulate. Expecting a lifetime of perfect health or miraculous cures for every health issue along the way is simply unrealistic.

We accept the bumps and do the best we can to cope.

Pursuing Good Health Is Not Futile

The good news here is that coping with obesity is not as futile as it once was. People are excited about these drugs because they are genuinely more helpful than other things that have come before. Just as metabolic surgery proved to be a big advance for many people, these drugs expand the options for people who find obesity is compromising their health and are seeking care.

Eventually, Beckett comes around to speaking a fundamental truth. “Drugs are tools, not silver bullets,” she writes. She is indeed right on this point.

Better Tools

But having better tools for dealing with a medical problem (even if they’re not magical) does not make us fear the problem more. We have much better tools for treating many forms of cancer than we had in the not so distant past. They are not magic, but they are making conversations about a cancer diagnosis less difficult. Witness the ongoing experience of Princess Catherine and King Charles.

Did vaccines for COVID make us fear it more?

So honestly, we cannot see how it is reasonable to assert that having better tools for treating obesity will make us more fat-phobic. Instead, we should take this opportunity for better conversations about a misunderstood disease.

Click here for Beckett’s dubious commentary. For perspective on the reasons that these medicines are indeed important breakthroughs, you can look here, here, and here.

Birds also Birds, Fish Snake and Scarecrow; painting by Max Ernst / WikiArt

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April 13, 2024