Let’s rethink fatness, academic suggests

The Acceptance of fatness.

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Prejudice against fatness in people is common in our society, and public health efforts to reduce obesity have made things worse, says a U.S. academic.

In her new book, “Why It’s OK To Be Fat,” Rekha Nath, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama, calls for a significant change in how society views fatness.

Nath argues that instead of seeing fatness as something to eliminate, society should view it through the lens of social equality and address the systematic discrimination against fat people.

Nath explains that being fat is seen as unattractive and a sign of weakness, greediness, and laziness. We treat the pursuit of thinness as a moral duty, associating it with health, fitness, beauty, and discipline.

This negative view of fatness leads to discrimination against fat people. They are bullied, harassed, and receive worse healthcare due to harmful stereotypes held by medical professionals. Classmates and teachers tease fat students, and fat people face widespread discrimination at work, which is legal in most places.

According to research in the book, global obesity rates have tripled in the past 50 years. The World Health Organization calls childhood obesity a significant global public health challenge. Nath explains that severe obesity is linked to lower life expectancy and higher risks of diabetes and heart disease.

However, Nath also explores the science of weight and health beyond these figures. She shows that diet and fitness might be more important for health than weight alone. For example, a 2010 review of 36 studies found that fit, obese people were less likely to die early than unfit, normal-weight people.

Nath also points out that telling fat people to lose weight by eating less and exercising more is often ineffective and can be harmful. One review found that 41% of people who diet weigh more after four to five years than before dieting.

Nath shows that many public health campaigns aiming to help people lose weight can make things worse by stigmatizing fatness.

She explains, “Weight stigma doesn’t help. It makes things worse. Stigmatizing fat people makes it less likely they will lose weight and harms their physical and mental health.”

She cites research showing that stigmatized people are less likely to lose weight. One study of over 6,000 people found that those who experienced weight discrimination were more likely to become or stay obese.

“Many studies show that people who face weight stigma are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem,” she adds.

Nath writes that prejudice against fat people is severe and affects their lives in natural ways. She cites studies showing that even three-year-olds prefer playmates who aren’t chubby, and a survey of over 800 American college students found that one in three think becoming obese is one of the worst things that could happen.

In her book, Nath envisions a world where fat people have equal access to healthcare, are included in the workforce, and can be in public without shame.

She states, “It’s OK to be fat because there’s nothing wrong with being fat. The problem is how society oppresses fat people by making it bad to be fat through sizeism.”

Journal reference:

  1. Nath, R. (2024). Why It’s OK to Be Fat (1st ed.). Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780367853389.
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