Diet and physical activity alone do not determine body size. Lessons from abroad reveal how the United States can improve policy around childhood obesity by taking culture into account.
The spread of body positivity is at an all-time high. Celebrities and influencers are celebrating larger bodies. Models of a variety of sizes are promoting beauty and consumer products. And a flood of social media posts and TV shows urge us to love our bodies as they are.
Despite this positive rhetoric, weight bias and fat shaming remain rampant. Thinness is a Western ideal that has had enormous influence around the world, spread first through colonization and echoed today through social media and pop culture. It's an ideal that has racist roots: during the slave trade, middle and upper class white women were told to eat “as little as was necessary in order to show their Christian nature and also their racial superiority” in the words of sociologist Sabrina Strings. Body size became associated with discipline and self-control and used to suggest who did and did not deserve freedom.
Childhood Obesity and Weight Discrimination
While unintentional, anti-fat attitudes have also made their way into public health policy. Take efforts to address childhood obesity: there is no shortage of interventions that concentrate on diet and exercise, based on conventional wisdom that weight gain results from more calories consumed than expended. But this focus on individual behavior feeds into biases that being overweight is the result of a lack of self-discipline or a moral failing.