Are health messages blocked because of fear of fat shaming?

Are health messages blocked because of fear of fat shaming?

There are always going to be headlines about weight issues. As a nation we’re obsessed. It sells advertising space and is high on our list of priorities, so the media keep talking about it. What will be the latest magic bullet to help shift the pounds? And on the flip side there is the argument that if it’s so hard to shift excess weight then it’s not our fault and we should therefore embrace it. The media are quite happy to use this narrative too.

The latest clickbait headline was perfect for the media to feast upon. “Can you fit into the jeans you wore at 21?” This was from the Daily Mail. The article touches briefly on the study it came from which investigated indicators for future diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

“Professor Roy Taylor, from Newcastle University, said: ‘If you can’t get into the same size trousers now, you are carrying too much fat and therefore at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, even if you aren’t overweight.’ “

Cue a social media storm about it not being helpful and inciting fat shaming. The article then went on to tell of four smug people who all still fit into the same jeans now in their 40’s. It also grieved me to see that the online page had links to other Daily Mail articles all focussing on celebrity women’s bodies, perpetuating this obsession with the perfect image of beauty.

The message Professor Taylor was trying to get across was lost in the brouhaha.

The message is this, for the good of your health it matters how fat is being stored in your body. And if it is being laid down around your internal organs which translates to your waist increasing, you are at increased risk for not just type 2 diabetes but every other disease you can think of.

Of course, his analogy is not perfect. Some people will be able to maintain more subcutaneous fat (fat on the outside) without having much visceral fat (the fat around the organs) and vice versa. As the professor mentions, some seemingly ‘normal’ weight people will have plenty of visceral fat but that would probably still impact their waist measurement as they age.

I, myself, would not be a good example either, because the jeans I wore at 21 would have been four sizes larger than the jeans I wear today. So, this message isn’t helpful for people who have been overweight their whole lives. I’m sure there could be plenty of vitriol aimed at me because people can’t easily see my health history (unless they’ve seen my website!) and are quick to judge. “How would you know what it’s like to be overweight?” Well, the term fat shaming wasn’t even invented when I was a child in the 1970’s and taunted for being larger than everyone else. It shaped my erratic eating and constant dieting until I was 40 when I was lucky enough to discover the importance of nutrition. Yes, I know what fat shaming feels like alright.

It is no wonder we have the staunch defenders of the overweight and obese, as in the UK more than half of the population are in this category. But it does need to be shouted from the rooftops “It doesn’t have to be this way!” And it shouldn’t block the health messages that will save lives.

In 1980 approx. 14% of the population were in this category, so why would it have changed so much? It’s because our food system is broken. Our traditional ways of eating have been replaced by convenience and we called it progress. As we’ve handed our health to Big Food and Big Pharma we progressed to become increasingly overweight and sicker. It suits them to sustain confusion, having us arguing amongst ourselves, so that we never take control of our own health and cease to be their customers.

I agree that there is no place for fat shaming, it is not the individuals’ fault that they have been misled by the businesses that have no interest in their health. Those businesses depend on the opposite. But defending the status quo drowns out the real headlines to alleviate the problems we’re facing.

The real message will always be to completely focus on the right human nutrition.

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