Trash Talk About Obesity and Food

Three MenFood policy advocates are sharing a music video that captures a certain way of thinking. The choruses are nothing but trash talk about obesity and food. “It’s your own damn fault,” says one verse. In the next, “a team of evil scientists through rigorous testing created the most abominable snacks.” So it draws us into a pointless (and misleading) cycle of blame and shame. The implicit message is that the root cause of obesity is bad behaviors. But it offers us an out – blaming food companies for selling bad food instead of ourselves.

The current label for that bad food is “ultra-processed.” But the target keeps moving. Fifty years ago, the problem was fat. Then the high-fat problem gave way to a focus on carbs and sugar. From there, finger wagging moved on to hyper-palatable and ultra-processed foods.

False Certainty

People do like to feel good about the food they eat. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu – just about every faith tradition has dietary laws and practices aimed at promoting righteous living.

As people become less religious, the impulse for righteous living does not fade. So healthy eating and active living can serve to fill the void. We can signal our virtue with time at the gym, active sportswear, and pontification about the healthy food we eat. Food makers and FDA are working hard on seals of approval for healthy food. The claims will help them sell more of their tasty products – even if those claims mainly serve to promote overconsumption that is anything but healthy.

Certainty about healthy eating and lifestyles can be quite misleading.

Pointless, Misleading Blame

Patterns of food consumption and human behavior are as much a result of rising obesity as they are the cause of it. At its root, obesity is a problem of physiology, promoted across the population in susceptible individuals, by more than just the food supply. Our physical and technical environments make routine movement less frequent throughout our days of sitting in front of screens and riding in vehicles. Drugs and chemicals disrupt our endocrine systems to push our weight higher. Many forms of stress and misery activate physical responses that drive us to eat for pleasure and comfort we are not getting elsewhere in our lives.

In short, bad behavior does not explain the problem and bad food does not fully explain it either. Blame gets us nowhere. But medical care for obesity is beginning to be a big help. It can make changes possible that have, until now, seemed impossible.

Much of the talk about obesity – alternating between blaming food companies and the people who consume their products – is nothing but trash talk. The energy that goes into such talk needs to shift – toward helping people living with obesity and finding real, effective ways to change the dynamics that are causing it.

So we’re not sharing that noxious video of blame and shame. We’ve had enough of it already.

Three Men, painting by Ossip Zadkine / WikiArt

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May 19, 2024

2 Responses to “Trash Talk About Obesity and Food”

  1. May 19, 2024 at 10:47 am, Joe Gitchell said:

    Not quite in the exact same vein, but perhaps both feeding in to the same inferior vena cava, this campaign from the Australia Dept of Health and Aged Care is trying to warn youth away from vaping by enlisting an influencer.

    Some NSFW/ick (I suspect most of your readers are not in the target demographic, Ted!).

    I wonder if the staff that commissioned these comms may have a similar sense of superiority to those who vape as the creators of your aforementioned video?


    My employer, PinneyAssociates, Inc., provides consulting services on tobacco harm minimization for JUUL Labs, Inc., on an exclusive basis.

  2. May 19, 2024 at 11:40 am, Allen Browne said:

    1. Obesity is a disease

    2. Obesity is not the individual’s fault. We do not know enough about the cause of the disease to make it anyone/anything’s fault.

    3. We have tools to help everyone with the disease of obesity. They should be available to all people with the disease – all ethnicities, all races, all socio-economic groups, all ages – all people – it’s morally, ethically, and economically right.