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Poll: Is 'Shame' a Helpful Weight-Loss Motivator?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A prominent bioethicist is making headlines this week with his unconventional (and, some say, mean-spirited) plan to curb obesity rates and related health-care costs. Dr. Daniel Callahan recommends taking a tactic similar to one that was employed in the fight against smoking: attaching a social stigma to it. Callanan, who at age 82 is not overweight but was a smoker, proposed in a new report that strong social pressure could be brought against those who are overweight. He says that it worked for smoking and could work for obesity, too, but his opponents are calling it "fat-shaming" and bullying.

In the abstract of his report, he poses some heavy questions: "How far can government and business go in trying to change behavior that harms health, what are the limits of market freedom for industry, and how do we look upon our bodies and judge those of others?" We'd like to know what you think. Would that work? Did you ever feel shamed because of your weight? What was your reaction?

Do you think that this is a viable option? Is Callahan's suggestion mean or "tough love"? What would you propose as an alternative?

What do you think of Callahan's idea?

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Man! If body shaming worked, I would be anorexic. The only thing body shaming does is doubly marginalize those already actively engaged in self-loathing. I know I am fat. I get the message every day that I should hate myself. I get shunned at work because people think fat is a communicable disease. I often get less than courteous treatment in my daily life. I was thin for most of my life and there is a pronounced difference in how people relate to me now. I don't get afforded the same level of common courtesy, especially by men. If institutionalized shaming were enacted, the obesity rate would probably rise as we fat people would be afraid to leave our homes. Report
This guy has an interesting body of work. Here are some of his other contributions:

Taming the Beloved Beast: Why Medical Technology Costs are Destroying Our Health Care System

Health Care for the Elderly: Should Limits Be Set?

Unsustainable: Hard Truths About the American Way of Life

Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality

I get the feeling that Dr. Callahan gets more personal benefit from his philosophies that his subjects do. What a shame he has such a large audience. Report
I agree with OOLALA53, there already is a social stigma. Everybody looks at overweight people funny when they see them eating a doughnut. They think, "Wow, like you haven't eaten enough." When it's a thin person doing the exact same thing, people think nothing of it, "Must be a fast breakfast because she must have a very busy schedule." Obviously it's not working and doesn't work with anything else, not even smoking. It just makes people feel bad and reach for another bag of chips for comfort. Report
There already is social stigma, for goodness' sake! Shame is a terrible motivator. If shame worked, most people would be thin. If anything, there should be more support for eating in moderation. Enjoy foods, not overeating. Report
My mother tried to shame me thin. It made me develop even worse habits - most specifically hiding food and binge eating to avoid being caught with candy or cookies. It was especially hard as she was overweight too- her excuse was that she had two children. She made me feel unworthy to dress nicely and I wore men's shirts for a long time, starting in high school because fat girls didn't get to wear pretty things - reinforced by the ugly clothes in the fat girl sections of department stores.

Shaming someone thin simply doesn't work. And comparing obesity to smoking is a faulty analogy. I can live without ever smoking a cigarette. I cannot live without food. Report
Precisely this:

How Privilege Influences Our Perceptions of Style - a blog on Huffington Post

Shaming, in other words, has to be blind. Shaming, in other words, has to be relative, not absolute. Remove thin privilege, and there can be relativist, shape-shifting, positive, affirming, constructively critical shaming.

Not gonna happen in my (our) lifetime. Report
Obesity is not in the same category as smoking. People choose to smoke even with all of the warnings. Obesity is not a choice for most people. Read the blogs on Spark People and you will realize it is a much more complex problem. Shame will actually make things worse in the long run. Look at anorexia and bulimia. The government needs to stay out of our personal lives. Report
I'd have to read more about what he actually said to decide and maybe read the report he released. Sometimes this quick summaries don't really capture what was really being said.

I don't think shaming is a good idea if it means something along the lines of humiliation. But at the same time we need to come up with some new ideas because what we're doing obviously isn't working as well as we need it to. Report
shame to the idiot who even thinks about this, even more if he is a "doctor", I don't care how many degrees and diplomas he has. especially since medical research did absolutely nothing to help overweight people. maybe they will when 90 % of world population will be obese. cause they will be if nothing changes in the food manufacturing industry. Report
positive support is the only thing that works. Shaming can have severe consequences. There is no point in heaping shame on someone who is already probably self conscious. We feel judged by slim people already, all day, every day. Sometimes even in our own homes. My turning point was finding a compassionate, knowledgeable personal trainer who could help me with all aspects of lifestyle change. Perhaps subsidizing qualified help for people who can't afford it would be a step in the right direction. Report
There will never be shame without its cousin, aesthetic fascism.

Remove the absolutes - of having to look like an able, wealthy, young, fit fashion model. Then we can consider using shame till the cows come home. Report
I felt the shame every day as a kid and into adulthood, by my mother and other family members. She was nasty about it, had me on every diet imaginable, even through drs, but none of that helped me since nothing was ever good enough. I couldn't lose enough, or eat light enough, not to mention, we always had my favorite cookies and ice cream in the house, sodas, etc. Looking back at my pictures from that age, I look scrawny. By then though, the path was laid, it was a fight between us and only set me up for permanent weight loss issues, and rollercoasting, until 3 years ago. Shame is not the way, you only have a continued negative image of yourself that follows you for life. Report
Smoking harms other people; obesity does not. That's why it was ok to shame smokers, but not obese people. Report
This is a form of bullying. Aren't we trying to get away from bullying.
People feel bad enough when they are overweight. Why make them feel worse. Report
I don't like shaming for anything. The shame I felt about my health and weight didn't make me want to do anything but sink farther into it. Besides, smoking and obesity don't have the same motivating factors. Many people started smoking because of social acceptance (being "cool"). If the perception changes, it may prevent people from starting or encourage others to quit. But, obesity has many reasons (none of which are because it's "cool"). The idea of shaming is just a justification for someone to impose their own hatred onto someone else. Report
I don't like shaming for anything. The shame I felt about my health and weight didn't make me want to do anything but sink farther into it. Besides, smoking and obesity don't have the same motivating factors. Many people started smoking because of social acceptance (being "cool"). If the perception changes, it may prevent people from starting or encourage others to quit. But, obesity has many reasons (none of which are because it's "cool"). The idea of shaming is just a justification for someone to impose their own hatred onto someone else. Report
it does NOT work. the more people made me feel bad about my fat the more i hid out and comforted my self with food. sorry this approach only makes people feel worse . Report
The good doctor forgets that people often turn to addictive behavior BECAUSE of people who have shamed them in the past. So heaping ridicule on them is a recipe for failure. I doubt shame would really help people like me who are obese. Many of us already have bough shame about our situation. It's not as if we can hide our condition away like smokers have. And it's not as if we don't already face ridicule in our daily lives. It it worked, we would be thin already.

I think we need to work on cleaning up the marketplace. New York City has already seen declines in childhood obesity since he put laws in effect controlling soda size and transfats. People are bombarded daily by the "more, more more" message and obesity is only one of the consequences. Report
Absolutely not..."shaming" is just another form of Bullying. Report
Shaming worked for smokers? I was sure that guy in the car next to me today was smoking. And that guy by the door I just went out. And several of my friends at work. Hm. I guess I was confused. Report
The sad thing is that this clinican has forgotten that the science has to prove it. He only said that stigmatizing obesity "could" lead to a possible decrease in people's weight. This reminds me of my Christian Ethics instructor would say, "Anything can happen, but is it probable? I know quite a few people whom smoke whom continue to complain about the restrictions on where they can smoke.

As to how much can the government control and or spend on this issue? They already spend quite a bit on diseases related to obesity through Medicare, Medicaid and research. Oh, did I say research, this may be topic or idea for the next study for the National Institutes of Health, especially with the additional costs the federal and state governments will take on with the Affordable Care
Act.-Amanda, RN Report
So what about people who are on medications that cause weight gain? Or those who are disabled (such as my partner, who has MS) and cannot work out like the average person? Or those who have hypothyroid, which is VERY COMMON and makes it harder to lose weight? Or those of us over 50 who go through menopause, which totally jacks with hormones and those hormones contribute to weight gain? Really? Leave it to a man to not consider these things!!! Report
When I went to school (overseas), we were taught "Physiology and Hygiene, and Nutrition". It was part of the course, and you were marked on it. I think we here in the US could do this too.It is a basic for being alive and taking care of yourself and family. Comments of shaming are harmful - a little constructive self-criticism is not. Encouragement is key - someone out there may have gained weight as a barrier against abuse - they don't need more of it, and that's what bullying is. As for that "Dr" - of philosophy, perhaps? Report
Educating people on the ill effects of obesity is motivating. Shaming them is not. My ex-husband used to comment on everything I was eating even when I wasn't obese. He was afraid I was going to get obese. All it did was made me mad. My current husband told me how beautiful I was when I was 60 pounds heavier than I am now---now that's a motivator. Report
People who are overweight already feel plenty of shame. We live in a society that idealizes thinness; that is already plenty alienating. A plan that allows people to accept themselves as is and focuses strictly on behavior would allow more people to attempt and stick with weight loss efforts without feeling like a personal failure for having to do so, or not getting results quickly. No thanks on this one. Report
I agree that being overweight is a burden on our health care system to the same degree as smoking is so it should be treated with the same feroicity.

It is not right to be overweight fact and it should be frowned upon and not accepted by society as it is.

As a non smoker I have scoffed at the idiots who smoke as a fat bloke I don't have that pressure put upon me - I should it would help me loose and keep weight off. Report
Many obese people have self esteem issues. Shame will not help those who are already feeling bad about themselves. I know this from personal experience. When I actually started feeling good about who I am and how much I've overcome, the weight started coming off! For some of us, losing weight will not actually bring long term happiness. It's the other way around. Finding the good in life, having a positive attitude and finding happiness. That's what it takes to get that weight off. I try to stay away from negative people who put me down. MOST OF THE TIME, SHAME DOES NOT WORK!!! Report
We have enough negativity in the world-- nobody needs to be beat up more!!! Report
Shame may help others to smoke less because social pressure is added at the time of the temptation. Shaming someone who is obese will not stop them from being fat at that moment, as opposed to a smoker who could be a "non-smoker for that moment". I think positive support, patience and encouragement are far more helpful, especially for those struggling with obesity. Report
I think that a huge part of the problem is the government subsidizing the wrong areas of agriculture.

We don't need cheap corn syrup and refined white flour, etc. We need cheap produce and whole grains. If those commodities become less expensive than I think even convenience pre-packaged food that many people rely on will become healthier and taste better.

I personally like the idea of making garbage consumables like soda expensive. It can still be a treat just not something that people will reach for all the time. Report
I think that it has been proven time and again that positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative reinforcement. Rather than shaming people for being obese and praising people who are thin, we should acknowledge the behaviors and use positive reinforcement to encourage a more health lifestyle. Using negative reinforcement techniques can lead to anxiety and unnecessary stress which only make the problem worse or can lead to hiding the bad behavior. Report
Where is the survey option: It's intolerable and People need to stand up against Fat Prejudice!

Fat prejudice will only end when people stand up against it, just like race, religion, disability, etc. It is not now and never will be ok. Report
There already *is* a social stigma. While there may not be an officially-sanctioned one like with smoking, there is certainly one in our society, at least in the US. In fact, in the last three days, I got the "you're cute for a fat chick" compliment and the "should you be eating that" comment. I work at a thrift store, and frequently have customer warn me that their donation is too heavy for me to lift - and then look astonished when I lift it.

I constantly have people looking at me and seeing my fat. Not my sense of humor, quick wit, merchandising skills, natural aptitude with numbers, poetry I've written, photographs I've taken...just my BMI listing of "Severely Obese". Like I really need any more shame.

Besides, shame didn't make me quit smoking, either. Every time I'd see those ads, I'd go light another cigarette. What made me quit was finally being in the supportive environment I needed, wanting to make a healthy change, and being in just "the right" time of my life. How about we focus on a better environment for us "shameful fatties" instead of public mockery? Report
I've been shamed since I was 6. 30 years later, it still hasn't worked. Report
In her book "Daring Greatly" Brene Brown talks about the dangers of using shame as a "motivational" tool for ANYTHING--be it weight loss, flossing your teeth, or taking out the trash. Her stance comes from MANY years' research as a social psychologist. I would highly recommend that you read this book in lieu of subscribing to a methodology which has been proven to create negative consequences. Report
"I'm not built for guilt"
Oh, because there isn't enough shaming of overweight people? Because there aren't enough people with some kind of eating disorder? This society already shames people of normal weight for not being skinny enough, let alone people who are overweight or obese. And nobody gets fitter because of it. Yeah, no. Bad idea. Report
There's a big difference between smoking and obesity. Typically it's most of the adult population who smokes. There are a lot of children suffering from obesity which already carries negative social stigma. So Dr. Callahan recommends we exacerbate bullying? Aside from the fact that the vast majority of overweight adults already feel uncomfortable or ashamed about their weight. Not to mention, that our youth being bombarded with "skinny" Hollywood already suffer from an epidemic of poor body image. Children as young as 7 feel they need to lose weight even when they don't. We live in a polar extreme environment with an obesity epidemic but the image of beauty we perpetuate to the next generation is dolls with 70 lbs bodies and 50 lbs heads.

The other difference I see between smoking and obesity (and I'm a smoker) is that your obesity doesn't affect my health. It is ultimately our choice if we want to make our own health a priority or not. What I would see helping is making it common knowledge how to lose weight easily and effectively, what works and what doesn't instead of false hope promises through special pills and yo-yo diets. As well healthy weight management promoted through regulations by our food and drug industry. Report
If shame works, wouldn't we all be skinny now? Report
It only made me angry and depressed, so it made me eat and gain more. Encouragement is the only thing that helps to get someone to do something. Report
To read this blog actually made me feel sick and quite angry. Many of us who are overweight have been battling our weight for years and years. Many of us have tried diet after diet, exercise after exercise...while some others can be thin as rails and eat whatever they want. it's true! I see it all over the place.

As a teacher I see kids bullied everyday - and trust me, this is a case of bullying by adults. So - is it just 'okay' for kids to bully a kid who is overweight? NO! So why is it okay for a 'mature' adult to bully another adult who is overweight??

I know the shame of being afraid to get on the scale in my own house, with just myself. That's part of what brought me to my highest weight - I was afraid to face it head on - even by myself alone. The last thing I and others need is to be shamed for the battle we are fighting.

Encouragement would go a lot farther than shame. Since I've started this journey - I have been fortunate enough to have family close to me be supportive and notice the progress I've made (even if it is small!). That motivates me. Report
one has to want to lose weight for themselves. Shaming a person, especially if they are children is bullying. Helping the person is more positive and caring.
people who are significantly overweight are already shamed for their size EVERY SINGLE DAY! it destroys self-esteem and drives destructive behaviors i.e. overeating/binge eating. it takes every last little pinprick of self-love i have to make healthy choices. if i was being systematically shamed "into losing weight", i would probably (at best) become a shut in and gain more weight. Report
He refers to shame used to stop people from smoking yet smoking still has one of the highest addiction rates for people under 20 and this is a group that grew up knowning about the health risks. Obviously it didn't work although it did attach a stigma. The other issue I have with his idea is that who decides what is "normal"? With the current views that are projected by television and ads if you are female you have to be no larger than a size 2 to be beautiful and that it a very unrealistic perception and not healthy. Report
I really disagree with the whole shaming idea. I think most people have their own personal measuring stick as to what they feel is an acceptable weight, and they generally know when they need to slim down. No need for ridicule! That's a good way to foster eating disorders. With weight loss, I have always found the results more rewarding than any other motivation. Report
Shaming is essentially how I got started on this whole weight loss journey. I was feeling ill, went to a new doc, and he made me feel like crap about my weight. I don't remember his exact words, but I do remember being so angry at him for being so rude about my weight. He was straight up mean. I took those emotions, and for some reason, instead of feeling sorry for myself (like I used to always do), I approached it as, "I'll show him." And show him I did. I lost 60 lbs while seeing him, and once I realized he focused on weight way too much, I switched docs. Report
I get the sense from a few comments that some folks don't know the different between feeling shame, and the act of shaming another person. Feeling shame can be a natural consequence of behaviors (like overeating), of learning a truth that you previously intentionally ignored (such as not admitting your weight is a problem), etc. But the act of shaming people intentionally based on any socially-unacceptable flaw is bullying. Yes, I believe that smokers were bullied. For some it helped them to stop smoking but not for all- obviously there are still plenty of people addicted to smoking.
The act of shaming is not the answer for people with addictions! An addiction to overeating is a combination of emotional and physical issues, and neither will respond to being bullied. There is definitely a difference between someone being shown a truth they wanted to ignore, in a way that is presenting facts and not trying to make them feel worthless- and the resulting shame they feel in their own willful ignorance- and in telling people that they are not valuable because of their weight. One is allowing a person to grasp a concept and deal with the pain of realizing their errors. The other is simply beating someone emotionally while they're already beating themselves mentally. Report
It's funny, I JUST came from a talk about self-compassion (I'm a psychology graduate student) and the speaker talked about how research shows that having compassion for oneself provides just as much motivation for change without the risks of discouragement that comes from self-criticism and shame. Shame will only motivate you for a little while, until those little failures creep up and cause you to give up. I mean really, telling someone they're worthless is just like telling them not to bother to try because they will fail. To get real change, you have to hold someone to a higher standard and show that you believe they can actually achieve it. It's really simple if you think about it. Report
Wow! This really has people talking. THERE ALREADY IS A SOCIETY WIDE SHAME CAMPAIGN AGAINST OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE... just ask anyone who is struggling with their weight! Silly Dr.!!!
Shame would not work for me. It would backfire because I eat when my feelings get hurt. There has been some research that shaming children into behaving can cause deep scars on their psyche.
Smoking is different because you can live without cigarettes, but you'vestill vgot to eat.
Education is the answer. And a cultural shift away from junkie fast food and toward whole foods. We need love and support. Many people I know are overweight because they are trying to fill a whole left by hurt and shame. More shame won't help. More support would Report
I have kids at my school that feel bad enough already, I look at their parents and they are big, some might be overweight and some might just be that is they way they are. I tell the kids its not about how you look or your weight but how healthy you are, can you do the run in gym? If not get out there are work on being able to do that and feel good about it. In high school I stood 5' 10" tall weighed 175lbs and was working on my abs being a 6 pack...yet according to the doctor's charts I was obese. It is not how much you weigh or how you look it is how healthy you are. Look at Sumo wrestlers in Japan the bigger you are they better yet they are supper healthy! Stupid stupid idea to put this pressure on people, it does not work. Report
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