May 6, 2011

Obesity Shaming Will Only Make Us Fatter!

This is the ultimate example of how our culture accepts
obesity shaming.  What would people do if there was
a picture of a person with a disability or someone in
need of help? That would be mean and socially
unacceptable. However, posting a picture like this
with a caption like this and it's funny.  When will this
become socially unexcepted also?
I was on the stationary bike the other day with my usual stack of trashy magazines (I'm not proud of it, but I do have a penchant for People Magazine and celebrity gossip). ANYWAY...I felt really intellectual as I pulled a "Maclean's" magazine from my pile and started reading an article entitled, "On why shaming won't stop obesity, why vouchers might, and losing 80 pounds", and interview with Neil Seeman, Director of the Health Strategy Innovation Cell at the University of Toronto and author of Obesity and the Limits of Shame.  I literally started screaming and bouncing up and down on my seat from the excitement of finally reading something that made sense to me (as it related to the obesity "epidemic"). Really...I forgot where I was until people started to look at me funny. For over 5 years now, I have been suggesting that our health promotion campaigns and strategies will only make our communities fatter, more stressed out, and less healthy.  I have had countless debates with other health promoters until I was blue in the face until I finally stopped talking about it and (funny enough) started this blog because of my frustration (lest I push my frustration down deep and develop a cancer lump or something).  It felt amazing to be able to read an article suggesting the same thing...from a guy who deals in health strategy (I love you Mr. Seeman).

I love how "death" is highlighted. Like if your kid
continues to sit on the couch with that smirk on
his face and console in his hand....he going to die! 
In a nutshell he stated, the mass messaging of "eat your veggies and get some exercise" (oh, and loose that panus) are too generic and wash over the receiver without making an impact. I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of the same campaigns, advertisements, and scare tactics to get people to "get healthy".  It is also suggested that the shock and awe technique of listing all the diseases you can get if you get fat (at risk of repeating myself, more research shows that you are healthier at a higher BMI - body mass index - than one that is determined "healthy" but I digress...) can actually promote people to eat more.  Kinda like shaming the smoker to quit smoking...it rarely works. Moreover, Mr. Seeman explains that the culture of mocking the obese (as we consistently see in popular culture and in our school system) has seeped into our obesity policies. As one of my favorite researchers, Patricia Vertinsky has said,  "...health promotion programs are value-judgements wrapped up in scientific packages." God, I love that woman.

So if campaigns and scare tactics don't work....what the heck does? It is no surprise to read Mr. Seeman's suggestion of individualized programming for weight loss.  With so many determinants of health (social, psychological, environmental, genetic, economic, etc.) you cannot expect a "one size fits all" approach to work (like that of campaigns). The negative side to this, of course, is cost and attention it takes to offer this approach to health. It is more efficient to dedicate a week to eating healthy or a day to movement (i.e. Move for Health Day...coming soon to a town near you) than it is to work individually with folks. BUT that is exactly what we need to reduce the waist size of the country. 

This culture of mocking the obese does find its way into policy, because knowing there's acceptance of shaming creates an apetite to use it as a tool in a public health campaign.  One reason for the embrace of shock tactics is political expediency. There's an absolute urgency sense by governemnts around the world, that they have to be seen to be doing something.
- Neil Seeman

This is an obvious attempt at grossing you out. Warning: you drink Coke and you will be drinking yourself fat! Very similar is the marketing campaign for cigarettes with the rotting teeth pictures and shots of mouth cancer....yet people continue to light up...it just doesn't work.

That is why I am such a believer of Health Coaching (HC) and the equivalent. With HC you work alongside someone that will take into account your personal challenges and determinants for gaining weight, lack of exercise, or "unhealthy" eating behaviour. The HC, or counsellor, will then create a plan of action specific to your needs and work with you through the change process. Fitness trainers know exercise science and can tell you what to do based upon your fitness goals and nutritional specialists (or registered dietitian nutritionists) can tell you what to eat based upon your goals (and the food guide). A Health Coach can take this information and pull it together to create a plan of action that will lead you to successful behaviour change and, ultimately, your long term goal success!

I like this one. Nice and simple..just letting you know that
if you eat this hot dog it will explode in your stomach and
kill you instantly (mmmmm.....hot dogs).
My dream before I die (my bucket list item - if you want to coin the irritating term made popular by a movie I have yet to see) is to see the health care system accept and respect the profession of health coaching (or health counselling...a title I like better but made pretty impossible to use unless you have the appropriate education behind you - at least in BC).  Neil Seeman's article represents the tip of the enlightened iceberg and I hope we can look forward to seeing more of them overtime. However, like everything else, a change in policy (or how we do and think of things) usually takes years and years before we see something concrete. Luckily, I have the patience.

Have a wonderful weekend. I'm starting my first course towards a masters in counselling psychology this weekend. By 50...I should be ready for my new career!

K

Nope...nothing. I could read this sign as I was choking down a dynamite hot dog and not give two thoughts about my risk of diabetes, cancer, stroke, and my untimely death...this dog is waaaaay too good to care.



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