Obesity and Language, Part 6

Readers will remember Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D. (currently deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health) from the landmark 2011 study indicating the need for increasing awareness of weight bias in both news reporting and professional communications.

When children are exposed to bullying, body-shaming, and even negative language, journalist Jennifer Gerson says,

Puhl’s research has found that […] they are then put at higher risk for developing depressive symptoms, anxiety, lower self-esteem and worsened body image. In adolescents, this can translate into higher rates of suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

Both boys and girls report experiencing emotional distress when they are stigmatized about their weight… but girls report experiencing a higher level of intensity of emotional distress as a result.

Much has been said by Childhood Obesity News about the latest guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Eating Disorders has responded vigorously. That organization has submitted a request to the AAP to revise its guidelines, this time with input from mental health professionals, which none of the original co-authors apparently were.

“Just grow up”

While the situation has improved in some ways, at the same time there has been a backlash against what some critics regard as an overdose of sensitivity. Lawrence M. Krauss encourages people to take responsibility for their own responses to the things they see and hear:

Without context and interpretation, and unless one chooses to internalize them, words are impotent, and that gives us power over them, not vice versa. We may be influenced by what we read or hear, but we own our responses, including our actions, which, after all, speak louder than words…

The trauma may be very real, but the underlying psychological issues and healing processes are ones that you, not others, need to take primary ownership of. You have not been victimized; you have been traumatized.

That emotional sensation of having been traumatized, he believes, is something that lies under the control of the individual — but nobody wants to hear it. Many people who feel damaged do not, for whatever reasons, want to take ownership of their psychological health. Many people who sympathize with the traumatized want to find solutions in legislation, censorship, and other punishments for the offenders.

Krauss holds that the solutions are more likely to be found in a rational discussion “and even ridicule,” and for backup he cites comedian/philosopher George Carlin. (Not recommended, by the way. Carlin’s fat humor is brutal, excessive, abrasive, and occasionally X-rated.)

Basically, Krauss proposes that the inherent negative influence of certain words is a myth, because they have no power except that which we give them, and we can choose not to grant them that power:

[I]n a world where words are treated as if they are both weapons and attackers, and where we shield ourselves from them for fear that they might induce feelings in us that we don’t like, we don’t become the victors — we only further victimize ourselves.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Language for treating childhood obesity carries its own health risks to kids, experts say,” 19thnews.org, 03/09/23
Source: “Words Don’t Matter,” Quillette.com, 03/13/23
Image by Thunderchild 7/CC BY 2.0

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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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