The Harm in “Fat Acceptance”

The Dish That Inspired "Just Like Heaven" by The Cure

At the sight of morbidly obese people riding scooters through grocery or big box stores, many onlookers shake their heads in bewilderment. Opportunists make videos, a type of public shaming. Fat-positive activists say, “What’s it to ya? My body, my fat, my life.” Onlookers tire of being told it is none of their business, because in a way, obesity-related medical costs become everyone’s burden through insurance premiums and other avenues.

Still others resent obese people because of what their appearance may do to the psychology of future generations. They ask, “How dare you normalize this, so that my kids and their kids grow up seeing morbid obesity all around, and think it’s how humans are supposed to be?”

Some might feel that attitude comes dangerously close to stepping on people’s right to free speech. Even to think about suppressing the pushers of fatlogic could be considered downright unAmerican. Everyone has a right to voice an opinion. It is unpopular to believe that it is sometimes appropriate to fear the damage that can result from letting other people think—and say—whatever they want (like a person’s health suffering from obesity).

“Acceptance” has suffered from mission creep. In some quarters, there is a militant acceptance that amounts to extremist activism, and anyone who disagrees is a traitor. Fat is fine, according to this logic. There is a certain amount of unhealthy fellowship, since some people hate to be overweight alone. These people do not congratulate, but vilify, anyone who has lost weight. As one Reddit commentator put it:

I need people to be fat with me because it is the only outlet I have for being social. Eating is the only activity I know and love. You better not try to lose weight or you’re gonna make me look bad.

But what can cause such a counterproductive degree of acceptance? Most people agree that early intervention is essential. Prevention is better than cure; if you want to prevent adult obesity, you have to start with child obesity. But even as they understand the scope of the problem obesity presents, they underestimate how widespread the problem is. According to one study:

Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center in the US found that seven in every ten obese adults underestimate how much someone weighs… Mothers of overweight or obese children also tend to misjudge their children’s size, as youngsters misjudge their obese mothers’ size.

These observations came from lead author Tracy Paul, and the bottom line is a lot of people simply don’t recognize obesity – not in their kids, not in their parents, not in themselves. It’s a case of “life-long distorted perceptions of what is acceptable.” For people who have an obesity problem, sure, intervention and prevention are vital. Those other people, over there, need to take care of business. They are not us, and we are not them.

Flawed weight perception leads to more of the same, and pretty soon, nobody knows what they’re looking at any more. Kids don’t get help because their families don’t know any better. Often, their parents have a rough time getting hold of any food, and don’t have the luxury of worrying about its quality. More than 80% of this study’s subjects were Hispanic, and publicist Joan Robinson says of Paul:

She underscores the importance of recognizing high-risk and understudied sub-groups, because age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status all influence childhood obesity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Twenty-Two Towering Tenets of Fatlogic,”, 2013
Source: “Poor body size judgment can lead to increased tolerance of obesity,”, 09/16/14
Image by eric molina

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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