Let’s lose the shame about body shape

Though we aren’t exactly sure what will eventually help us lead more nutritionally healthy lives we do know what won’t work: shame.

Americans are struggling to maintain a healthy weight, no one can dispute this. Though some health advocates and policy makers continue to try to simplify the issue down to calories in versus calories out, obesity is a very complex issue and there is no magic solution. Environment, genetics, depression, stress, anxiety, socioeconomic class, processed foods, sedentary lives and habits are just a few factors that contribute to the inability to gauge the right amount of food for our bodies.

We aren’t exactly sure what will eventually help us lead more nutritionally healthy lives, but we do know what won’t work: shame. In fact, there is a clear connection between overeating and feeling shamed. The latest anti-obesity campaign from the state of Minnesota has drawn wide spread criticism, not just because it doesn’t seem nice, but because we know that being punitive does not motivate any one to make a change in their behavior.

It seems that people change when it feels possible (self-efficacy), when there is a personal motivator and when the messages around the change are aimed at a specific behavior in a positive way. In fact, just saying obesity seems to put people off (because this isn’t a behavior, it is an adjective describing a body shape). Messages targeting positive behaviors such as Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” are the most well-received and the most likely to be acted upon. Perhaps this is because as human beings, we don’t liked to be overwhelmed or feel like potential failures. Provide one positive message with one thing that can be done today. We seem to be able to handle that – especially if the behavior is important to the individual.

There is more than enough weight bias to go around, especially toward youth. In fact, the stigma associated with obesity creates another set of potential health consequences to the overweight individual. It is true, America cannot afford the impending health costs associated with the disease states that are linked to obesity. It is also true that America cannot afford to continue to approach this issue with shame, stigma and messages that have been repeatedly proven to be ineffective. Real action, at the legislative level, is likely to be needed to change the weight of a nation.

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