This week, a viewer wrote to Jennifer Livingston, a local Wisconsin news anchor, to scold her about her weight. “Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain,” he told her. “I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
When she responded to him on air, she not only outed him as a mean jerk and a bully, but also as someone who is extraordinarily ignorant of the scientific facts.
No one chooses to be fat. But as studies show, it’s not a lack of desire that keeps most people from losing weight.
University of Alabama obesity researcher Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D. explains it this way:
“We still don’t fully understand why some people can overeat and not gain weight, while others gain weight at just the sight of a cookie. And once someone is overweight, we really don’t understand how to feasibly reverse that over the long-term,” she says.
Dhurandhar points out that even people who are enrolled in “gold standard” weight loss programs that control the environment and offer tons of support still must make a heroic effort to lose a mere 5% to 10% of their body weight. Typically this keeps them at a weight that’s considered “unacceptable” in our society–which means they remain the butt of fat jokes and outright discrimination.
According to a recent Yale Study, the majority of people stereotype someone who is overweight or obese as lazy, unmotivated, lacking in self-discipline, less competent and sloppy. The Yale group noted that 28% of teachers believe becoming obese is the worst thing that can happen to someone, while 24% of nurses said that they are repulsed by someone who is obese. Discrimination against fat people permeates every aspect of our society from social settings to healthcare to education to earnings.
I’m not saying that overeating and lack of exercise don’t contribute to obesity. Of course they do. But it’s certainly more complicated than eating less and moving more.
Science is beginning to show that a host of factors including chemicals in the environment, gut bacteria, viruses, and even air conditioning may also influence weight and body size. It could be there are several different types of obesity that require different interventions and treatments to prevent and cure.
Instead of picking on someone who struggles to shed their unwanted pounds, why not support them in their efforts? I like the attitude of this blogger who praises and admires a person for trying their best — even if the bullies and jerks out there don’t get it.