"I believe that those who greedily jump at the chance to make comments such as ‘put the fork down’ or ‘my taxpayer money will pay for your obesity’ need to get some education. And grow up." Photo: Getty
There’s nothing more self-righteous than fitness fanatics who like to indulge in a little bit of public body-shaming.
Like this article, from a self-described “(former) chubby strategy consultant” and current personal trainer, which went gangbusters on smh.com.au last week.
It was enlightening read; not because it offered any qualitative break-down of unhealthy habits – but because it highlighted the ignorant attitude people still have toward the overweight and health in general.
I wonder why the only symptom of poor health the writer chose to focus on was overweight. There are a plethora of symptoms – including high blood pressure, hardened arteries, depression and hypertension - that come from the unhealthy habits he describes. You can also be unhealthy and slim, or vice-versa. Yet bafflingly, the only group of people to bare the brunt of his scorn were those who most obviously display their symptoms on the outside. The overweight.
Perhaps I should add a disclaimer. At age 18, I found myself in the somewhat aptly-named Hollywood Hospital in Perth, in the throes of an eating-disorder which would rob me of a good six-years of my life. Those years ravaged by anorexia and later, bulimia, are largely a blur of illness, shame and pain, and like alcoholism, I believe it is with me permanently, despite my being in good health now.
I won’t share the horror stories from that period of my life, but I will admit to being more sensitive to the debate around overweight than most, because I know the damage focusing solely on it can do.
I spoke with Tim Gill, an associate professor of public health and an author of a report published in the most recent issue of the journal Obesity Reviews, about consumer response to healthy eating and physical activity guidelines.
One of the findings was that people simply do not respond to offensive words and messages. That’s not to say you can’t be blunt with the unhealthy. Consumers responded well, Dr Gill said, to clear and direct messages such as ‘cut-out sugar’ or ‘eat less salt’. It’s just they don’t want to be labelled by what is merely one of the many symptoms of poor lifestyle - the terms ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’.
I completely agree that unhealthy people need to be educated, supported and in some cases, pushed to choose better habits. Bad health in general – not just obesity – needs to be addressed. Everyone should appreciate that the benefits of a healthy lifestyle extend far beyond maintaining a healthy weight. But I also believe that those who greedily jump at the chance to make comments such as ‘put the fork down’ or ‘my taxpayer money will pay for your obesity’ need to get some education. And grow up.
How many of these self-proclaimed experts, if they had their health and fitness evaluated by their doctor, would pass with flying colours? They may not be overweight but this does not make them perfect. It is certainly not helpful to make generalisations and throw abuse at the unhealthy, even if that criticism comes from a fit and healthy person. The causes for poor health are broad and complex. Acknowledging as much is not to excuse unhealthy lifestyles, but would certainly help better address the cause.
For some people, good health and fitness is second nature, while others are disadvantaged from birth through no fault of their own. Some just make bad choices and yes, some make poor excuses. It is also never too late to claim responsibility for your health and lifestyle and change does start from the individual. Blaming others is often futile. But anyone who thinks change will come from writing a generalised list of the habits one group of people may or may not indulge in is fooling themselves.
Melissa Davey is a health reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald. She is originally from Perth.
Amy Corderoy is on leave, spending her time being decidedly un-healthy.