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Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says

Posted by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 8:56 AM
  • 146 Replies



Question: What do you think of the bioethicist's call for more fat shaming?


It's a horrible, cruel idea

It might be worth a try to curb the obesity epedemic

I don't know

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Total Votes: 110

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Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says

Daniel Callahan, a prominent bioethicist, says heaping more stigma on overweight people may help curb obesity rates in the U.S. Others say there's plenty of stigma already out there.

Unhappy with the slow pace of public health efforts to curb America’s stubborn obesity epidemic, a prominent bioethicist is proposing a new push for what he says is an “edgier strategy” to promote weight loss: ginning up social stigma.

Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, put out a new paper this week calling for a renewed emphasis on social pressure against heavy people -- what some may call fat-shaming -- including public posters that would pose questions like this:

“If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

Callahan outlined a strategy that applauds efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

But, he added, those plans could do with a dose of shame if there’s any hope of repairing a nation where more than a third of adults and 17 percent of kids are obese.

“Safe and slow incrementalism that strives never to stigmatize obesity has not and cannot do the necessary work,” wrote Callahan in a Hastings Center Report from the nonprofit bioethics think tank.

Weight-acceptance advocates and doctors who treat obesity reacted swiftly to the plan proposed by Callahan, a trim 82-year-old.

“For him to argue that we need more stigma, I don’t know what world he’s living in,” said Deb Burgard, a California psychologist specializing in eating disorders and a member of the advisory board for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

“He must not have any contact with actual free-range fat people,” she added.

That view is shared by Dr. Tom Inge, an expert in childhood obesity at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“No amount of teasing, probing questions about what they wish they could do, or medications seem to help,” Inge said. “So if one is proposing to help them by more stigmatization, that would seem at once both antithetical and unethical.”

Still, Callahan, a former smoker, argued that public shunning of those who lit up led to plunging rates of cigarette use. People were asked to smoke outside and told directly or indirectly that their “nasty” habit was socially unacceptable.

“The force of being shamed and beat upon socially was as persuasive for me to stop smoking as the threats to my health,” he wrote. “The campaign to stigmatize smoking was a great success turning what had been considered simply a bad habit into reprehensible behavior.”

That same pressure could be applied to overweight people, perhaps leading to increased efforts by people to eat right, exercise  -- and actually succeed in losing weight, Callahan argued.

“The individual seems to be left out of this,” he told NBC News.

But the difference between smoking and obesity is huge, said Burgard, the eating disorder expert.

“Deciding whether to smoke or not is a behavior,” she said. “The weight your body is is not a behavior.”

Stigmatizing obesity targets not just the act, but the entire person.

“It’s a kind of identity you have that is actually the very most intimate thing about you: your very body,” she said.

Callahan does worry that increased stigma will lead to more retaliation against overweight people in employment and other areas. He frets about finding a way to pressure people to do something about their extra pounds, but without making them feel too badly about it.

“Can there be social pressure that does not lead to outright discrimination – a kind of stigmatization lite?” he wrote.

Callahan’s theory has drawn criticism, not only from obesity specialists, but also from other bioethicists. There’s already plenty of stigma heaped on the obese, said Art Caplan, the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, and an NBC News contributor.

“Zinging the chubby does not require a shift in our daily conversation,” he said. “Plenty of Americans are already more than willing to chide their fellow fatties about their weight.”

Instead of shaming people, social efforts should focus on forcing food manufacturers and marketers to stop creating what’s been termed an “obesogenic environment.”

“Calls on each of us to take more charge of our food behavior in an environment in which the promotion of fast, unhealthy foods is omnipresent and celebrity chefs extol the wonders of high-caloric meals on television hour after hour is to spit personal virtue against a tsunami of marketing coming in the other direction,” Caplan said.

Still, Inge, the medical expert, says Callahan’s call for more social pressure might play a role when it comes to prevention, particularly with parents of kids on the borderline of obesity.

“If we could somehow make an impact with an edgier approach with young parents who for convenience sake, or out of ignorance, poverty or whatever make very bad dietary and lifestyle choices for their unwitting toddler, that might be something very worthwhile,” Inge said.

 What do you think of the bioethicist's call for more fat shaming?  So you think this is a good idea?  Do you think it's only going to lead to more problems?  

I wish I could remove the poll.  I prefer people sharing their opinions in the responses and polls allow people to "hide".  

by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 8:56 AM
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Replies (1-10):
by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:03 AM
15 moms liked this
I'm pretty sure there are about a million things more pertinent and glaring that would be much more effective. Like, perhaps the academy of dietitians and nutritionists shouldn't be sponsored by coca cola. Perhaps we should change our food system so that healthy whole foods are more readily available and accessible than crap in a box.
There are tons of more things that need to be fixed. Fat shaming is completely ineffective.
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by Libertarian on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:08 AM
4 moms liked this

 The only thing I see this doing is bringing on more emotional eating.

Clearly fat-shaming hasn't worked. There's plenty of it going around, and yet the obesity rate is rising.

"Roger that. Over."

R   A   D    I    O    H    E    I    D

by Member on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:12 AM
5 moms liked this

If fat-shaming worked, there would be more skinny people in the world. And when fat-shaming does "work" it makes girls develop eating disorders, which is also unhealthy. I dont see any positive out of it.

by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:17 AM
Fat shaming will only cause more problems. Eating disorders will become even more prevelant and
You will just end up with a new group with different health problems. Kids already fat shame now and having been the heavy kid I remember going home crying and binging and throwing up by the time I was 7. Not to mention that since everyone is built differently some people may look fat and really be healthy. You can't judge a persons health solely on how they carry their weight.
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by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:29 AM
1 mom liked this

I don't think it would be effective.  I see evidence that the food most people eat "causes" obesity by several different means and that, unless people learn how to choose food and cook it differently, shaming will not accomplish anything other than frustration and depression.

by Whoopie on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:45 AM
4 moms liked this

Interesting, I just completed some electronic learning for my job. One of the vignettes focused on fat discrimination- this is a first.

I do not believe in fat shaming, but I think working the health care angle could be equally successful..higher costs, mandatory physical and other therapies to help deal with the psychology of overeating. Behaviors/choices have to change for weight loss to be successful over the long haul.

by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:50 AM
4 moms liked this
Fat shaming serves no purpose other than to feed a bullies superiority complex or make then feel better about themselves. Fat shaming is about vanity.

My grandma though she could shame her daughters and granddaughters to keep them skinny. Mom and sis have never been skinny. Guess it doesn't work
by on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:50 AM
4 moms liked this

 So bullying is okay as long as it is aimed at fat people?  No...I don't think this is a good idea.


by Platinum Member on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:55 AM
2 moms liked this

 I think it would have the potential to make the problem worse.  Part of the problem for people who are obese is low self-esteem.  If you don't feel you are worth healthier choices, you won't make them.

by Khaleesi on Jan. 24, 2013 at 9:59 AM
6 moms liked this

Umm....I'm going to be in the minority here, but I think a little shame is a good thing. The shift within the past decade has been one of acceptance. Instead of getting healthy, PC pushers have made the term "fat" as big of a taboo word to say in public as another F word of the four letter variety. It's all about "self esteem" and how it's ok to be big, and if you are concessions will be made for you. It's obviously not helping the obesity epidemic. If you call another member fat here on Cafemom, even though it's obviously true from looking at their pic, it's the equivalent of an internet hate crime. I just think people need to get real. It's not ok to be fat because your friends are. Its not ok to be fat just because new stores have popped up that make it possible for bigger women to dress in pretty clothes. It's not ok to be fat just because movie theatres have expanded their seats to accomodate a bigger butt.  You aren't a BBW, you're a pretty fat woman. Just be real. 

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