In March of this year, I sent out a call on social media for individuals to participate in a web-based online survey on physical activity, social messaging, and perceptions of bodyweight. This was a research project I conducted as part of my undergraduate thesis, and the culmination of my work towards my BS in Health Studies: Physical Activity and Exercise. The response I received was overwhelming; I was amazed and touched by the generosity demonstrated by the respondents, in their willingness to share their personal stories and experiences with bodyweight, stigma, and shaming in exercise settings.
"Fitness and Fatness: The Conflation of Weight with Health and the Consequences of Fat Shaming" is available here, for those who would like to see the survey results or have an interest in the topic.
Abstract: Obesity is widely accepted as one of the major health crises facing the United States, and increasingly, the world. Labeled a disease by the American Medical Association, and frequently characterized as an epidemic, obesity is the target of high profile national health interventions, media campaigns, and a multi-billion dollar self-help industry. The message produced by public health agencies is that obesity is a killer, and that reducing weight is a beneficial and achievable goal generating many positive health outcomes. This paper presents two primary arguments that counter the prevailing attitudes towards obesity: that as a stand-alone measure, Body Mass Index (BMI) is a poor metric for gauging health status of individuals; and that current public health messaging, with its implication that being fat is an inherently unhealthy and undesirable state, is counterproductive to the intended goal of motivating the public to engage in exercise and healthy dietary habits. Via a literature review and a survey, I demonstrate that obesity stigma and fat-shaming create an environment that stimulates and perpetuates poor lifestyle choices, and subjects fat people to dangerous psychological and physiologic stress. I also provide data demonstrating that cardiovascular fitness is a more meaningful health measure than is BMI. It is my contention that public health messaging should stop focusing on weight, drop references to weight reduction as a meaningful health goal, and instead focus on goals of increased cardiovascular health and the development of healthy dietary habits.
Keywords: BMI, body mass index, obesity, stigma, fat-shaming, weight-bias, exercise, stress