It Certainly Worked For Smokers, Saving Lives and Many Dollars – Fat Shaming Can Do The Same – Expert
WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 9, 2019) – Comedian Bill Maher has just suggested on his HBO program that we should use fat shaming as a tactic to attack America’s second most serious and expensive public health problem (after smoking), despite objections from many liberals (whom he called “the NRA of mayonnaise”) and from the so-called fat acceptance movement.
Maher on being fat
Maher ridiculed that movement which excoriates anyone who criticizes a person for being fat - accusing such critics of suffering from fat-phobia and sizeism - and drawing an analogy to criticizing someone who is drunk; saying sarcastically "How dare you drink-shame me - being blotto is beautiful."
Quoting a New York Times report that "poor diet is the leading cause of mortality in the United States," he argued that "fat shaming needs to make a comeback," and that "shaming is the first step towards reform," noting that it worked for smoking, littering, and to some extent for racism.
Maher notes that the number of shooting deaths pale by comparison to deaths and illnesses caused by obesity, and that "being fat is not a birth defect" or other pre-existing condition.
But shaming smokers - making them feel, in their own words, like "social pariahs" - was tremendously effective in helping smokers do what most already wanted to do, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who played a major role in slashing smoking in the U.S., thereby saving millions of lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in medical care costs.
While there may be little comparable data proving that similarly shaming people who are obese helps them to lose weight, if it worked to help people with a hard core addiction to a deadly and highly addictive drug like nicotine, it might likewise help people who absentmindedly pile more food onto their plates than they really need or is healthful for them, suggests Banzhaf, whose legal action forced broadcasters to make hundreds of millions of dollars worth of TV and radio broadcast time available free for antismoking messages.
Smoking and its costs
The initial antismoking messages, which largely stressed the health dangers of smoking, were of only limited effectiveness, he says.
But when the messages switched to deliberately shaming smokers - such as an anti-ad showing Brooke Shields joking that putting cigarettes in her ears made her look sexy and sophisticated - the messages proved to be far more effective, especially among young smokers, notes Banzhaf.
Moreover, every no smoking sign in a public place was a not-too-subtle remainder that - rather than making people sexy, social, and sophisticated - smoking actually made them so stinky and smelly that other people shun them.
A recent study concludes that the "total cost of chronic diseases due to obesity and overweight was $1.72 trillion - equivalent to 9.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)," although the CDC's estimate is lower.
And a large part of those huge costs are borne by taxpayers in the form of higher taxes to pay for obesity-caused - and therefore totally unnecessary - medical care expenses under Medicare, Medicaid, and other governmental programs, as well as in bloated health insurance premiums.
So anything which might help slash the prevalence and huge unnecessary costs of obesity - which, unlike with smoking, are continuing to rise - might well be worth trying, argues Banzhaf.
At a time when some companies are actually refusing to hire people who are obese and/or charging them far more for their health insurance, shaming the great majority who can control their weight by eating more healthful foods, reducing portion size, and getting a bit more exercise seems far less extreme, especially if it provides a much needed additional incentive for fat people to do what most already want to do - stop being obese.