The Futility of Shame and Blame

diversity in the carrot patch

Claire Goodwin, a contestant in the Great British Bake-off, had never been a target of fat-shaming  before she was on television. From that experience, she came away with the belief that negatively addressing a person’s weight can trigger behaviors that result in even more weight gain. She also cites a study performed by Cancer Research UK and written up in the journal Obesity that proves the same thing. Goodwin writes,

I am fat due to a whole range of issues. I haven’t always been fat, I wasn’t a particularly fat child. But I have always been very emotional. I believe the two are linked for me, particularly at this stage in my life. But my weight is my business.

Sharon Begley reported for on how the perception of being fat-shamed  can cause people who need plenty of exercise to get even less of it, because they don’t want the neighbors to laugh at the sight of them trying to walk off a few pounds. She writes:

Targets of stigma often fall into depression or withdraw socially. Both make overeating, binge eating, and a sedentary existence more likely, studies show.

A University of California study confirms that girls who are called “too fat” by relatives, friends, classmates or teachers, will likely become obese teenagers. The study itself, which started with 10-year-olds and followed them for 9 years, had previously been completed, but two researchers re-examined the data in the light of their own concerns. Senior author A. Janet Tomiyama notes that the worst effects occur when the girls are labeled or stigmatized by family members. The results were remarked on by Yale University’s Dr. Rebecca Puhl who said,

This study suggests that negative weight labels may contribute to these experiences and have a lasting and potentially damaging impact for girls.

Another authority, Dr. April Herndon, author of Fat Blame: How the War on Obesity Victimizes Women and Children, finds fat-blaming counterproductive because it turns a confused and unhappy overweight child into “the problem.” As therapists know, any time a child or a grownup is made to feel like “the problem,” trouble ensues. Like the “identified patient” singled out from within a totally dysfunctional family, this individual will probably end up feeling more like a sacrificial lamb than like a person receiving needed help.

The worst thing about the shame/blame game is that it can so easily kick off a vicious cycle, as described in Slide 19 of Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote talk, “Treatment of Child/Adolescent Obesity Using the Addiction Model” at the Dr. Pretlow and ECOG 2014 before the European Childhood Obesity Group.

For more information on this phenomenon, see “Cycle of Bias and Obesity,” which starts at Slide #31 of “Clinical Implications of Obesity Stigma,” written by the aforementioned Dr. Puhl. A mistaken notion about “tough love” turns out to be an ineffective weight loss tool. Aside from human decency and a few other factors, the main thing to know about fat-shaming and fat-blaming is, they don’t work. That’s really all we need to know.


Source: “’Fat is something you have, not something you are’,”, 09/11/14
Source: “Insight: America’s hatred of fat hurts obesity fight,”, 05/11/12
Source: “Calling girls ‘fat’ may result in weight gain,”, 04/29/14
Source: “WSU professor’s ‘Fat Blame’ book challenges war on obesity,”, 04/03/14
Source: “Clinical Implications of Obesity Stigma,” YaleRuddCenter,org, 06/27/13
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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

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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