Bibeau: Health doesn’t come in supersized portions

(Creative Commons)

Throw away that spinach, tuck your running shoes back into the closet and cancel your gym membership because, according to the approach of the fat acceptance movement known as “Health At Every Size,” you’re only wasting your time. HAES calls for a “weight neutral” outlook toward healthcare. A weight neutral approach dictates that you should attempt to live a healthier lifestyle without putting a focus on losing weight. This weight neutral philosophy lies at the heart of this movement, and helps shape the three main arguments of the HAES approach which are:

  1. Being overweight has little to no correlation with negative health defects.
  2. Dieting is nearly impossible and should be avoided.
  3. Society should not attempt to promote the scientifically conventional idea of a healthy weight.

These three pillars of thought lay the foundation for the belief system in which HAES operates. While it has good intentions, the HAES movement’s attempt to destigmatize obesity directly propagates a lifestyle in which the health ramifications of obesity are actively ignored.

The health risks associated with obesity are severe and well-documented. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, obese people are at an increased risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, strokes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, breathing problems, cancer and body pain. The CDC documents heart disease, one of the main symptoms of obesity, as the number one cause of death in the U.S., killing nearly 400,000 people every year.

Another study done in conjunction with major U.S. universities such as Columbia and the University of Colorado listed obesity as the cause of death for 20 percent of women and 15 percent of men nationwide. These studies, while their results are not exactly surprising, highlight how serious of an issue obesity has become, and lie in direct opposition of HAES’ claim that being overweight has little to no correlation with negative health effects.

Despite this evidence detailing the connection between obesity and numerous health problems, fat acceptance members are adamant that “fat [is not] intrinsically unhealthy,” “we have lost the war on obesity,” and that “[being thinner] will not make us healthier or happier.” With nearly two thirds of adults and one third of children being obese or overweight, something has to be done, but taking the weight neutral solution that the proponents of Health At Every Size suggests is a step in the wrong direction.

It is important to note that the fat acceptance movement is not the the same as the body positivity movement. The body positivity movement is based on the idea that no one should feel ashamed of how they look and that their physical appearance is in no way linked to how much they are worth as a person. It also aims to stop body shaming, which is an important objective as body shaming has been linked to depression and body image anxiety.

Body positivity activists still acknowledge the health risks associated with obesity, but instead they focus on minimizing the mental health effects and social consequences that come with the extra weight. With nearly one-third of children being overweight, and over half of them experiencing some form of fat shaming daily, society has to do a better job of teaching children to love and appreciate bodies of all sizes while also being realistic about the health consequences that come with obesity.

No one has a perfect health record, and no one should be expected to live a perfectly healthy life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to both promote good health and educate ourselves on the risks associated with our chosen lifestyles. These risks are important to know as it gives each and every one of us the freedom to make smart choices about our bodies.

HAES is a movement with good intentions, but it lacks the supported research needed to flip the current scientific consensus surrounding the effects of obesity. So until there is more peer-reviewed research that supports the HAES approach, keep your running shoes out and gym membership active as obesity is a problem that is too big to ignore.

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