Are we feeding a fear of fatness?
Media publicity in recent years relating to the dangers of obesity and promotion of wellbeing is arguably having a detrimental effect. While the government has made it a priority to encourage the overweight to take action in order to promote health in general, it is now faced with an extra problem in addition to that which previously existed: eating disorders versus childhood obesity. Given that the NHS National Statistics show a 15% increase in obesity between 1993 and 2006, it seems that such campaigns are having a limited effect on tackling the problem; rather, they simply appear to present more. Children as young as eight are becoming victims of anorexia, yet it seems unlikely they would pay much attention to health policies. It must be considered just how far can we hold the government and media responsible for those who succumb to an extreme body weight, be it fat or thin.
You can also add to the debate by leaving a comment at the end of the page.
Obesity warnings are received by the wrong audience
In prioritising their crackdown on obesity, the government aims to promote health, correctly maintaining that such a condition is associated with numerous illnesses and lowers life expectancy rates. The UK is becoming famous for its obesity rates, so it is in the public interest that the Department of Health intervene with policies and strategies aimed at tackling the problem.
However, the Department of Health recently distributed pedometers to school pupils at random, in an effort to encourage children to count their daily steps. This appears to form part of the problem; if attention was given to those with a genuine need to lose weight, the government’s aim to improve health might be fulfilled. Instead, healthy young children are hearing the messages and beginning to associate the word ‘fat’ with danger and death. Such warnings are often interpreted so that people believe to be fat is far worse than to be thin, when arguably, if either condition poses a threat to a person’s health, it is just as bad to be thin as it is to be fat.
While the majority of children should not be worrying about their weight, the government should be targeting a certain few. However, rather than sending out generalised messages promoting weight loss and healthy eating, provision should be made for children on a selective basis, so those in need can have their problems addressed. It is also important that their progress is monitored; the media has demonstrated how easy it is to get carried away. As many have said, children should remember their childhoods as times of play, not agonising over calories. Moreover, many children lose their ‘puppy fat’ as they reach puberty; perhaps they should be left alone.
Governmental strategies aimed at targeting obesity are unlikely to cause or promote eating disorders. Anorexia stems from a desire to exert control over one’s own life and usually comes about as a result of repressing issues of anxiety. The fact that the Department of Health is encouraging the obese to lose weight is unlikely to affect somebody vulnerable to, or in the stages of anorexia as the illness is often said to go away temporarily once the issues have been dealt with.
By sending out warnings against obesity the government is simply aiming to persuade those who are overweight or obese to lose weight in their own health interests, it does not seem at all likely that people would respond to such messages by developing eating disorders.
Exercise is for physical appearance and wellbeing rather than enjoyment
It is always more appealing to do something when you are not compelled to do it; English Literature students sometimes complain of a reduced interest in reading. The same concept can be attributed to exercise and healthy eating, particularly as there is now a stigma of weight loss attached. Older generations often note the decline in exercise over the past few decades; enhanced television and video games cannot be entirely to blame.
Exercise today revolves in many cases, around the gym. People go to stay fit and feel good about what they have accomplished; if they wanted to enjoy themselves surely they would play a game of football. People frequently set themselves targets at the gym; the calorie counting devices on the cardio-vascular equipment contribute enormously to the merging of exercise with weight loss. If there wasn’t so much pressure linked to the necessity of exercise, perhaps more people would voluntarily engage in sport.
Physical education has long been a compulsory aspect of the curriculum, which is certainly not something to be criticised since many children may not have the opportunity or encouragement out of school to indulge in exercise. However, when teachers and doctors advocate the government’s campaign, children view them as figures of authority and may feel obliged to lose weight. On the other hand those in need of doing so may develop an aversion to the idea if it is promoted by those over whom they have no power.
Any decline in exercise has not been fuelled by a fear of fatness. People tend not to exercise due to chaotic lifestyles and personal choice. Arguably, a lot less parents let their children out to run and play in the streets today as they did thirty years ago, leaving them confined to a limited number of activities within the home.
People still participate in exercise for enjoyment; huge amounts of money are invested in sport each year and university football and hockey teams always fill up quickly. Olympic athletes certainly didn't pursue their careers due to a fear of fatness, so why should anyone else take such a motivation for exercise?
Fear of fatness is causing a whole host of other problems
Attempts to combat the single issue of obesity have unveiled numerous other problems to be dealt with, most of which pose their own health hazards. Peta Bee in her Times article explained how she knew of a boy with ‘baryphobia’ – a child’s fear of becoming fat. Such a condition will result in restricted food intake, controlled by the child. Consequences may be stunted growth, crash dieting or bingeing, smoking and consumption of laxatives, along with many others.
Adults too, binge drink on empty stomachs, having calculated that they will exceed their daily recommended calorie intake should they eat dinner as well. Magazines often highlight facts such as this, but are just as guilty of creating the problem with features condoning rigid diets. Hospital beds are now just as likely to be filled by patients with anorexia as those with coronary heart disease, thus having an adverse effect on the economy.
If being overweight is publicly expressed as a state nobody should aspire to be in, psychological conditions will be at risk. Those categorised as ‘fat’ may feel unworthy and may develop low self-esteem, while those with at no risk of obesity might find themselves in a mindset where they feel they have to be thin. Furthermore, the government’s campaign, while in the public’s best interests, does little to prevent bullying in schools; those deemed as fat may be potential targets as it is recognised as an imperfection.
Can ‘baryphobia’ be taken seriously, or is it just another medical term to account for the pressure to be thin? Fear of fatness itself doesn’t cause these problems; smoking and restricted food intake is part of the process some people use to lose weight. Some choose to chew gum after meals to speed up their metabolic rate; this wouldn’t be viewed as a product of the government’s campaign, but a method a person has voluntarily imposed upon themselves for their own reasons.
Furthermore, a child with stunted growth is unfortunate, but such a condition is not on a scale with coronary heart disease. Just as some would argue the obese patient has contributed to his own illness, the child could be said to have caused his own stunted growth. There are more people classified as obese than anorexic so surely the government should act now in preventing the onset of further cardiovascular disease with their campaigns.
Public campaigns do not trigger people to lose weight
While the government’s campaign is perhaps not directed in the best possible way, it seems unlikely that this would be a primary motivation in someone deciding to diet. People tend to do so for their own personal satisfaction and concern over their appearance; the majority of the population is slightly self-conscious in one way or another. Furthermore, those who the Department of Health aims to target may ignore the messages. Some may have hectic lifestyles involving long working hours, instant meals and no time for exercise, while others may simply prefer to do things on their own terms.
Psychology has shown that certain people are sometimes predisposed to anorexia. Learning theory suggests if a mother has an aversion to food and counts calories, the child who overhears and observes will develop similar habits. Studies have also shown that specific genes may play a part in determining anorexia as certain individuals may be more prone to submit to it. While in some cases, the distribution of pedometers may prompt unhealthy attitudes to food, it seems more likely that children would lose interest in them after a few days.
Health is not usually a child’s main concern, nor is governmental warnings. As obesity rates are still on the increase, it seems not much attention is paid to such strategies. The main force driving the desire to be thin is the stigma attached to being fat, which is perhaps a natural instinct in a society where everyone strives to be perfect.
If learning theory applies, the government’s message that something must be done about being overweight could potentially affect the decisions of many adults to diet and exercise accordingly. Many of these adults may be parents with children watching and copying their behaviour. So whether of not their parents already had an eating disorder, if parents suddenly change their habits, children may do too.
Furthermore, children do not only observe the behaviours of their parents. The level of media exposure available today allows for a child in a healthy family with no weight concerns to notice the celebrity pressure to be a size zero. If the child looks up to that celebrity, it may conform to weight loss behaviour because of the media’s input.
Bigger sizes are publicly promoted
Despite pressure to lose weight, it is also accepted that there are worse things in life than being fat. Most people are aware of the dangers of anorexia and would not aspire to be in such a condition. Furthermore, when people choose to diet of their own accords they often have a set weight or size in mind, rather than hoping to reach the lowest possible. In a society where we have a recognised obesity problem, people are generally not looked down on for being fat.
While celebrities are often slated for their impact on young girls, some such as Charlotte Church have become renowned for their positive attitudes to their bodies. The media cannot be blamed so much here as their efforts to publish interviews promoting healthy body image can be balanced against any detrimental messages. Clothing catalogues often publish pictures of larger models, and shops such as Evans cater for the higher dress sizes, though arguably these are in the minority. It seems that while the government promote weight loss as a health precaution where necessary, society’s acceptance of those who classed as ‘fat’ irons out any risks that weight loss will be taken to extremes.
There can be no denying that media image is in some way responsible for encouraging eating disorder. Recently boys were reported to be restricting their food intake in order to look like David Beckham. A Harvard study found that out of 3,000 bulimics and anorexics, 25% were men, a statistic previously estimated at 10%. If people didn’t know about eating disorders, there would probably be far less.
The size zero debate in the US has infiltrated the UK, with people aspiring to the ideal. People associate losing a dress size or seeing a lower number on the scales with happiness, potentially because the government and media with their publicity condemning obesity have contributed to society’s ideas of perfection. However, they cannot be held solely responsible; for those who are already anorexic and crave motivation, pro-anorexic websites are culpable.
National obesity problems drain NHS resources
It cannot be denied that obesity increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which can also lead to heart attack. It also causes gallstones and can worsen degenerative joint disease. In general, being obese is detrimental to one’s health. NHS resources are limited due to high demand and a restricted budget; it is often argued that one method of allocating treatment should be to consider whether the person engaged in unhealthy behaviour. Such a line of reasoning suggests those who fail to take care over their diet and allow themselves to become obese and thus develop and illness should be at the low end of the priority scale. Of the 270,000 heart attacks which occur each year, the British Heart Foundation has estimated that 28,000 are directly caused by obesity.
Therefore the government’s proposed strategies to reduce obesity levels aim to affect more than just health; if obesity is prevented before it becomes a problem, hospital beds could be used for those with immediate, unforeseeable conditions. Rather than causing a fear of fatness, the government is highlighting a pressing need to combat obesity. Furthermore, it does no harm to remind people of the health hazards their weight poses, since many do not take the time to think.
While stunted growth may be of little significance in terms of healthcare rationing, the use of hospital beds for those with anorexia may prove to be just as expensive, if not more, as those with coronary heart disease. Some patients may require artificial feeding long-term. Furthermore, the prevalence of anorexia has resulted in the development of specialist anorexic units to help combat the condition. Being a mental disease, it cannot be argued that anorexia is any less serious than cardiovascular disease or that it was brought on by the individual.
No, but it should.
Fatness is not an illness it is idleness. What public campaign is there to show that slim and fit people are happier in everything they do ? non. People who are slim enjoy it including the excercise required to stay slim. They feel better look better and enjoy that meal more than someone who eats constantly. The slim person also costs the taxpayer nothing compared to the fat folk who now require larger ambulances, operations,bigger hospital beds and doorways and lifts, stronger nurses and carers to move their fat bodies, and bigger morgue freezers etc etc. What does the fit slim person cost ??? nothing because excercise is free and enjoyable. We need a campaign to show how much more FUN it is to be slim and fit as the nations were prior to the 80s. Ask grandparents the fun they had through being slim as opposed to the very rare fat person. We should frighten people the negatives of being FAT and the proven FUN of being slim and fit as we were once.
What do you think?