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Let’s Stop Talking About Obesity

Woman holding weights

 “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” – Mark Twain

For almost 20 years, we have been hearing about the “obesity epidemic” along with its connection to every disease under the sun, projections that it is only going to get worse, and the gloomy prediction that it is causing our children to die before us. Could this discussion get any more depressing?

Using the word “epidemic” is a bit extreme, especially since obesity is not contagious. Nor is it automatically synonymous with poor health. If it were, then the inverse would be true, meaning everyone at “ideal weight” would be in perfect health. We all know that isn’t true since poor health comes in all sizes, from XS to triple XL.

I’m not saying excess weight doesn’t cause problems. I’m well aware that it can.  Yet weight issues are complicated, and not a simple matter of willpower to eat healthy and exercise diligently. Many individuals have been targeted unfairly while the government partners with the food industry, who then laughs all the way to the bank.

I have not been impressed by the way this topic has been addressed in the healthcare, political, food industry, and social realms. The nationally loud ranting about “obesity” and the rattling off of “shocking statistics” is not exactly encouraging to people targeted by this message.

I wrote about this previously in a similar post (2008 article Let’s NOT Talk about Obesity), and here I am again, proposing a different approach:

Could we please talk about wellness, not obesity?  Obesity is a physical description based on the BMI (Body Mass Index) which may not even be valid. Wellness is an optimal state of health and includes multiple dimensions of a person’s life.

Let’s stop saying the “o” word.  Kick it out of your vocabulary and see what happens. If you are talking about yourself, instead of saying, ‘I am obese”, say “I am well” or “I am healthy.” Instead of letting Self-Fulfilling Prophecy have its day, let the Law of Attraction kick in and see your words build a new reality through positive self-talk and affirmation.

Let’s stop labeling individuals as “obese people.” Use “People First” language, which identifies people by name and not size, health status, or disease. Health care providers need to take the lead on this as they already tend to use what I call “People Last” terminology such as like, “diabetics”, “Down’s baby”, “cancer patient”, etc. I cringe every time I hear my health professional colleagues say “obese patients” as if only weight defines these individuals. So unfair. People First language acknowledges the whole person: body, mind, emotions, personality, etc.

I’d like to eliminate the phrase “child obesity.” It is not only a label that pigeonholes children and locks them in, it is emotionally hurtful and unfairly singles them out. (Research has shown increased bullying toward children since more attention has been given to this topic.) Having worked many years in public health, I know that children of all sizes enjoy video games, TV, eating junk food, drinking pop, and most will choose sweets over fruits and veggies when given a choice. Every child deserves the message of wellness and no child deserves to be targeted due to size.

As for even using the BMI in health care provider offices, you can guess I’m not a fan. In general, I think wellness is a much better topic of discussion than BMI.  Why?  BMI tends to crumble and deflate, not empower patients. That’s a blog of its own.  Stay tuned.

Let’s stop nagging the people we love about their weight. It doesn’t work, and it usually makes matters worse. Be kind. Compassion strengthens and love works miracles.

If each of you reading this would choose at least one of the above, we could start a more positive approach toward wellness in this nation.  After that, we can roll up our sleeves and tackle the bigger issues of government, health care and food industry.

My presentation, Let’s Stop Saying the “O” Word, provides ideas on how to take a more positive approach to what others call the “o epidemic.” For more information or to schedule a presentation for your group, email me at [email protected]


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