Food shaming and obesity headlines

obese womanIn the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of obesity-related news stories.  Not that we need anymore bad news about obesity, but I thought the stories were diverse enough to deserve some attention:

CDC says hundreds of thousands of people die unnecessarily each year

Basically the CDC says almost 900,000 people younger than 80 die of preventable causes every year.  Other than accidents, the main causes are heart disease, cancer, stroke and upper respiratory disease (such as flu).  Heart disease, cancer and stroke are all lifestyle-related, and the risk for all of them increases with higher BMI.  Losing weight lowers risk, although obviously there are no guarantees that losing weight will prevent all disease risk.  But why not take advantage of the benefits?

Unnecessary deaths Part 2

The Southeast had the highest prevalence of these preventable deaths.  No surprise there.  Obesity is higher in Southeastern states.

Healthy obesity is a myth

No surprise here.  The surprise was that people were actually arguing that obesity was no big deal, because some obese people don’t have overt symptoms of heart disease.  But looking at their arteries tells a different story.  Obese people without symptoms have much more significant calcification of arteries.

Food Shaming — Just Say No

The concept of Food Shaming — expressing unwelcome judgmental observations about what other people are eating, or what you yourself are eating — is rampant.  It’s indicative of a destructive and fearful attitude about food, probably tied to weight obsession and disordered eating behavior.  And it doesn’t even have to be aimed at an overweight person.  Here’s a real life example: two female friends go out to lunch.  Both are thin and fit.  “Jane” orders a pious salad; “Linda” orders a lovely panini sandwich.  “Jane” looks at the sandwich and says “Oh, look at all that bread.”  Food shaming at work.  Fortunately, “Linda” was suitably disgusted by that nasty statement and enjoyed her sandwich.

A less self-assured person, or someone self-conscious about her weight, might not react the same.  Peer pressure in a group situation (at work, at school, with friends) can turn normal food into massive guilt.

What to do:

If you know you do this, STOP.  No one wants to hear it.  It’s not helpful.  It’s not a way to win friends and influence people.  And frankly, it will end up making you look bad.  Food should be enjoyed.  Unfortunately, your food shaming efforts are likely to backfire, when those people go home and secretly binge on comfort foods later to make up for not eating what they wanted.

It can be a fine line between judgmental food shaming and encouraging good food choices.  Let’s say you frequently lunch with a friend who struggles with weight, but always wants to order burgers with super sized fries and a milk shake.  Rather than making unhelpful comments about those choices, be proactive with positive advice.  Suggest a different restaurant that offers better choices.  Model good behavior by ordering healthier choices and smaller portions yourself.  Comment about how delicious your friend’s healthier/smaller portion meal looks to you (note the word “delicious”, not “healthier”).

Fat Shaming

This goes hand in hand with food shaming.  And it doesn’t work either.  In fact, it’s an especially bad idea with children.  A new study shows that when 10 year old girls are labeled “too fat” they are far more likely to be obese by age 19 than girls who never heard that label.  Family members had the worst effect, even though it’s likely parents or siblings are well-intentioned, hoping the “too fat” label will inspire the 10 year old girl to diet.  But it doesn’t; quite the opposite.

What to do:

If you’re a parent or family member of an overweight child, rather than using fat talk, change the conversation (and the food choices) to healthy eating and staying active.  And if you hear that the child’s friends are making those types of statements, you need to intervene.

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