Anti-obesity vs. Fat Acceptance - Weighing Both Sides, Part Two
Thought bullets for this month conclude the insights from an article I summarized last month. The authors make a strong argument that the current national debate over obesity is as much about morality as it is about mortality. At the center of the debate (antiobesity vs. fat acceptance) lies the issue of whether or not people’s body weights are within their control.
Proponents of the antiobesity approach argue that poor diet and inactivity are highly correlated (although not perfectly) with obesity. They further argue that body weight is easily measured where poor diet and inactivity are difficult to measure.
The authors of this article believe both camps (antiobesity and fat acceptance) are often embattled in efforts to discredit each other. Supporters of the antiobesity approach often question the academic credentials of their fat acceptance opponents. Fat acceptance advocates counter argue that their real life experiences are too often discounted. On the other hand, supporters of the fat acceptance approach often question conflicts of interests of obesity researchers when their research on obesity drug therapy is funded by pharmaceutical companies. Although fat acceptance supporters may suggest obesity researchers can not be trusted because they must protect their financial interests, antiobesity supporters counter that their fat acceptance rivals are equally not trustworthy because they are simply finding a way to excuse their bad behavior and avoid taking personal responsibility for their weight.
Part of the battle over how to best address the obesity issue lies with the body size of the person making the argument and how that person is perceived by others. Researchers with impeccable academic credentials often feel they are discredited if they are heavy. The authors state, “That a fat person is incapable of speaking objectively about weight seems to be readily accepted, although the idea that a thin person would be biased in a different buy equally strong direction seems less intuitive.”
The different camps (antiobesity vs. fat acceptance) see completely different methods for effectively addressing obesity. The antiobesity approach views obesity as a preventable health risk and argues there should be less tolerance towards obesity. The fat acceptance approach believes obesity should be addressed through diversity training, greater social tolerance, and efforts to decrease size discrimination.
A small group of fat acceptance promoters believe the weight police have simply been replaced with the nutrition and physical activity police. They believe a greater societal good would be realized if less efforts went toward promoting healthy food selections and increased physical activity and more efforts went toward social injustices like prejudice, violence, and materialism that detract from overall health and well-being. For example, they argue fat people’s health is often compromised due to the prejudice directed toward them by medical professionals. This prejudicial medical behavior often results in heavy individuals avoiding preventive care.
The authors conclude the article by stating the seemingly endless debates over scientific methods and findings surrounding the topic of obesity may be more about morality issues than true differences over scientific techniques. At the heart of the issue lies the basic premise that body weight is within a person’s control. If body weight is within a person’s control, then an increase in obesity can be viewed as a spread of immoral behavior having to do with gluttony. If, on the other hand, obesity is viewed as a medical disorder and beyond a person’s control, there are still stigmas associated with being fat having to do with being a diseased and biologically flawed human being. One fat acceptance advocate quoted in the article feared the discovery of a fat gene because she could see a day when parents would terminate a pregnancy of a child carrying the gene. Many fat acceptance advocates oppose obesity being labeled as a disease because it implies an obligation on the sick person to get well; rather than viewing an obese person as a unique person with a diverse body type.
Source: Saguy AC, Riley KW. Weighing both sides: morality, mortality, and framing contests over obesity. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 30(5):869-921.
Compiled by Betty Holmes, MS, RD
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