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07-08-2024

Fat people are bullied and harassed - even at the doctor's office

Prejudice against fat people is pervasive in our society, and public health initiatives aimed at reducing obesity have exacerbated the issue, according to Rekha Nath, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Alabama

Widespread aversion to fat people

In her new book, Why It’s OK To Be Fat, Nath argues for a fundamental change in how society views fatness. Instead of treating it as a problem to be eradicated, she suggests we should focus on social equality and address the systemic ways that society penalizes fat people for their body size.

“Being fat is seen as unattractive, as gross even. We view fat as a sign of weakness, of greediness, of laziness. And we have made the pursuit of thinness, bound up as it is with health, fitness, beauty, and discipline, into a moralized endeavor: making the ‘right’ lifestyle choices to avoid being fat is seen as a duty we each must fulfill,” she explained. 

This collective aversion to fatness translates into an aversion to fat people, leading to widespread bullying, harassment, and discrimination in various areas, including healthcare, education, and the workplace.

Global obesity rates have tripled

Research cited in Nath’s book shows that global obesity rates have tripled over the past 50 years, with severe obesity linked to lower life expectancy and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease. 

However, she delves deeper into the science of weight and health, revealing that diet and fitness may play a more significant role than weight alone. For example, a 2010 systematic review found that fit, obese individuals were less likely to die prematurely than unfit, normal-weight individuals.

Nath also highlights the ineffectiveness and potential harm of weight-loss advice, such as dieting. One review cited in her book found that many people who try to lose weight through dieting end up heavier in the long run, with 41% of dieters weighing more four to five years after dieting than before they started.

Stigmatizing fatness 

Public health campaigns aiming to help people lose weight often make the situation worse by stigmatizing fatness. “The consensus view in the literature on weight stigma is that it doesn’t help. Actually, it’s worse than that,” Nath said. 

“Not only does subjecting fat people to weight stigma seem to make it less likely that they will become thin, but, moreover, weight stigma appears to seriously harm their physical and mental health in many ways.” 

Research shows that people who feel stigmatized are less likely to lose weight and more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem.

Prejudice against fat people

In her book, Nath discusses at great length the profound prejudice fat people face, impacting their lives significantly. She cites studies showing that children as young as three prefer playmates who aren’t chubby, and that one in three American college students agree that becoming obese would be “one of the worst things that could happen to a person.”

Nath envisions a world where fat people enjoy equitable healthcare, workforce inclusion, and the ability to appear in public without shame. “It is OK to be fat because there’s nothing wrong with being fat. There’s nothing wrong with being fat, of course, except for all that our society does to make it bad to be fat: oppressing fat people for their body size by imposing on them the gross injustice of sizeism,” she said.

Thus, Nath’s work calls for a paradigm shift in addressing fatness, focusing on combating sizeism and promoting social equality for all body sizes.

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