Study Says 63% Of Obese People Attempted Weight Loss Last Year (So Stop Calling Fat People Lazy)
A study released today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says 60% of obese people in the U.S. lost significant weight in the past year. The study doesn't say much about how to combat obesity (or why so many people are still obese, if most of them are successfully doing something to change that), but it does lend some scientific cred to the argument against stereotyping obese people as lazy.
Researchers surveyed 4,000 obese Americans, and found that most—63%—had attempted weight loss in the previous year. Of those, 40% lost 5% of their total weight, and 20% lost 10% of their total body weight. The researchers analyzed which methods seemed to be most successful—those who'd lost the most weight typically reported using a multi-faceted approach, including diet, exercise, and prescription medications. But the researchers' takeaways go beyond painting a vague picture of what works for obese people trying to lose weight: They also feel that their study proves that people aren't obese because they're lazy.
Lead researcher Dr. Jacinda M. Nicklas, a clinical research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told The Boston Globe:
I think there are stereotypes about obese people that they can’t lose weight and aren’t trying. This says they are losing weight and they are trying.
Whis is the most important conclusion of the entire study.
Whether direct or implied, prevailing attitudes towards obesity tend to blame obesity on the obese. This study helps underscore the fact that that's not only an unhelpful and un-PC way of looking at the problem; it's also flat-out wrong.
The survey fails to explain why our country's obesity rates are on the rise, despite so many obese people trying to lose weight, but explanations abound. Tara Parker-Pope wrote a particularly thorough (if depressing) account of why most people gain back the weight they lose (something she calls “The Fat Trap“), and while many of those surveyed for this study succeeded in losing weight, the data didn't account for where their weight began or ended (i.e. if you're obese enough, you could lose 10% of your body weight and still be obese).
It's encouraging to know that eating less fat, exercising, and even prescription drugs can help people make progress in weight loss—no one wants to hear that we don't have any agency in our health or weight. But it's also important to note that even if people are able to make strides on their own, obesity has become a public health issue and social problem; something that requires a whole lot more than shaming people for their weight, or assuming that anyone who's overweight or obese has abandoned all caution with their health. In fact, obesity is a problem that everyone—from families, friends and doctors on up to government organizations—should be trying to solve (instead of calling fat people lazy).