Opinion | Ending Obesity, and Its Stigma

To the Editor:

Re “Leave Overweight Kids Alone,” by Aubrey Gordon (Sunday Review, Nov. 15):

I feel as if I’m reading “alternate facts.”

Obesity is an epidemic in our country, fostered by advertising and poor education. Adult obesity is preceded by childhood obesity, and any pediatrician who ignores this is mistreating the patient.

Look at the facts regarding diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, surgical mortality and so on. They are all increased by obesity. These are the facts.

Philip Lebovitz
Langhorne, Pa.
The writer is a retired cardiologist.

To the Editor:

I was 7 when I started hearing that I had to use willpower. I was told that the rest of the family shouldn’t be punished and denied treats just because I had no willpower.

I couldn’t have dancing lessons unless I lost weight so I wouldn’t embarrass my parents. My father told me that a man liked to be proud of his daughters. My sisters made that cut. I didn’t. On and on.

Two years of therapy at 28 helped, but here I am at 73 still unable to truly enjoy food because it has always been a source of shame and misery.

Rebecca Giannini
Fairfield Bay, Ark.

To the Editor:

I agree with Aubrey Gordon’s thesis that we should not blame or shame fat children. It is their parents who instilled in them the bad eating habits at an early age that led to their obesity. And it is a challenge for them to make beneficial nutritional changes.

But we must acknowledge that obesity — not just in children but also in adults — has reached epidemic levels in the United States and is the highest in the world. And it contributes to many chronic diseases, like diabetes and cardiovascular problems, and soaring health care costs.

So my question to Ms. Gordon is what solutions does she propose to bring the obesity epidemic under control, since prior campaigns have not been successful and only served to shame children.

The United States was successful in dramatically reducing smoking; any ideas on how to do the same with obesity?

Ashok Sikand
The writer is a retired chief executive of Pfizer Europe.

To the Editor:

The point of this article is that fat-shaming is bad for children and counterproductive. Of course. But what about the true medical dangers of obesity?

Before Covid, these dangers were long term. Now the danger is both real and immediate given the increase in mortality suffered by obese Covid patients.

As a psychiatrist I would say: Please do not offer up psychological support as a way to undermine proper medical care. The two modalities should work in tandem.

Judith Ebenstein
New York

To the Editor:

What Aubrey Gordon doesn’t mention is that fat-shaming is not only harmful, but that it can also be deadly.

The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that up to 30 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia at some point in their lives. Anorexia is the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses. Bulimia is nearly as deadly. Those who recover do so slowly, often with enormous permanent damage to their bodies.

Susan Neiman

To the Editor:

As an overweight adult who endured rude comments about my weight as a child, I think that Aubrey Gordon made some very valid points. When people comment on your weight, they think that they are helping you, but really they are making you feel that you aren’t worthy unless you are thin.

As a child I was taught to be respectful of my elders, but where was respect for me with all of their insensitive comments?

As an adult I do not let anyone make me feel as if I don’t matter because of my weight. It took me a long time to get to this place of self-worth, and if people don’t like how I look, they need to get over it.

Tonette Giafaglione
Mount Vernon, Wash.

To the Editor:

I am sympathetic to the viewpoint of Aubrey Gordon. No one should be shamed for a physical trait. But as a physician, I must speak to the other side of this equation.

How can we prevent the lifelong disability set in play by childhood obesity? Twenty-one percent of 12-to-19-year-olds are obese. I take care of 5-year-olds who weigh as much as I do, a full-grown adult.

In my practice of anesthesiology, it is now common to see adult patients who weigh 300 pounds or more. To a person, they wonder why they have heart disease, shortness of breath or diabetes.

Prevention is the best medicine. As a country, we must determine how to prevent this rise in childhood obesity, without shaming, but with an eye to an adult life with less medical intervention.

Mary Kemen
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

To the Editor:

Aubrey Gordon points to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign as the zenith of the war on childhood obesity, arguing that “it wasn’t a campaign against foods with little nutritional value, or against the unchecked poverty that called for such low-cost, shelf-stable foods.”

But of course the “Let’s Move!” campaign (and indeed the Obama 2008 campaign) did at first target nutritional issues, as well as the unchecked power of food companies over the lives of farmers and consumers.

Alas, as reported in these pages by Michael Pollan (“Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take On Corporate Agriculture?,” Sunday Magazine, Oct. 5, 2016), when Big Food realized that its profits were on the line, these companies derailed all regulatory efforts at accountability, and Mrs. Obama was left to focus only on our individual choices.

Our children — indeed, all of us — would be well served if the incoming Biden administration actually follows through this time around.

Liz Hallinan
The writer is executive director of the Greenfield Project, a nonprofit committed to improving animal agriculture.

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