Barhite: No shame in addressing obesityWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
The newest (and most controversial) idea to fight America’s growing obesity epidemic is to shame overweight people into getting thin.
The proposed strategy could include a social campaign that would pose difficult questions, one of them being, “Fair or not, do you know that many people look down upon those excessively overweight or obese, often in fact discriminating against them and making fun of them or calling them lazy and lacking in self-control?”
Bioethicist Daniel Callahan is the scholar behind the idea of putting social pressure on heavy people, which some are calling “fat shaming.”
He argues that it worked with smoking, and could inspire overweight people to commit to eating healthy, exercising regularly ?– and then sticking with it. Currently, obese people are oblivious to their problem because they look like everyone else, he said.
“As a smoker, I was at first criticized for my nasty habit and eventually, along with all the others, sent outside to smoke, and my cigarette taxes were constantly raised,” he wrote in the article, “Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic.” “The force of being shamed and beat upon socially was as persuasive for me to stop smoking as the threats to my health.”
Local health providers disagree, calling it unproductive.
“Most of my patients who are overweight or in the obese category are pretty well aware of their situation and it is not necessary to point out or individualize a person in that situation,” said Dr. Matt Roth, medical director of ProMedica Wellness.
Actually, the opposite is the best strategy. Instead of criticizing unhealthy behaviors, ProMedica employees are rewarded for healthy behaviors. The idea is to engage them with an incentive and then hope they are inspired by intrinsic motivators to continue the lifestyle change.
“People are in different stages of readiness to make a change,” said Laura Ritzler, co-director of ProMedica Wellness. “Sometimes they need to move along slowly, and shaming them doesn’t move them along.”
Roth also said weight doesn’t determine overall health. Thin people who aren’t eating healthy or exercising regularly are in danger as well. He recommends small changes for all sizes because people can’t go from unhealthy to totally healthy in just a few days.
“I tell my people that the goal is 30 minutes of exercise every day, but if they could just start with 5-10 minutes every day,” Roth said.
Changes could include using the staircase instead of the elevator and parking farther away. As for adjusting one’s diet, even just cutting down to one soda per day would result in a caloric deficit, Roth said.
At ProMedica, Ritzler said employees participate in a challenge that allows them to get points for keeping a food diary and weighing themselves once per week, which are both actions that can lead to weight loss.
Some overweight people already have a poor self-image, and shaming them will make them feel worse and possibly lead to emotional overeating, Ritzler said. Also, a weight-loss program structured around the “biggest loser” concept could lead to people starving themselves and eventually returning to their old ways.
Ritzler said ProMedica is willing to bring this challenge into other workplaces. Work sites are great places for such initiatives because employers want their employees to be healthy and can provide incentives to jump-start the journey.
“People are a captive audience at a work site and have the social support of employees,” Ritzler said.
Plus, there’s no shame in trying to make it fun.
Email questions or comments to Toledo Free Press Community Ombudsman Brandi Barhite at bbarhite@toledofree press.com.