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Newly Published Paper says Social Media Campaigns Balloon Up Stereotypes and Stigma associated with Fatness

Eric needs a new job–preferably one that doesn’t stigmatize an entire population.

I’m pleased to share with you that my colleague Lily O’ Hara has recently co-authored a paper in the journal Media and Culture.  The article offers a critique of two major anti-obesity media campaigns that ran in Australia.  These campaigns include “Measure Up” and “Swap It, Don’t Stop It”.  The Measure Up campaign promotes health management through body weight and waist circumference.  It included television advertising, posters, a community guide and a handy 12-week planning kit complete with, you guessed it, a tape measure.  Highlighted headlines included “The more you gain, the more you have to lose.” and “How do you measure up?”

Not surprisingly the images that accompanied these campaigns were troubling for many and triggering for some.  In the Measure Up campaign, there were video ads that showed a young man looking sadly at a waistline that expanded as he digitally aged.  Naturally dire warnings about disease accompanied the video.  In still images, both men and women were shown, head bowed, looking dejectedly at a tape measure slung around their waists.  These people were shown clad in their underwear (similar to the shorts/sports bra getup in The Biggest Loser) to add to the “public shaming” aspect of the campaign.

Ad copy for the Swap it Don’t Stop It campaign used fear and panic words, highlighting diseases and phrases like ballooning weight.  In fact the star of the campaign, Eric, is made of a balloon.  In the campaign he says,

over the years my belly has ballooned and ballooned. It’s come time to do something about it — the last thing I want is to end up with some cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. That’s why I’ve become a Swapper! What’s a swapper? It’s simple really. It just means swapping some of the things I’m doing now for healthier choices. That way I can lose my belly, without losing all the things I love. It’s easy!

So aside from the panic inducing words and shame producing “balloon image” we have the assertion that swapping just a few foods in a person’s diet will significantly change weight, BMI and waist circumference, despite the fact that there is no concrete evidence that this result would indeed happen.

The paper concludes:

Through the use of textual, discursive and social practices, the social marketing campaigns analysed in this study perpetuate the following concepts: everyone should be alarmed about growing waistlines and ‘ballooning’ rates of ‘obesity’; individuals are to blame for excess body weight, due to ignorance and the practice of ‘unhealthy behaviours’; individuals have a moral, parental, familial and cultural responsibility to monitor their weight and adopt ‘healthy’ eating and physical activity behaviours; such behaviour changes are easy to make and will result in weight loss, which will reduce risk of disease. These paternalistic campaigns evoke feelings of personal and parental guilt and shame, resulting in coercion to ‘take action’. They simultaneously stigmatise fat people yet serve to invisibilise them. Public health agencies must consider the harmful consequences of social marketing campaigns focused on body weight.

So let’s take this apart for a moment, shall we?  I’ve spoken before, at great length, about how shame fails to make people healthier, happier or thinner.  In fact, I’ve spoken about how shame tends to make us, less happy, less happy and larger than before.  I’ve talked about how obesity levels are actually flattened out, and the obesipanic doesn’t really make sense in that context.  I’ve talked about how hard our bodies fight to maintain our weight and that in most cases, a few simple changes will not result in significant (if any) weight loss.  So everything about these campaigns are doomed.  They are much more likely to cause harm than to help.  But let’s look at one other aspect of this.  The taxpayers of Australia paid for these things.  They are government sponsored.

We’ve all  heard the argument that fat people can be fat as long as they don’t cost  you tax dollars.
And there are many reasons why this is a ridiculous argument.  But one eloquent comeback I see after reading this paper is this:

Your fat hatred is costing me far more tax dollars than any money you are supposedly losing caring for people of size.

We have ample evidence that these campaigns do no good.  We have ample evidence that these campaigns are actively causing harm to the people targeted by them.  And to me, the worst part is we are making people pay for the very media that is stigmatizing, brutalizing and depressing them.

The only thing ballooning here, is my rage over this particular state of affairs.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

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Workplace Wellness Doesn’t Heal the Bottom Line

workplace_wellness copyI think we’ve seen lots and lots of press of late concerning workplace wellness.  There are a variety of companies charging huge premiums to corporations promising companies healthier employees.  And each of these companies, in turn, promises a healthier balance sheet by reducing worker healthcare costs.  A lot of c-level employees have spent a fair amount of company cash on these promises.  So it’s probably not surprising that when Rand Corporation issued its recent report concerning the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs there was a scramble.

Rand Corporation briefly posted the government-mandated report on its site last Friday.  Very shortly after it was posted, it was withdrawn.  The following statement was posted in its stead:

“This document was posted in error and has been withdrawn pending completion of contractual obligations to the project sponsor.”

Before the document was pulled, Forbes magazine managed to snag a copy.  Forbes didn’t waste any time posting an article about the findings of the report.  I’ll summarize the report for you here.

Most workplace wellness programs don’t work.

Yup, you heard it.  It seems that most of the millions and even billions of dollars of corporate cash being dumped into workplace wellness programs that don’t offer any statistically significant benefit.  In short:

1.  Most workplace wellness programs don’t lead to better health among employees.

2.  Most workplace wellness programs don’t lead to statistically significant weight loss in employees.  On average attendees of the wellness programs lost 1 pound per year for three years.  Even those few programs that showed larger weight loss numbers,  were not able to sustain the benefits.

3.  Most workplace wellness programs don’t lead to better behavior.  Even smoking cessation programs generally led only to “short term” improvements.

4.  Most workplace wellness programs don’t lead to better health markers.  There were no statistically significant improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar.

5.  Most workplace wellness programs were unable to demonstrate lower costs for hospital or emergency care.

The bottom line is that, as a whole, the workplace wellness programs cost the companies money and did not create statistically significant cost savings.  In fact, on average, cost savings averaged $2.38/month for year one and $3.46/month for year three.

Not long after Forbes published its article, it seems that the cat was well and truly out of the bag.  And the Rand Corporation published the report.  You can see the full PDF here.

All of this is especially relevant to us fat folk.  For the past few days, I have been at the ASDAH Conference.  I’ve been leading fitness classes, speaking about Health At Every Size(R) and hearing a LOT about how workplace wellness programs disproportionally affect people of size.

The fact is, that a lot of workers who don’t have a “government-sanctioned” BMI or waist circumference are required to choose between paying higher premiums and enrolling in company “workplace wellness” programs.  Many of these programs violate worker privacy and shame workers in front of co-workers.  Imagine if you are required to go to a workplace-sponsored “Weight Watchers” program and are required to step on a scale in the same room with your boss or your co-workers.  Just think about the trauma this could cause.  Then think about that trauma in light of the fact that these programs simply don’t work.  The programs don’t help you lose weight in the long run.  These programs don’t help you be healthier.  And these programs don’t even save the company money.  It’s a lot of personal drama and trauma that provides absolutely no benefit to anyone outside of the company selling the workplace wellness program and Weight Watchers.

It doesn’t benefit the companies.  Which isn’t a super big surprise, given the fact that many c-level employees fail to scrutinize or even understand these programs before they are implemented.  According to the RAND report, only 44% of companies who used wellness programs have ever evaluated them and only 2% have “detailed information” about how much the company has saved as a result.  Uh-oh.  There goes that boat you were gonna buy with your annual bonus.

It doesn’t benefit employees.  Many employees resent being asked to show up at potentially embarrassing, and decidedly time-consuming programs that don’t work.  They don’t like it and it doesn’t improve their health.  Um, check please!

As advocates of Health At Every Size, this is a space that will be worth watching.  In the meantime, I offer this health advice absolutely free:

1.  Manage your stress.

2.  Get good quality and quantity sleep.

3.  Move around in a way that feels good and joyful to you.

4.  Eat a wide variety of foods that taste good to you, and take time to savor and enjoy them.

5.  Connect often with people you love and people who love you.

All that stuff is scientifically proven to improve your chances at good health.  And you didn’t have to take time off work, step on a scale or tell your boss your intimate health details to get that information.  You’re welcome.

Love,

The Fat Chick

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