Obesity interventions should focus on food environment, not fat shaming

Fat shaming was debated in television talk show monologues in September 2019. First, on Real Time with Bill Maher, the host argued that shaming people with obesity would prompt them to lose weight. Then James Corden spoke on the Late Late Show about his own struggles with weight, arguing that Maher’s strategy was not only bullying, but overly simplistic. The reasons why people gain excess weight are complicated, Corden said, adding, “It’s proven that fat shaming only does one thing: It makes people feel ashamed.”

Following up on the debate, the New York Times published a roundup of current research on obesity prevention strategies on September 17. Sara Bleich, professor of public health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was among the experts highlighted in the article who emphasized that addressing obesity will require changing environmental cues, rather than blaming individuals. The article quoted an April 2019 Harvard Gazette interview with Bleich in which she called for healthier default options on fast food and school lunch menus, and taxes on sugar-sweetened sodas.

Read the New York Times article: What’s the Right Way to Reverse the Obesity Epidemic?

Learn more

The Scarlet F: Why fat shaming harms health, and how we can change the conversation (Harvard Public Health)

Addressing childhood obesity ‘like playing whack-a-mole’ (Harvard Chan School news)