Why Fat-Shaming Only Perpetuates Obesity, According to Science
Why Fat-Shaming Only Perpetuates Obesity, According to Science Why Fat-Shaming Only Perpetuates Obesity, According to Science

Why Fat-Shaming Only Perpetuates Obesity, According to Science

by Tod Perry Nov 19, 2019

Comedian Bill Maher ruffled a lot of feathers last September when he suggested Americans can help lower healthcare costs by collectively losing weight.

“At next Thursday’s debate, one of the candidates has to say, ‘The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.’ All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don’t lift a finger to help,” Maher said sternly.

“I know that this is a controversial thing to say now in today’s America, but being fat is a bad thing,” he said. “Fat-shaming doesn’t need to end. It needs to make a comeback. Some amount of shame is good,”

Maher believes that the body positivity movement makes being obese socially acceptable, destigmatizing a health condition that is a leading cause of death and costs the U.S. economy $1.7 trillion a year.

While we can all agree that obesity is a serious health problem, Maher’s solution is the exact opposite of how it should be solved.

A 2017 study from the University of North Carolina found that “teasing and stigmatizing others because of their weight does not motivate them to lose weight. Instead, the effect from the teasing or stigmatizing contributes to many adverse health consequences, including future weight gain.”

Further, a 2017 metanalysis of 33 different studies, found that people experiencing constant shaming were more likely to have depression, anxiety, high levels of stress hormones, and low self-esteem. This made them much more likely to binge eat.

There’s no avoiding it, fat-shaming only works to perpetuate obesity.

“I think sometimes parents misguidedly think that if they tease the child, that it will motivate them to try harder to lose weight,” Marlene Schwartz, a psychologist and the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity told NPR. “But there’s virtually no evidence that that works. And in fact, there’s evidence that it causes harm.”

The external and internal shame that comes with being overweight is so extreme that many deny the fact they are obese so they can avoid the stigma.

“The stigma attached to being ‘overweight,’ accurate personal identification of ‘overweight’ or ‘obesity’ may actually be to the detriment of an individual’s psychological well‐being,” Popular Science says.

While others are unaware they are overweight due to the sheer number of obese people they see around them.

According to The Washington Post, seven in ten Americans are obese or overweight, but only 36 percent think they have a weight problem.

“As a person’s social contacts gain weight, it seems to change the person’s idea about what an acceptable body size is,” Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist, told The Washington Post. “This may result in the person him/herself gaining weight, or, even if it does not, it makes the person more accepting of other people’s weight gain.”

Fat-shaming only makes the problem worse and many people don’t even know they’re overweight.

This situation creates an obvious conundrum for those who’d like to see our loved ones, friends, and neighbors shed a few pounds.

Jennifer Kormerg, PsyD, agrees that shaming isn’t the way.

“Shame may make your loved one eat healthy (or restrict their intake) in front of you, but it doesn’t create long-term change. If fact, shame is likely to promote exactly the behaviors you hope to help your loved one avoid,” she wrote in Psychology Today.

She also believes it’s best not to force the issue. “Discussing one’s weight is an extremely personal and sensitive matter. It might need to be done slowly, over time,” she writes.

Instead, she suggests a subtle, heartfelt approach to discussing weight loss.

“Phrases like, ‘I’m so worried about your high blood pressure,’ or, ‘I don’t ever want to lose you or have your health suffer,’ are helpful ways to communicate that your concern comes from a place of love.”

She also believes that it does no one any good to assign blame or fault. “Try to avoid appearing to assign blame and fault by instead framing your discussion in terms of support and help.”