Vitality

'Let's Move!' Reevaluated: Why Some Obesity Awareness Campaigns May Lead To Weight Gain, Not Weight Loss

michelle obama let's move
Telling people they're overweight is only making them eat more, says a new study. Twitter: @LetsMove

In case there was not enough evidence that we need to reevaluate the way we are handling the obesity epidemic, a new study has found that obesity awareness can lead to increased weight gain. These findings seem to contradict the fact that those who are overweight tend not to realize it, and thus must be informed of the fact in order to combat the problem. Instead, researchers are finding that those suffering from obesity are fully aware, and the added pressure associated with being overweight is making them eat more.

According to Eric Robinson of the Institute of Psychology at Liverpool University, it is this awareness and the stigma that comes along with being overweight that is causing people to stress-eat.

“There is quite a substantial body of research showing it is not really very much fun being an overweight person in this climate,” Robinson told The Guardian. “It is a stigmatized condition. Realizing you are an overweight individual is in itself likely to be quite stressful and makes making healthy choices in your lifestyle more difficult.”

Because of this, public health interventions must be very careful when approaching the topic of obesity. Even though many would think that raising awareness would compel people to take action to lose weight, the opposite is in fact happening. And it’s happening a lot.

The study, which was published in the International Journal of Obesity, examined over 14,000 adults in the United States and United Kingdom within the three separate studies, the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, the UK National Child Development Study, and Midlife in the United States.

To evaluate how weight changed based on obesity awareness, researchers examined self-reported perceptions of participants’ weight right as they reached adolescence. The UK study then tracked participants from ages 23 to 45, while the other two studies only tracked their participants for a 7- to 10-year time period.

Overall, researchers found “consistent” evidence that perceptions of being overweight, regardless of if they were true or not, meant that people would eat more. The team’s third study then found that this most frequently occurs when people are trying to comfort themselves; eating is the way they relieve stress.  

“These findings are in line with recent suggestions that the stress associated with being part of a stigmatized group may be detrimental to health,” authors report in the study. Robinson says that in addition to overeating, it is likely that participants were engaging in crash diets, which often leads to greater weight gain when the diet ends.

The greatest takeaway from their study: We must address body image issues that frequently follow obesity, and how we can remedy them to efficiently help people lose weight. “People with a heavier body weight have body image challenges. That is not surprising given the way we talk about weight and fat and obesity as a society,” Robinson said. “But the way we talk about body weight and the way we portray overweight and obesity in society is something we can think about and reconsider. There are ways of talking about it and encouraging people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle that don’t portray adiposity as a terribly deviant thing.”

According to The Week, this study may mean reevaluating campaigns like First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic by promoting healthy eating and exercising among American children. Though well intentioned, there have been several instances throughout the country that prove some children are electing to go against the First Lady’s efforts to help the country slim down. At Blackford High School in Hartford City, Ind., students have responded to healthier, but often more bland, lunches by developing a black market for salt and other seasonings in their cafeteria. On top of this, students were found to be eating more fast food as parents were taking their kids out for lunch more frequently to the local McDonald’s or Burger King.

 

 

So what does all this mean? Well, it seems that simply declaring obesity an issue, and trying to fight back on it should not be our complete solution. Instead, we must focus on how we view being overweight and become more sensitive to body image issues in order to effectively promote a healthy lifestyle.

Source: Robinson E, Hunger J, Daly M. Perceived weight status and risk of weight gain across life in US and UK adults. International Journal of Obesity. 2015.

 

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