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Is It Anti-Weight Stigma or Diet Industry Propaganda – A Handy Guide
The diet industry (in particular those who market/profit from drugs and surgeries) have been on a long-term push to get simply living in a fat body to be considered a “chronic, lifelong health condition” for which “treatment” (like the ones they just happen to sell) is needed.
Activists, both within and outside the healthcare industry, have been pushing back against this pathologization of body size for decades and have been making headway. In an attempt to nullify that work and progress, the diet industry has developed a marketing and PR plan in which they co-opt the language of anti-weight stigma activists in order to repackage and continue to sell the same old dangerous and futile interventions.
So this huge PR campaign includes publishing similar articles in multiple major media outlets, along with a major social media push. These articles push the narrative that healthcare professionals need to work on their weight bias in order to….wait for it… treat “ob*sity.” They are being dutifully published without any kind of examination or critique by the media.
It can be complicated to tell what reporting is legitimately about ending weight stigma and what is just diet industry propaganda – the latest in a long line of ethically questionable (at best) marketing campaigns that put their profits over fat people’s lives and quality of life.
Here are some ways to tell the difference:
Are they medicalizing body size?
If the article uses terms like “ob*se,” “overw*ight” (or their even more stigmatizing “person-first” versions including “person with ob*sity” or “person affected by ob*sity”) then it’s not actually anti-weight stigma, it’s diet industry nonsense.
If the article endorses measures of “health” based on size (like BMI) then it’s not actually anti-weight stigma, it’s just pro diet culture.
Are they quoting people who profit from weight loss?
If they are quoting “ob*sity experts,” bariatric surgeons, doctors who are on the payroll of weight loss pharmaceutical companies, researchers whose research was funded by the weight loss industry etc. instead of quoting experts who are actually advocating for weight-neutral health (including and especially fat liberationists with lived experience in fat bodies,) then the article is almost certainly diet propaganda.
Are they suggesting that fat people shouldn’t be stigmatized, but should be eradicated?
A big part of this plan of co-opting anti-stigma language is a message that, at its core, says “we don’t want to stigmatize fat people, we just want to eradicate them from the earth and prevent any more from existing.” That is not, in any way, a true anti-stigma message.
Do they suggest that being fat is a “chronic health issue” that “requires treatment”?
This is the core of this diet industry marketing message. If they can define simply existing in a fat body (regardless of someone’s actual health status) as a “chronic lifelong health issue” then they can expand their market, and the fact that their treatments don’t work long-term and almost everyone regains the weight doesn’t matter – they just keep prescribing them as a “treatment” for this so-called “lifelong health issue.” It doesn’t matter, for example, if a thin person and a fat person have the exact same health status - the thin person gets an ethical, evidence-based intervention to improve their health, the fat person gets a prescription for a dangerous drug or surgery to try to make them thinner. When the intervention fails and their health is worse for it, that will get blamed on their body size, and another (or perhaps the same) failed drug or surgery will be prescribed
Do they gloss over the difference between correlation and causation?
If they claim that “ob*sity” is [linked, associated, connected] to health issues - implying that being fat causes those issues, without discussing the fact that weight stigma, weight cycling, and healthcare inequality are [linked, associated, connected] to those same issues, then they are writing from a diet industry agenda (or they slept through every single research class they ever took and are completely unqualified to be writing/talking about this.)
Are they pushing for insurance coverage?
Companies that sell dangerous and expensive diet drugs and surgeries are using this marketing push for what is, in many ways, their holy grail - insurance coverage for their dangerous experimental procedures. If the piece you are reading bemoans the lack of insurance coverage for these “treatments,” it’s doing the diet industry’s bidding.
Do they minimize true anti-stigma and weight-inclusive health activists?
Do they take credit for coming up with anti-weight stigma ideas (completely ignoring the existence of activists for the last 60+ years who have been screaming this at the top of our lungs?)
Do they mention but minimize these movements (often using terms like “self love movement” or “body positive movement”) and suggest that those who profit from the eradication of fat people are (or should be) the true leaders of anti-weight stigma?
Do they fail to engage in actual fat liberation?
Are they clear that health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control?
Are they clear that the healthcare system creates harmful weight stigma, weight cycling, and access inequalities, then blames the negative impacts of these on fat bodies, then uses the negative outcomes to justify more weight stigma, weight cycling, and healthcare inequalities?
Are they clear that being anti-weight stigma and suggesting that it’s reasonable to risk fat people’s lives and quality of life with dangerous weight loss drugs and surgeries are mutually exclusive?
If not, then they are likely co-opting weight stigma to sell weight loss.
Do the links go to weight loss sites?
If every “click here for more information” link tries to sell you on a diet drug, or surgery, or other weight loss “intervention” then this is not anti-stigma, it’s just diet industry marketing.
Do they suggest that weight loss is a solution to weight stigma?
If a program claims to be against weight stigma, but suggests that weight loss is an appropriate solution, you’ve found diet industry propaganda. Telling oppressed people that they should change themselves to suit their oppressors is never an anti-stigma approach.
Are Novo Nordisk, other Pharma Companies, Bariatric Surgery interests and/or Astroturf Organizations involved?
Novo Nordisk has been pouring money into this effort to co-opting anti-weight stigma language in order to meet their goal for their new diet drug Wegovy to be a Blockbuster drug that will “double their ob*sity sales.” If they are involved in any way (them personally, an organization they are partnering with, a doctor or researcher on their payroll etc.) that article is just weight loss marketing disguised as news. This also goes for the Obesity Action Coalition, an astroturf organization whose primary funder is Novo Nordisk and other pharma and surgery interests that profit from weight loss as well as other Astroturf Organizations like TOS, EASO, CON and others. (An astroturf organization in this context is an organization that pretends to be in the interest of higher-weight people but is, in fact, in the interest of the weight loss industry and acts as a lobbying/PR arm for them.)
Stopping the diet industry from co-opting all of the work of true anti-weight stigma activists and fat liberationists is absolutely critical to the health and lives of fat people, with those at the highest weights and with multiple marginalizations at the highest risk.
So, if you see this happening please consider responding - say something, post something. Feel free to post a link to this newsletter if it’s helpful. We have to push back, strongly and loudly, against this latest attempt to harm fat people for profit.
If you’d like to see this method in action, you can check out this post.
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*Note on language: I use “fat” as a neutral descriptor as used by the fat activist community, I use “ob*se” and “overw*ight” to acknowledge that these are terms that were created to medicalize and pathologize fat bodies, with roots in racism and specifically anti-Blackness. Please read Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body – the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and Da’Shaun Harrison’s Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness for more on this.