Is “obesity” directly linked to health problems?
Few people have a positive image of fat today. In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) considers “obesity” an epidemic disease and it promotes activities to prevent “obesity.”
In the United States, the number of “obese” people has increased rapidly since the 1970s. It is said that currently more than 40% of the population falls into the “obesity” category, so “obesity” is taken as a serious problem.
In Japan, on the other hand, “obesity,” in medical terms, is not so common. Yet there are many young women who see themselves as fat, and some of them suffer from an eating disorder out of the desire to become slim.
Why do people hate fat/obesity? One reason is that it pointed out that being “obesity” increases future health risks.
However, is it appropriate to set a uniform standard and apply it to everyone, where you are told not to exceed a certain BMI value or a certain waist measurement, otherwise you will get sick?
For example, especially in the United States, even if you go to a clinic for cold symptoms, and you are fat, you will probably be told to lose some weight. This is because just about any sickness can be blamed on “obesity.” This is a form of prejudice against “obesity,” which has become a problem of “obesity” hatred in medical care.
In other words, people with “obesity” are unconditionally blamed for their ailments and they are even discouraged to discuss options other than losing weight.
I think that this medial approach has become a kind of obsessive idea in the minds of the general public.
Of course, people who are overweight may feel uneasy about their health and may have problems in their daily lives, and many of them have made efforts to lose some weight.
However, dieting is not easy. In fact, some medical studies seem to have found that weight loss cannot be sustained for a long time.
So, we tend to think that fat people are unable to look after themselves, too lazy to go on a diet, or have a lack of knowledge or understanding of food. However, nothing is further from the truth.
In other words, I think it is a kind of prejudice to assume fat is unhealthy and apply uniform standards to it or see fat people as too lazy to look after themselves. In particular, if you have ever gone on a diet, you know that fat is not just a matter of self-management. If this prejudice is discrimination against fat people, or if it fosters an obsession with losing weight for them and spreads the discriminatory idea of it not being worth living owing to body size, it means that fat is more than just an issue of health. It is these other aspects surrounding fat/obesity that I am concerned about that.
Movement to eliminate discrimination against fat in the United States that began in 1969
This aspect of fat/obesity was taken up early in the fat acceptance movement in the United States. It is a citizens’ movement, which started in 1969, to eliminate prejudice and discrimination against fat and to recognize and accept that each person has their own unique size and shape.
However, the movement has not fully developed, although at first there was solidarity with the feminist movement, the gay liberation movement, and the LGBT movement, and in recent years, with the queer movement and Black Lives Matter.
The reason is because, unlike gender and racism issues, fat was often perceived not as a social issue but as a matter of self-management and self-responsibility.
I think the development of medical care and public health is one reason for this. Homosexuality, which was considered a pathological condition at first, has been recognized as a sexual orientation now. In contrast to the fact that homosexuality has been accepted widely, there has been an increase in the dissemination of information saying that gaining weight increases health risks, and such recognition has spread throughout society.
Of course, there is a certain amount of evidence behind that recognition. But I think that when it became a common norm for all people, prejudice and discrimination against fat that was assumed to deviate from the norm were fomented.
In recent years, body-positive movements have become popular, in which people try to regard plus-size figures as positive rather than negative.
This is similar to the fat acceptance movement, but it started out as a mechanism created by women’s underwear manufacturers and other companies that tried to fend off criticism for using too slender female models. Of course, it has become a trend, but I think it is different from the fat acceptance movement.
For example, one fat activist I know says that body-positive movements, which set the maximum positive size, are not intended for very fat people.
In this regard, even in the U.S. where citizens’ movements are active, it is hard to say that the fat acceptance movement has been properly understood and developed.
For example, have you ever felt offended or hurt when someone said to you, “Haven’t you gained some weight recently?”, “Don’t eat this or you will get fat,” or “You should lose another few kilos for your health”?
The person who says such things is giving advice about your health. But the reason you felt offended or hurt is probably that you felt as if you were regarded as out of line with social norms and standards, or as if you were unable to obey such norms or look after yourself, and you felt as though you were being pushed by such norms.
First and foremost, those who say such innocent words must have stopped thinking whether or not these norms can be really applied to everyone, or whether or not there are really any other options. The fat acceptance movement helps you realize that such thinking is necessary.
The “obesity” issue will provoke thinking about a diverse society
In recent years, the idea of valuing diversity has been spreading in Japan as well. Certainly, I think the concept of cross-cultural understanding and multicultural symbiosis is advancing little by little.
However, the diversity of human beings cannot be identified simply because of people’s cultural background, nationality, or ethnic group.
The differences of aging people, people with disabilities, women, sexual minorities, fat people, people with disease, and so on, intersect to create diversity in our lives.
I think that in a sense such diversity leads to the creation of an affluent society because such a society is a place where anyone can live easily, not a place where it is too hard to live, being pressured by norms.
I think it is very scary to introduce absolute norms and create the idea of discrimination.
When I took part in a meeting of the fat acceptance movement for a survey, I found that there were a lot of very fat people who were unable to walk on their own and were moving around on an electric scooter.
I am sure the doctor who saw them will tell them to lose weight. But it is up to them to decide whether or not to accept it. The idea that unless you get slim, you will not be able to live could lead to the perception that the human body is a standardized product like a machine.
In short, evidence that “obesity” leads to health risks should be a just piece of information, and we should make our own judgments based on that information.
No matter what judgment is made by someone, and even if it is different from your own judgment or the judgment of the majority of society, you should not be prejudiced or discriminate against the person for such difference.
In addition, I believe that it is necessary to build a social system that accepts people whatever they are and no matter how they live.
In the United States, first and foremost, it is difficult for fat people to go to a clinic, and they cannot even get health insurance.
Of course, it is certainly difficult to solve the various issues surrounding fat as shown by the fact that the fat acceptance movement has not evolved well.
However, at the very least, we should not live in a society that fosters the idea of discrimination, such as hating a fat body size that is regarded as unworthy of life, or an obsession that fuels eating disorders.
It is probably not good to live in a time when fat people are being blamed for “obesity.” I think the only way that will change is by more and more people having awareness.
* The information contained herein is current as of September 2021.
* The contents of articles on Meiji.net are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.
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