In a campaign to end so-called “body shaming,” a woman’s magazine, an online dating site, and online apparel retailers are giving prominence to obesity, a health condition linked to health complications, including death from COVID-19.
On its February 2021 cover, Cosmopolitan featured plus-sized models with the caption, “this is healthy.” The online dating site “Bumble,” announced on January 27 it would remove members caught using “language that can be deemed fat-phobic.” The site stated, “For those who may not know, body shaming means forcing your opinion of a ‘good body’ onto others.” An increasing number of online apparel retailers, such as Target, feature plus-sized models in displays for regular sizes.
The Quiet Pandemic
The United States has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, according to Worldpopulationreview.com. Thirty-six percent of adult Americans have a body mass index (BMI) exceeding 30. The world average BMI is 17. A body mass index exceeding 25 is considered overweight. Sixty-nine percent or two out of three adult Americans are overweight or obese, according to the Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health.
The past decade has seen a steady increase in obesity across the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers and is considered “leading causes of preventable, premature death.”
“Sadly the highest risk of obesity is premature death,” said Chad Savage, MD, internist, president of DPC Action, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News. “This can be from a variety of mechanisms including cardiovascular disease, but even certain cancers are increased in prevalence in the obese. Less discussed but just as impactful a consequence of obesity is the loss of ambulation and functioning via premature end-stage arthritis caused by obesity. People can have substantial loss of quality of life through the loss of mobility.”
The CDC reports obesity increases risks of COVID-19 complications, potentially tripling the likelihood of hospitalization, resulting in decreased lung capacity, lower vaccine responses, and death. Of the 394,432 deaths from COVID-19 as of January 30, 76,814 were either diagnosed as obese or with diabetes, while 79,034 had hypertensive diseases.
Without saying “body shaming,” the CDC, which heavily influences health care practitioners, makes reference to the idea that obesity can be a sensitive subject.
“We encourage the use of person-first language (e.g., ‘adults with obesity’ or ‘20 percent to children ages 12-19 have obesity’ and not ‘obese adults’ nor ’20 percent of children are obese’) when discussing topics like obesity and other chronic diseases, as well as respectful images,” the CDC reports.
The CDC directs readers to its “guidelines for media portrayals of individuals affected by obesity” page, which discourages portrayals of obesity for the purpose of humor or ridicule, or “lacking willpower,” and with “unnecessary or distorted emphasis on body weight.”
While people agree that it is never acceptable to shame someone for how they look, accepting and even celebrating a risky health condition in the name of political correctness is the wrong approach.
“As a physician, it is our job to inform patients of unpleasant truths,” Savage said. “When someone is overweight and we instruct them of the benefits of healthier lifestyle which can result in weight loss, it is not intended as a pejorative but rather fulfilling our oath to assist them in living a longer more fulfilling and functional life.”
On a related note, a number of states ordered gyms to shut down in response to COVID-19 and a number of them have gone out of business. One study suggests that 22 percent of adults gained five to ten pounds during lockdowns last spring due to excess eating and reduced physical activity. weight during lockdown disruptions.
Ashley Bateman (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.