Fat-shaming into weight loss

Public health efforts to reverse America’s growing obesity epidemic aren’t working fast enough for one prominent bioethicist.

Daniel Callahan, a senior research scholar and president emeritus of The Hastings Center, is pushing for an “edgier strategy” to promote weight loss: fat-shaming.


“Safe and slow incrementalism that strives never to stigmatize obesity has not and cannot do the necessary work,” Callahan wrote in his recently published paper.

Callahan’s strategy for tackling obesity applauds efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children. But, he suggests, those plans could also use a dose of shame, according to an NBC News story.

Social pressure against heavy people, he suggested, could include posters with questions like, “If you are overweight or obese, are you pleased with the way that you look?”

Callahan compares the fat-shaming to the “public shunning of those who lit up,” which “led to plunging rates of cigarette use,” according to the NBC story.

“The force of being shamed and beat upon socially was as persuasive for me to stop smoking as the threats to my health,” he wrote. “The campaign to stigmatize smoking was a great success turning what had been considered simply a bad habit into reprehensible behavior.”

Callahan’s “edgier strategy” has drawn criticism from obesity specialists and other bioethicists.

Art Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, told NBC News that social efforts should focus on eliminating our culture’s “obesogenic environment.”

“Calls on each of us to take more charge of our food behavior in an environment in which the promotion of fast, unhealthy foods is omnipresent and celebrity chefs extol the wonders of high-caloric meals on television hour after hour is to spit personal virtue against a tsunami of marketing coming in the other direction,” Caplan told NBC

“Zinging the chubby does not require a shift in our daily conversation,” Caplan said. “Plenty of Americans are already more than willing to chide their fellow fatties about their weight.”

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