Our fear of offense is killing people

Health literacy

‘BODY POSITIVITY’ IS one of the buzzwords of the day. It encourages people to adopt more forgiving and affirming attitudes towards their bodies and to the bodies of others, with the goal of improving overall health and well-being. In 2016, Sports Illustrated released three covers for their annual Swimsuit Issue, all featuring women with different body types. One of the three covers featured plus-size model Ashley Graham, who told NBC’s TODAY that “there is no right size and there is no wrong size”.

In fact, the idea of being ‘comfortable in your own skin’ has become a contributor to the obesity problem. Putting this consideration first and foremost is equivalent to not keeping score in an elementary soccer program. Writing off our own behavior as irrelevant is resulting in a slow degradation of our overall health.

As a health care entrepreneur, my preoccupation is not so much with right and wrong, but with healthy and unhealthy. My work requires me to stand face to face, every day, with an obesity crisis that ruins lives (and is ruining the economy). The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the proportion of obese Americans stands at 36.5 per cent. It contributes to some of the leading causes of death in this country, such as diabetes. It costs the country upwards of $150 billion each year, and is so extreme that it has created a military manpower shortage that, according to veteran Thomas Spoehr of the Heritage Foundation, “directly compromises national security”. And the trend is going in the wrong direction.

Because so many of us won’t talk openly and honestly about the obvious link between body fat percentage and health, we are allowing people to sleepwalk into a state of poor health––and worse. It’s one thing to be comfortable in your own skin. But when the conversation is not managed properly, we perpetuate a very serious problem. It’s important to remember that half of the 70% of Americans who are obese or overweight believe that they are not overweight. And in less than 10 years’ time, we will have statistical documentation showing that, for the first time in history, the average American’s life span will have gone down, not up.

Studies show that ‘body-shaming’ is also detrimental to helping people to lose weight. Clearly the answer isn’t to make people feel personally humiliated about how they look. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t educate people on what health looks like, why health is important and why we need self-discipline to stay in shape and out of the hospital. A wrong action or answer can’t be treated with a person’s feelings in mind. And that’s why our fear of offending people by saying what is unhealthy and what isn’t is so dangerous.

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