"Fast food restaurants should ban obese people from gorging on junk food to shock start their weight loss," says Steve Miller, presenter of the Sky TV show Fat Families.
Miller compares it to a bartender who cuts off an obviously drunk patron. It's for their own good, he says. He claims this is a lifesaving technique and that his overweight clients are addicted to junk food. He insists it's not about shaming fat people.
He's wrong. It is both punitive and shameful.
Size discrimination is the last socially sanctioned prejudice. Studies show that overweight people get paid less, are given promotions less often and are dismissed by doctors, among other indignities. In short, it is not easy being overweight, even in the U.S. where so many of our citizens are obese.
"People need to start owning their own bodies," Miller says. "The only way to reduce obesity is by using shock tactics." He believes parents feeding their overweight children should be "prosecuted [and] fast food restaurants should face penalties too."
Miller misses several key points. Fast food isn't good for anyone, regardless of weight. Someone worried about public health ought to ban fast food restaurants altogether. But even more, you can't tell someone's weight or health just by looking at them. Kate Harding's Illustrated BMI project shows just how tricky it is to try and categorize someone by weight from a quick glance.
The fact is, Miller has missed the past decade or so of research that shows that obesity and weight gain are a lot more complicated than a penchant for taquitos. Everything from pollution to genetics to socioeconomic status has been scientifically shown to affect someone's weight in addition to more obscure things like the altitude at which they live and what type of bacteria they have in their guts.
Here's the thing: "Fat people" are people first. People deserve body autonomy. Some public health issues should be regulated — mandatory hand washing in hospitals, for example — but this shouldn't be one of them.
Even if banning overweight people from junk food isn't about shame or punishment it doesn't do what matters. That is: Empower people to take control of their health.
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