When Fat-Shaming Works

Previously, Childhood Obesity News mentioned the Georgia billboards and TV ads that were attacked by some who perceived them as fat-shaming. One of the risks here was that the local children’s hospital was associated with the campaign. If the hospital was perceived as being judgmental about weight, this could erode trust and cause harm. If public sentiment turned against the hospital’s stance, there could be repercussions in the areas of fundraising, marketing strategy, ability to recruit quality staff, and general reputation.

David Royse for wrote this in his article for Modern Healthcare:

It was an unusually risky ad campaign, but the kind of risk healthcare organizations and advertising experts say can pay off if done right. From local hospitals to major insurers, from major multifaceted health systems to pharmaceutical companies, few across the spectrum of healthcare seek to wade into controversy in their advertising. But sometimes, they start conversations that are important, and can be effective, even if they make some uneasy.

The example Royse had in mind was how the same shocking billboard technique had succeeded in alerting the public to the meth epidemic, so why not try it again? And awareness has been raised. Childhood obesity decreased slightly in the state, though, as always, it is difficult to assign effects to causes in such a complicated world. Officials have seen proof, however, that the members of the public have become more conscious of the problem.

We also mentioned a fascinating article by Grace Murano, called “8 People Who Were Shamed into Losing Weight.” One of her subjects, a formerly 300-pound young man ruthlessly teased by his schoolmates, lost 126 pounds through the magic of fat-shaming, making more than one-third of himself disappear.

Another 300-pounder, a woman of 22, was on a date when she sat on a wooden bench that fell apart beneath her. The profound embarrassment caused her to get a grip on the problem and lose almost half of her body weight.

Murano’s article also featured a man fed up with the disapproving looks cast by fellow bus passengers when he took up two seats. Then there were a woman who got stuck in a bathtub, and a man who was unable to extricate himself from a fairground ride. They all used the resulting emotional distress as an impetus to change their lives.

In England, Emily Case was obese as a teenager, but does not waste a minute blaming her mother, who cooked nutritious meals. She admits to spending her discretionary income on sweets, which led to misery, which led to more comfort eating, and so on.

At 22 she had a job and a steady boyfriend who sounds like a sweetheart. As Emily says,

He never commented on my weight and always told me that I was beautiful, but it was hard to feel attractive when everyone else clearly thought I was disgusting.

One day when Emily was walking, a carful of strange men rolled down their windows, yelled “Oi, Fatty!” and pelted her with kebabs, a popular fast-food item. This humiliating experience prompted her to join Slimming World, and she lost some pounds through diet and exercise, but was so encouraged, she decided on bariatric surgery.

The United Kingdom’s medical system works differently from the American one:

Emily was eligible for the operation on the NHS [National Health Service]. However, as she was unwilling to spend another two years completing the compulsory weight management course, she opted to use her £11,000 savings to undergo the operation privately at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in June 2013.

A year after the gastric bypass she was running 10 miles a week, had lost around 180 pounds, achieved a size 10 dress size, and still had the same loving boyfriend. The Daily Mail photographer took a photo of Emily very happily riding a horse, a favorite activity she had been forced to abandon for years, out of mercy for the horses.

We also mentioned the offbeat story of Brian Flemming, who was apparently fat-shamed into sanity by a disabled woman, Jackie Eastham, who did not have any options that would make her better, and scolded him for not taking advantage of his. Strangely, many people’s anecdotal accounts of weight loss include a remark to the effect that they would not have made the effort, if not for fat-shaming.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Delivering a jolt to spotlight a health crisis,” ModernHealthcare.com, 11/10/16
Source: “Size 28 woman shamed into losing THIRTEEN STONE after bullies threw kebabs at her and shouted ‘Oi fatty!’,” DailyMail.co, 07/13/15
Photo credit: butupa on Visualhunt/CC BY

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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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