Bioethicist Quack Promotes “Fat Shaming” to End Obesity

It’s pretty shocking to believe the source of this proposal. The co-founder of a non-profit center dedicated to bioethics research and public policy is promoting “fat shaming” as a solution to the obesity problem. And yes, he actually calls his proposal “Stigmatization.” In his paper “Obesity: Chasing an Elusive Epidemic” Daniel Callahan PhD, co-founder of the Hastings Center, calls for “Stigmatization Lite” claiming

The social pressure will aim to push the public to accept strong interventions, just as it could induce them to change the way they eat, work, and exercise.

Dr. Callahan has clearly never met any actual fat people. I read his paper carefully and he seems to draw the extremely bizarre conclusion that there are so many fat people now that they all think they are simply normal, like everybody else.  Yes, Dr. Callahan’s genius conclusion is that the real problem is that fat people don’t know they’re fat. His proposal is that

…public social pressure is likely to awaken them to the reality of their condition. They have been lulled into oblivious-ness about their problem because they look no different from many others around them.

The actual plan would be to ask fat people “uncomfortable questions” such as “Are you happy with the way you look?” “Would you prefer to lessen your risk of heart disease and diabetes?” and “Do you know that many people look down upon those excessively overweight or obese?”

Dr. Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center has never actually met a fat person.

Dr. Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Center has never actually met a fat person.

What’s most shocking here is not actually this utterly ridiculous plan. It’s the paradigm that assumes people are fat because they are oblivious to reality. They have no clue they’re fat, they can’t comprehend that it’s unhealthy. Essentially  Dr. Callahan IS saying that people get fat because they are ignorant dolts who haven’t the vaguest idea how to take care of themselves and they have to be “awakened” to reality. Like Jillian Michaels screaming at fatties, it also fuels the whole “eat out of self-loathing” argument that if fat people had an ounce of self-respect they wouldn’t be fat.

This kind of thinking has to end. Because it’s more than ignorant. It’s viciously hateful. It’s misinformation, it’s misconception, it’s bias, it’s prejudice. It’s not a solution to anything.


Skip to comment form

  1. I read the good doctor’s paper, I could not believe what I was reading! Oblivious to reality? I am powerfully aware every day that I am fat. It wouldn’t matter if everyone around me was also fat… I can’t even continue thinking about that idiocy for now! Further, you don’t think fat people are receiving social pressure already, Dan? Holy willful ignorance, Batman! I have been living under operation “Stigmatization Hard core” since adolescence! Thanks for the thoughtful post and for drawing attention to this craziness!

      • Dagny on January 25, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Thanks for coming by, Chris! I would expect a crazy idea like this to come from some militant gym owner perhaps, to get press for himself, from the Jillian Michaels school of weight loss motivation, but a bioethicist? He has touched on something that forms the basis of many of my contentions. For example, I don’t believe all that “goal setting” stuff works when it’s focused on things that we don’t need somebody to tell us to figure out and write down. Like good god almighty does ANY parent have to be asked “Don’t you want to be there for your kids?”

      In my book I write that I KNOW for every fat person a day does not go by that you do not think of how you’d like your life to be different. It’s insulting for anyone to believe otherwise.

    • Dagny on January 25, 2013 at 10:38 am

    How about we have a GOOD NEWS story? Good on ya, Iceland! Let me play my Bjork albums the rest of the day.

    Iceland proposes prohibiting weight discrimination in new constitution

    • Jen on January 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I was incredulous when I read the original article. I seriously thought I must have read it wrong. But then again, given how our culture acts as though privacy and boundaries are irrelevant and freedom of speech is equivalent to yelling fire, it really is no big surprise. But he still is an asshole for saying and spreading such shit around.

      • Dagny on January 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      Let’s take a moment to be reminded of this actual paragraph from my actual book:

      EPIC DIET FAIL: Conventional weight loss motivations do little more
      than worsen your stress and shame.
      Did you know that obesity causes health problems and you can improve
      your health if you lose weight? Are you aware that health problems
      you may already have, like high blood pressure or sleep apnea, will
      improve if you lose weight and you could even go off medication? Don’t
      you want to feel great and have energy to get the most out of life? Would
      you like to shop in regular stores and feel comfortable in well-fitting
      clothes? Don’t you want to look hot ’n’ sexy? Don’t you want to see your
      kids grow up? Don’t you have respect for yourself? Don’t you care about
      your future? Don’t you want to tell me to shut up?

      I was going to write “shut the hell up” but I had a really good editor who advised me to keep things neutral.

  2. What I’d LOVE to know is how they measured the data for obese people being “oblivious.” I call bullshit, because I think that stems directly from the doctor’s own personal prejudices rather than any factual data. Christopher hit the nail on the head: “I have been living under operation “Stigmatization Hard core” since adolescence! ” Ain’t that the truth. (The REAL truth.)

      • Dagny on January 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm

      Deevs, you are totally correct! I think that people are SO disgusted by fat people that they assume you must be CRAZY INSANE STUPID FUCKED UP to “let yourself” get fat and stay fat. Hence my argument against the whole “psychological trauma” bullshit that if you’re fat, there must be something WRONG with you and there can be no other explanation.

    • JoAnn on December 8, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Had to stop reading–not quite ready to process. Even something seemingly as obvious as how you label yourself is questionable. I would have been reluctant to label myself as obese, even though I clearly was and knew. It was using that particular word that was hard; it wasn’t that I was oblivious to my obesity.

    As Chris mentions, we live it every day and now as I lose more of the “stuff” I better recognize just how much was weight-related rather than age-related. A few things–I’m not hot all the time (says the menopausal woman) and in fact am frequently cold (and no, I’m not anemic). I fit in theater seats, I can walk straight down an aisle in an airplane, seat belt fit both in the waist and across the chest. I don’t feel constricted by clothes. In the past even clothes that fit just felt uncomfortable. I can stand for hours without my feet hurting, even enjoy wearing heels on occasion. I sleep through the night.

    How is it remotely possible that I was oblivious to my weight? Oh wait, I wasn’t. Every day required accommodations big and small. I lived it. Phooey on you “doctor!”

    1. I remember well those worries that would always be in the back of my mind—How far will I have to walk? Will there be stairs? Will there be chairs with arms? Will my clothes be OK? Am I not going to be what they expect? Is this person looking at me with disgust?

      And that doesn’t even include how you felt every minute of every day.

Comments have been disabled.