A provocative piece on the obesity epidemic via Slate’s new Hive project, in which author Daniel Engbar compiles a startling amount of data about the ineffectiveness of ‘tough love’ when it comes to dealing with this issue. In fact, the evidence of “the law increasing the trespass” (Romans 5:20) is pretty egregious here. A classic example of the civil use of the law (healthy weight being undeniably in the best interest of individuals and society as whole) backfiring completely, i.e. regardless of the intention, the law in this area is only ever heard/received in its moral capacity, therefore producing its opposite. At least, if the data is to be trusted… Take that, tiger mothers!
If it’s really true that America suffers from a lack of tough love, and that’s why we got so fat in the first place, then you might expect the nation’s swelling obesity rates to have arrived on a wave of warm fuzzies. But we’ve seen just the opposite, says Rebecca Puhl of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity (a leading advocate for the soda tax, among many other aggressive anti-obesity interventions). No one has been giving fat people a free ride. In fact, the prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased by two-thirds since the mid-1990s; even middle-schoolers are getting meaner. The Hive tells us that to fight obesity we must “go on the offensive against obese people.” Just look at the data. We tried that approach, and it didn’t work.
As I’ve argued before, it could even be the case that all this stigma is making things worse. Columbia University epidemiologist Peter Muennig has found evidence that the life-shortening effects of obesity are more severe among women than men, and more severe among white women than black women. Women and whites also happen to be the two groups most affected by weight-based discrimination. According to Muennig, it makes sense that the more shame you feel as a result of being fat, the greater the toll on your body. So a widespread war on obesity, or indeed an effort to “fix” the nation’s fat children, could serve to exacerbate the problem.
But you don’t have to buy into the idea that fat shame is killing us. Research also shows that stigma doesn’t help anyone slim down. Nor does it encourage healthy behavior (which is, after all, very different from weight loss). At the University of Minnesota, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer recruited nearly 5,000 adolescents for a long-term study of weight- and food-related issues, and according to her data, the teenage girls who were most dissatisfied with their bodies gained more weight over a five-year stretch than their classmates. In fact, these dissatisfied girls showed triple the increase in body-mass index, controlling for the possibility that they were fatter to begin with. All that self-hate didn’t turn them into gym rats, either: The same group ended up getting less exercise than their peers.

The troubling numbers abound. Neumark-Sztainer’s data suggest that kids who go on a diet are twice as likely to end up overweight. (Once again, that’s not because they started out heavier.) Same goes for kids who were teased about their weight—a group that’s also at higher risk for binge-eating, bulimia, laxative abuse, and other dangerous behaviors. Teasing may also help explain why the percentage of adolescent girls who suffer from extreme distress about their bodies seems to be much higher than the one-sixth who show up as obese on the CDC growth charts. As for the 9.3 percent of American high-school girls who attempt suicide every year, the mere belief that they’re fat turns out to be at least as important a risk factor as whether they really are overweight.

For a considerably more in-depth/profound discussion of the theological implications here, visit Michael Belote’s excellent Reboot Christianity blog