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View on Fat and Obesity Changing

For those of you who fear being stigmatized for your larger-than-average size, finally, some good news. The article, “Fat stigma fading? Fewer see obesity as problem of bad personal choices, survey says” (11/6/14, WBUR’s CommonHealth), tells us that new research indicates that “the general public and health care providers are starting to view obesity as a ‘community problem of shared risks’ as opposed to a personal problem stemming from ‘bad choices.’”

Quotes from the Obesity Society News suggest a “significant shift in perceptions of obesity in 2014,” and that “data also show differences among various demographic groups. In 2014, younger and higher income respondents more likely view obesity as a community problem. Older respondents more likely view it as a medical problem. Male and rural respondents more likely view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices.”

Says Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Deputy Director at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity speaking on behalf of The Obesity Society, “These trends are encouraging because they suggest a shift away from simplistic, biased views that focus on personal blame. The more that people recognize shared risks for obesity, the more likely they are to support evidence-based approaches to reducing obesity’s impact.”

Aside from its heartening conclusions, this information is intriguing, proving that there is no one true way to view obesity. Is it personal, biological, societal, environmental, medical—or all of the above? Do you understand that whatever your perception is, it’s just that, one view of the problem—yours? Think about which of the above-listed categories you fit into: old, young, male, high income, low income female, city, rural. Not to mention different ethnicities which are not included in the Obesity Society study. Be aware that whichever category you’re in may have a strong effect on your perception of obesity. Now consider most of the people you know—family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.—and note which category they fit into. If you’re surrounded by rural, white, old men with lower than average incomes you’re probably going to get a different take on fat and overweight than you would get from affluent, young, city non-white women.

It’s great news that views of weight and size are evolving, in part due to the recognition that fat stigmatizing and shaming help no one, least of all fat people. Make it your business never to fat shame and start viewing obesity as a shared community problem. Challenge the “personal failing” view whenever possible and change some minds.