Over the past three decades, obesity rates in children have tripled. Over the same period of time, efforts to slow this trend have emphasized an “eat less, do more” approach. The current research in the field of healthy weights shows not only how ineffective this message has been, but also why it has failed. 

First, the “eat less, do more” approach grossly oversimplifies a very complex issue. While eating habits and activity levels are lifestyle factors that definitely contribute to obesity, there are many other causal factors. These include genetics, individual biology, prenatal conditions, the built environment, social connectedness, income status and education level. The way these factors interact with each other complicates the issue further. 

Another flaw with an approach focusing solely on lifestyle factors is that it puts the entire burden of responsibility on individuals (or their parents, in the case of children). It basically says “have more will power with your food and don’t be so lazy, and we won’t have a problem.” Put this way, its obvious how the “eat less, do more” message has increased the stigma associated with weight, shaming the very audience it was intended to help. 

Knowing the complexity of factors involved, blaming someone for being obese is like blaming someone with cancer for their condition! Yes, there is an element of personal choice (it is smaller than you may think) for factors such as diet quality and activity amounts, but small changes will have small effects. So let us stop relying only on the individual to make a personal change when the changes required to solve this public health crisis are so much broader in scope. 

Begin by recognizing that obesity is a societal concern, not an individual one and every person, regardless of their BMI has a role to play. Realize that “fat” does not equal “lazy” and start seeing people who carry extra body weight as a product of many factors, least of which is likely to be their lifestyle. Stop denying that it is your problem and recognize that it is our problem. Only then can we all find ways to contribute to the solution.

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