Yes, what we need is more shaming

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Gotta love a target-rich environment, and that’s what this NBC News story provides: Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says.

I have to start with the obvious, that Americans have been “fat-shaming” at least since I was a kid (the '60s), and it sure doesn’t look like it’s helping the obesity epidemic. There was no obesity epidemic back then, so if anything, fat-shaming is causing the obesity epidemic. (Yes, of course that’s absurd, but no more so than the bioethicist’s contention.)

Next, there’s his comparison to the nation’s experience with tobacco:

“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.”

Yes, but. But, but, butt!

It’s true that nonsmokers did exert scorn on smokers, but that wasn’t the first step toward tamping smokers, by a long shot. There was the Surgeon General’s report in 1964, saying that smoking was bad for your health. There was the evidence of second-hand smoke, which moved smoking from bad habit to public-health threat. There were legions of court cases that produced documents showing that manufacturers not only knew their products were unhealthful, but that they emphasized their products’ unhealthful effects to deepen their addictive properties. To overlook all those and say that we smoke far less in this country because of finger-wagging is an impressive rewrite of history.

I also can’t help from questioning the story’s calling the writer, Daniel Callahan, a “prominent bioethicist.” Please, can you name a single bioethicist, never mind one who has risen to prominence among all the others? For that matter, how prominent is the Hastings Center, of which Callahan is identified as senior research scholar and president emeritus?

I didn’t read his report — why would anyone without unlimited reading time bother? — but the story says it applauds efforts to boost education, promote public health awareness of obesity, and curb marketing of unhealthy foods to children.

I’m down with those, especially to stop predatory marketers from exploiting young people, but it’s difficult to regard Mr. Callahan as an ally in the cause.

[My thanks to Theresa Wright of Renaissance Nutrition for sharing the story with me.]

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