Dave Shaw 's Opinion

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave Shaw: Fat shaming needs to stop

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Many of us do need to change our perception about what a healthy weight looks like.
Photo / 123RF
Many of us do need to change our perception about what a healthy weight looks like. Photo / 123RF

Shame is no friend to health promotion. Yet, the way obese people are seen by the public is becoming increasingly similar to how we view smokers - almost shameful. And although aiming to achieve a healthy body weight is important, stigmatising and ostracising our bigger community are not effective motivators for change.

And for these reasons, a recent video has sparked a great deal of controversy as it crudely depicts the lifestyle of an obese individual.

Watch the video here:

No doubt, we all have our opinions about health and how we should look. In some way, we are all biased. Which is why I write this to ask you, with no intention of being suggestive, have we lost sight of what a healthy body weight actually is?

Admittedly, many of us do need to change our perception about what a healthy weight looks like. Our obesogenic society has a tendency to consider being overweight as normal. I know, just as well as you do, it's not.

On the contrary, one could argue that many healthy people believe they are overweight when, in fact, they are not. But if statistics are anything to go by, then one argument heavily outweighs the other.

This may seem provocative, but are we simply too sensitive as a population to call a spade a spade and say, "you're too fat" or "you're too thin", and leaving it at that? No stereotyping. No stigmatising. No ostracising.

Read more: Blog - why do fat people get a bad wrap?

Therefore, no shaming. If this were the case, would those who did need to lose a few kilos be able to break through societal stigma to rectify the situation they have found themselves in?

Evidence shows shaming and blaming does not grow motivation. Obese women are a group constantly in the firing line of stigmatising messages and as a result, there could be devastating consequences on their mental wellbeing. Evidence also suggests that despite people believing controversial messages raise public awareness, individuals who feel ashamed of their weight engage in behaviours that reinforce weight gain or prevent weight loss.

Einstein once said, "we can't fix our problems with the same thinking we used that created them". A lack of public awareness, action and support has led to the demise of our health. To fix this, we have to change the way we think.

So, how do we help New Zealand children make healthy choices, when many adults are struggling themselves. How do we make the healthier choice the easier choice, when food manufacturers prioritise money over wellbeing?

Wagging a finger at the parents of obese kids isn't a step in the right direction. The increase in childhood obesity doesn't necessarily mean parental or medical neglect. But it does question whether enough action is taking place.

Wendell Berry, an American novelist, said "people are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are treated by the health industry, which pays no attention to food". What do you think?

How many doctors actually ask their patients whether they need healthy eating advice and refer them to dietitians?

I believe most of us have the power to change and with great power comes great responsibility. However, being empowered requires knowledge, and at this stage, what the government and food manufacturers are doing to improve our education is not enough. Even with their earnest attempts to do so.

For me, diet is numero-uno, but I'll admit I'm biased. On some level, there is shame in feeding our loved ones with soft drink and chips everyday, when we know the destruction they cause. Knowledge underlies responsibility and it is our responsibility to care for those around us the best way we know how.

We don't all come from the same sperm and egg. So, we can't all eat the same and expect to look the same. There is no shame in asking for help. Obesity is not one-dimensional and we can't sit here waiting on the world to change. Small steps are crucial. The first step is changing the way we think about obesity.

Dave Shaw

NZ dietitian, performance nutritionist and health expert. Dave does his best to make sense of what we eat.

Dave works in public health and alongside some of New Zealand’s top athletes. Whether it's for vitality, performance, identity or spirituality, Dave loves the way food brings people together. He believes that no one diet is the cure for our growing rates of chronic disease, but a diet based on wholefoods is the perfect start. Always keeping up-to-date with current evidence and food trends, Dave is a relentless researcher for how we should eat and likes to challenge what we may think about nutrition.

Read more by Dave Shaw

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