“Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.”
This catchphrase, taken from one state’s childhood obesity–prevention program, is intended to provoke while seeking to direct attention to a growing health crisis. It, indeed, does that. The problem, however, is that the nation’s war against obesity—catchphrases and all—far too often is wandering into dangerous territory. The fight against “fat” is turning into a fight that is not against obesity but instead against those who are obese.
There has been an alarming rise in obesity rates over the past few decades, with estimates suggesting that one-third of adults and children are overweight or obese, with 12.5 million children falling into the obese category. It is clear that something must be done. But how can communities create positive change without adding to the insidious problem of weight-based prejudice? The key is in examining attitudes about obesity, specifically weight-based prejudice and stereotypes, and how they are having an impact on the public policy being created to try to deal with the epidemic.
Weight-based stereotypes imply that the obesity epidemic is the result of poor lifestyle choices and general laziness. If this were the case, we could simply create interventions that punish poor behavior. Unfortunately, the reality of the obesity epidemic is far more complex. Widespread weight gain has been spurred by cultural changes resulting in time and resource limitations, changes in leisure-time activities, and advances in food technology. Only through examining our stereotyped attitudes toward obesity can we move past overly simplistic and potentially hurtful programs to embrace interventions aimed at these more important societal influences.