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Topic 1 - How Society Views Obesity

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Old 06-18-2007, 09:21 AM   #1
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Default Topic 1 - How Society Views Obesity

I'm totally bogged down in the book summary at the moment but really want to get us started on the discussion. So let's kick off with a topic that everyone here can relate to without having read the book -- how our society views obesity and the obese.

Two quotes from the book:

“Overweight people have a condition that is unacceptable in our society,” said Kelly Brownell. And, he added, unlike people who are blind or deaf, fat people are told they could be thin if they really wanted to. “It’s kind of a double punishment.” Mickey Stunkard, an obesity researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed. “There’s that implicit assumption that you could really lose weight if you settled down and stopped being such a fat slob,” he said. (p 70)

and:

… the constant blame-the victim message, the notion that anyone could be thin if they really wanted to or if they found the right diet, (is) not only demoralizing fat people but leading to a society in which prejudice against the overweight and obese has become the last remaining socially acceptable one … “Obese people get a level of abuse now that could not even be considered with any other group,” says Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University … “We have this naïve view that the whole system of weight control can be controlled by willpower,” Friedman says. He likes to cite weight loss advice from two millennia ago – eat less and exercise more. “We have to do better than repeating two thousand year old mantras,” he says. (p 18-19)

What do you think of the two quotes? Do you agree that obesity is unacceptable in our society, despite the fact that 2/3 of us are overweight or obese? What about prejudice against fat people - have you experienced it? Do you agree that it's the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice? Do we blame the victim, and if we do, is it a fair criticism? Can we do better than "eat less, move more"?

Jump in with any and all thoughts, reactions, and experiences!
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Old 06-18-2007, 09:24 AM   #2
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Ask a smoker about how being fat is the only remaining acceptable prejudice. Also ask them about blame-the-victim.
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Old 06-18-2007, 10:57 AM   #3
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I totally agree that being overweight/ obese in our society is negatively looked upon. I've seen the looks. I've felt the pressure to lose weight. I've heard the comments. Even my Dr. had made me feel that it was as simple as "get a little willpower". Ultimately I think it's more complex than that. It takes a total lifestyle change and the timing has to be right to be able to make the change.

I have to agree with MariaMaria that prejudice against smokers is still very rampant. Even more so now than it used to be. In one way it appears to me that with all the shows now on TV on obesity and weight struggle that more people are becoming accepting of it. I'm not sure if thin people are becoming more accepting or if the people who are struggling with wt. are the ones that are feeling that it is more of a national epidemic and therefore less about just "willpower".

I certainly hope that I never judge anyone by their weight. I still struggle with keeping my own weight where it is in a healthy range. It is definitely not easy for me as I'm sure it isn't for anyone else. I think the media portrays super thin people as what we all should strive to achieve as the standard of beauty. To me, this only hurts society as a whole. How many times have many of us given up on trying to lose wt. when we realized we could never look like that? I know I have.

I think with having my own weight battle that I am more accepting than ever of people who have this same struggle. I don't blame the "victim" as I too have been a victim of obesity. But, ultimately I had to quit seeing myself as a "victim" to overcome it. I had to believe it was within me to be able to make a change.

As for "eat less, move more". Good advice but not what most people want to hear. I didn't want to hear it when I was obese. I wanted the quick fix. I wanted to take a little pill and wake up thin. I didn't want to ever feel hungry or get off the couch to exercise. I went years being frustrated if I was ever to "sweat". I felt totally helpless and hopeless over my wt. situation. I did not feel it was within my power to try to control it. I didn't want to change the way I was eating, I enjoyed my food and basically didn't want to have to "worry about it".
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Old 06-18-2007, 11:07 AM   #4
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I believe that society does look down upon the obese, but unfortunately, they also look down on the poor, the drug and alcohol addicted, the homeless, and more. It is just one more way that some people can feel better about themselves because they aren't "one of them." It is unfortunate, but I believe that there is something about human nature that makes people constantly compare themselves to others in order to come out ahead. Competitiveness. That's what it is. And I don't think it is acceptable, but how do you go about changing it?
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Old 06-18-2007, 11:16 AM   #5
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The last remaining socially acceptable prejudice? If not the last, pretty close to it.

I think that what the quotes are saying is that we think of overweight as a moral problem - you know, the sin of gluttony. I know that's what I think. I am a victim of my own prejudices. I think being overweight is unacceptable.

My husband is of the "eat less, move more school". He is not overweight and thinks exercise is the answer to weight control. I know it doesn't work for me. I was very surprised to fnd that the book corroborates my experience. When I shared that info with DH, he said, "They are wrong". Just like the book says, real people (my DH is a real person - LOL)ignore the studies that show there is more to weight control than diet and exercise.

The book is revolutionary, among lots of other books that claim to be revolutionary. What concerns me is how does a person who is not a scientist, make a judgement about how sound the information in the book is. We have all heard about how statistics can be manipulated to support a particular point of view. So does Rethinking Thin have the real story? It has the ring of truth to me, but maybe I am hearing a cracked bell. Or maybe I am hearing what I want to hear.

Great topic for discussion.

Maria, I am probably one of the few ex smokers who doesn't mind other people smoking. I do, however, think that smoking was much more my own fault than being overweight is. It took several attempts, but I have now been smoke free for 13 years. Contrary to weight control, I no longer battle tobacco on a daily basis. I live my life without thinking about smoking.
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Old 06-18-2007, 12:17 PM   #6
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Sure the prejudice is real. The contrast between how people have related to me when I was heavy, and how they relate to me now was shocking. I can say the same things now in just the same way and I can clearly see that people pay more attention and value my opinions more. Is that right? I try to make sure I don't weight the value of a person (or their ideas) based on any aspect of appearance. But it's hard. I blame years of conditioning through mass media.

I do think that consumer marketing is making stabs at "mainstreaming fat". Just because they've identified that so many consumers are overweight. I walked into a K-Mart the other day and right at the door there was a display advertising their portrait studio. In all but a couple of their example photos, the people and families pictured were overweight. I'm not sure how I feel about that.
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Old 06-18-2007, 12:23 PM   #7
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Gailr42, I totally agree about the smoking. I can get by a day without thinking about smoking, but food is always there. Imagine telling a recovering alcoholic you have to drink 3 small drinks a day, but no more for the rest of your life. It is not like you can totally go without food. It will always be a struggle because you are forced to deal with it everyday. Sometimes I think it would just be easier if we could go without eating.
My DH is one of those eat less move more people. He has never been overweight. At 6'2" he can eat more and move less and stay within normal limits.
I find people treat me a lot different since I am smaller, even family members.
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Old 06-18-2007, 01:08 PM   #8
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Is obesity the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice?

As a social psychologist, the evidence that prejudices of all sorts are alive and thriving is overwhelming. Among those prejudices are prejudices against the obese. Is this the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice? I think the evidence, again, is no. MariaMaria's example of smokers is one, but is you view prejudice as a negative attitude, which is not necessarily followed up by behaviors, I think there are all kinds of groups for whom it is acceptable to have a prejudice. And especially when the "affliction" is considered "within their control".

Quote:
Originally Posted by gailr42
What concerns me is how does a person who is not a scientist, make a judgment about how sound the information in the book is. We have all heard about how statistics can be manipulated to support a particular point of view. So does Rethinking Thin have the real story? It has the ring of truth to me, but maybe I am hearing a cracked bell. Or maybe I am hearing what I want to hear.
As a person who tries to teach her students how to evaluate evidence, I think this is an excellent question, and one I think we will be discussing further. I've been thinking a lot about it, too.

People keep coming back to how "statistics can be manipulated". I think it's more appropriate to say that research studies can be interpreted differently.

I think a lot of the research evidence is compelling, but we all have to remember the story isn't complete.

One of the questions I tell my students to ask when they evaluate research is "Who are the participants?" This is important because research done with one group of people does not necessarily generalize beyond that group. For example, as a former morbidly obese person, it seems that a lot of the research has been done on people who were obese, but not morbidly obese. To what extent does the research apply to the 2nd group? We don't know.

A second important question to ask is how did the researchers manipulate or measure their variables? Are there groups or ways of measuring that are left out? For instance, some people have already noted that most of the research used BMI as a measurement of obesity, yet we know that this is not necessarily the best measure of health, etc. What would happen if they looked at body fat % instead?

Also, little of the research seemed to examine the role of weight lifting, or how much muscle mass had -- does that protect the "reduced obese" from regaining weight? We don't know yet.

It helps to think of the research as evolving. We've asked some questions, and to the extent that the evidence from multiple studies done on multiple groups with multiple measures agree with each other, the stronger that evidence is. However, there are further questions to be asked which may change the conclusions we can draw.

This is how science progresses, but it can be distressing when we just want answers.
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Old 06-18-2007, 01:29 PM   #9
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Wyllenn, I just love each and everything you say, even if it isn't something that resonates with me 100%

In this case, what you said resonates with me 100%, as well as what JohnKY and gettingsmaller shared...in fact, I see the validity of each remark posted here so far!
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Old 06-18-2007, 01:43 PM   #10
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A personal experience -

I have a df who has never been more than 20 lbs overweight in the 40 yrs I have known her. She has never said anything to me about my weight, but she often talks about her sil's inability to lose wt in a negative manner. Both her sil and I have quit smoking - my friend has not been able to do that.

I personally know only 1 person who has lost a large amount of weight and kept it off for 10 years. She lost very slowly - her goal was 5 lbs/year - however she lost more like 15-20 lbs/year - she totally gave up simple carbs - and she walks around 3 miles everyday. In essence, she changed her life.

I have been dieting for over 40 years. I have lost and gained MANY time. I am now easily 40 lbs overweight. I'm 5'1" and weigh 170 lbs. I have NEVER been able to keep off my weight. However, this time I believe I will - I have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and am determined to get it under control.

Yes - obesity is one of the characteristics that brings out prejudice. However, there are many/many others - race, religion, disabilities, smoking...

As human beings, we "pre-judge" others based on what we see. It is probably some kind of self-protection behavior that has evolved over time because it helps us survive. The problem is that often our judgments are based on erroneous information. To me, the more information we accumulate, the more accurate our judgments.

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Old 06-18-2007, 02:34 PM   #11
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Not sure about it being the last acceptable prejudice (cf. the smoking part), but clearly one of them. I may be wrong, but I think society nowadays, in our countries--and France isn't an exception--has completely skewed views about anything that doesn't conform to the mainstream. And in terms of weight, 'mainstream' tends to be what the media show us, more than what is reall, with real bits of people inside. See the "2/3 Americans are overweight" thing. What do we see around us? Perfectly airbrushed, touched up, too-thin Photoshopped models in magazines and advertisements. We have to struggle against our weight as well as against a common view that makes it look even harder for us to reach our goal. We have to solve this puzzle and totally rethink our ways of living in order to lose or at least not go on gaining, yet how can we live up to those 'ideal images' displayed around us--all unattainable, because they're humanly not possible, or if they are, it means having to go to seriously unhealthy lows?

I'm not standing as a saint in the preaching chair. I've been guilty of that prejudice again, both against myself and against others. Who has never looked around upon entering a room to see if s/he was the biggest person in it or not. Or tried to reassure herself (uhm, maybe men do that as well?) that her *** wasn't spilling out of the chair more than that of the person next to her? (When I was in junior high, I did that all the time...) I don't know if this exactly fits the prejudice-laden attitude, but again, when I was younger, I was also always deluding myself with thoughts of "I'm only A LITTLE overweight, unlike THAT OTHER GIRL, there, so it could really be worse". Yeah, right. We're not very understanding of our peers the other human beings when we're 13, and we still not always are when reaching adulthood!

All of that to say that, yes, there is a nasty lingering prejudice, and given the kind of influences hovering around everyone, it seems hard to get rid of it...

Regarding the "eat less, move more": that's IMHO the traditional motto of those who never had a real problem with their weight, or put on the extra pounds for some external reason. (My ex used to tell me that. he was very supportive of my food choices and exercising, but to him, it still boiled down to "eat less, move more"; he just couldn't grasp the cocnept of "I'm eating because I am bored, not because I am physically hungry".)

Well, in a way, it IS true. It is the very basics of it, at least the way I see it. But it would be only 100% true if we hadn't genes, certain kinds of medication, illnesses (hypothyroidism...) and other factors to battle against. The way things are, it WILL help, but it's not all. If one has to struggle with emotional eating, binge eating, extremely high levels of stress, and various other conditions, one can't just tell them that. The process and level of work is much more complicated, and we just can't quit food cold turkey, can we? Willpower might be a component, but it's really far from being the solution to obesity. After all, willpower can only last that long.

And saying that we always have the choice to do it or not is fine and dandy, but as Lillybelle put it, who likes to hear "you have to exercise and eat less"? The heck, it's not *easy*. It's not easy to overhaul one's complete lifestyle that has been ingrained for years or even since. But I wonder, is it that there are only two attitudes regarding that--those who can relate or at least understand, and those who just can't/don't want to?

M'kay, enough of a novel for now. I hope I haven't gone overboard.
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Old 06-18-2007, 03:00 PM   #12
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As for the "eat less, move more" component, I find that mostly it's people who've never had a weight problem that accept this at face value. My OB/GYN is tall and thin, and her suggestion for weight loss: "eat a couple of slices less bread a day" Well, duh, don't you think if that would work I'd have done it 15 years ago? I'm much happier with my internist who, though she looks 12 to me , is in the normal range, but has worked to get there and keeps working to stay there. She gets it!

I'm anxious to read the book - where is it Amazon??? I read another of her books, Ultimate Fitness in which she takes on such accepted truths as heart rate levels as measures for proper exercise.
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Old 06-18-2007, 03:50 PM   #13
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Do you agree that obesity is unacceptable in our society, despite the fact that 2/3 of us are overweight or obese?:
Yes, I do think that people (including the obese) see obesity as unacceptable.

What about prejudice against fat people - have you experienced it?:
I had not really experienced too much prejudice, but mostly because I would try and shy into the background wherever I went so as not to attract such unwanted attention.

Do you agree that it's the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice?:
Yes. Smoking is seen more and more as unaccecptable but, I still believe that many people would rather be smokers and thin than non-smokers and fat. In fact, many people use cigarettes as an appetite suppressant and object for any "oral fixations." Just look at the hollywood starlets; one rarely sees them eating but they always seem to have a ciggy and a cup o' joe in their hands.

Do we blame the victim, and if we do, is it a fair criticism?:
Yes we do blame the victim. Is it fair? To an extremely limited extent. For the vast minority of the overweight population their weight problem is limited to say, laziness and if they just would exercise for 30min 3 days a week those extra 100lbs would come off next week. For most, the problem of obesity, even on an idividiual level is intensely complex, involving issues such as environment, culture, family, genetics, depression, access to healthy foods, limited time to exercise, medical complications and yes, sometimes just pure laziness/lack of willpower as well.

Can we do better than "eat less, move more"?:
Ah, were it so easy. Obesity is a phenomenon because of the radically cheap and easy access to fatty foods in our culture and the intense advertising for it by "Big Food"; families who might not be educated enough to teach proper eating/exercise habits to their children; a more universally sedentery culture that is also more pressed for time (meaning less can be just devoted to exercise as it is a sacrifice for some); genetics-- sometimes there is only so much one can do to fight 'em; complicating factors like mental illness that can lead to food being a "drug of choice"; and finally, some people just are medical anomalies and simply aren't able to be "thin" no matter what (same goes for those who just can't put on weight).

But, the old adage of "eat less, move more" still has ringing true reasonance. It does work. For most. So long as you can hold onto the will to be healthy (and for some that requires a monumental effort).

"Eat less, move more" is what worked for me, but it also involved dealing with underlying/complicating factors such as depression and anxiety (and lets not forget my family "fat" genes, because my paternal grandmother's side has them BIG time and the rest of my extended family seems to maintain "normal" effortlessly. But woe unto those who inherit the "fat" gene. We have to do some hard work to get to/stay at a healthy weight).
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Old 06-18-2007, 03:59 PM   #14
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Telling an obese person to "eat less, move more" is akin to telling a poor person to deposit more money in their bank account. Sure, it solves the problem, it's figuring out *how* to do it that is the tough part. I think the book does a pretty credible job of proving that the obese person's body and genetics work against them to make eating less and moving more enough to make lasting change pretty darn difficult. It can be done, obviously, but it's not as simple as it sounds.

As for the idea that obesity is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices - I agree. It's not one of the last prejudices, there are plenty of those, but it's not socially acceptable most of the time to discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, race or sexual orientation. A lot of that is done in private these days. Not that it's any more acceptable or less damaging that way, but it's a little less in your face than prejudice against obesity (and smoking, I'll agree) is.
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Old 06-18-2007, 04:16 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ValerieL View Post
Telling an obese person to "eat less, move more" is akin to telling a poor person to deposit more money in their bank account. Sure, it solves the problem, it's figuring out *how* to do it that is the tough part.
Of course the bottom - BOTTOM line IS "eat less, move more". The sad thing is, I don't think anyone CAN tell us how to do it. I really think we need to figure it out for ourselves. Because we're all so different and what's right for one isn't necessarily right for another.

I'm only 60 or pages or so into the book. But as I read of all the different schemes to lose weight, I couldn't help but think - why oh why hasn't somebody - anybody figured out a way for us to NOT get fat in the FIRST PLACE? Preventive obesity so to speak. THAT would be something.

It's funny though, for a society who looks down upon obesity, there sure is lots and lots and LOTS of fattening and unhealthy food all around us.
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