Shaming fat people into losing weight is the only way to solve obesity epidemic, leading health academic claims
By DAILY MAIL REPORTER
A leading health academic has called for fat people to be 'shamed and beat upon socially' in order to halt the obesity crisis. In a controversial article, Daniel Callahan, the 82-year-old president emeritus of The Hastings Center a New York think-tank specializing in health policy ethics, calls for increased stigmatization of obese people to try spur weight-loss across America.
The senior research scholar says fat people should be treated like smokers who have become increasingly demonized in recent years and thus 'nudged' by negative attitudes of those around them into giving up the unhealthy habit. Experts in eating disorders and obesity dismissed his calls for the 'edgier strategy' as ignorant and damaging to MailOnline today, saying such a perspective advocates the 'playground bullying' of children.
'The obvious target would be the large number of people who are unaware that they are overweight,' he writes in the paper printed in the center's first periodical volume of the year. 'They need, to use an old phrase, a shock of recognition. Only a carefully calibrated effort of public social pressure is likely to awaken them to the reality of their condition. 'They need to be leaned upon, nudged, and—when politically feasible—helped by regulations to understand that they are potentially in trouble. They should not want to be that way, nor should others.' he writes.
Callahan, a former senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, acknowledges that the causes of obesity are manifold and more needs to be done to encourage healthy eating but says driving up negative public opinion may be the only way to bring the quick results necessary to halt the crisis. 'It is hard to imagine that much progress can occur toward solutions for obesity unless we bring some form of social pressure to bear against it,' he writes.
He goes on to argue stigmatization already takes place in much of public life - using the example of criticism of New Jersey governor Chris Christie's weight when there was talk of him being a possible presidential candidate. He argues it is public health officials who are reluctant to harness this negative public opinion and cause offense when it would help drive down the epidemic. However, health and obesity experts have criticized Callahan's paper branding him ignorant and irresponsible.
Dr Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa and an author on obesity, told MailOnline: 'The one thing that’s not lacking in society is the stigmatization of people with obesity. 'If guilt and shame were sufficient to fuel long term weight management, the world would be a very skinny place indeed. Obesity is mulch-factorial and driven by the world in which we live.' Peggy Elam, a Nashville clinical psychologist specializing in eating disorders and a publisher of 'healthy body image' books said Callahan's views were ' horrifying'
'It is mind-boggling and on many levels ignorant of actual research,' she said. 'Smoking is a behavior, fatness is a body condition. 'This kind of bullying has a tremendous impact on peoples lives. We've seen in the past decade or two a rise in the hospitalization of children under 12 with eating disorders. On a humanitarian level it is shocking he is encouraging such bullying.'
Laura Discipio, of the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, backed up that position: 'Weight is a complex issue that involves many things including genetics,' she said. 'His proposal is just providing ammunition to hurt the self esteem of children on every playground around the country.'
Deb Burgard, of The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance said: 'Callahan is obviously utterly out of touch with the real world. He is also woefully ignorant of the social science research that shows that stigma leads to a higher risk of self-harm, poorer health, and social isolation, for people with, as well as people threatened with, the stigmatized characteristic.
'As a clinician who treats eating disorders across the weight spectrum, I see the fallout from our culture of weight stigma. Callahan admires thin people for successfully winning the war on obesity, but this is like looking at the bank accounts of the rich and imagining they work harder than everyone else.'