When Science is Not Enough

I came across a post on Facebook a few weeks ago that was posted by the March for Science page that said:

Now, I am fully aware that the average person does not spend their time researching and reading peer reviewed journals. They trust doctors and public officials that talk with authority and confidence – and we, as the general public, mostly believe them because of their credentials and their citations of scientific research. And, yes, there are even those forego the credentialed officials and get their information from YouTube. Oof.

But the majority of people who trust science to make informed decisions about their health, safety, among other things, still suffer from confirmation bias. Science, it seems, is not enough for people to change their minds.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek and favor information in a way that confirms or supports your beliefs or values. It is something that makes it seriously difficult to make evidence-based decisions – and we all do it.

So, where am I going with all of this?

Well, I have been trying to understand how so many people who believe in science, continue to ignore the science they claim to believe in. The science is pretty clear about the ill effects of weight stigma and the ineffectiveness and dangers of dieting, yet most people ignore this science and continue to perpetuate diet culture and their personal beliefs that healthy = thin. Why is this? Is it because the medical complex, popular culture, health and diet industries, and the media feed you day in day out. What they tell you is that it’s your fault that you are fat, and that being fat is the absolute worst thing you can be for your health. BOTH ARE HOT PILES OF GARBAGE LIES.

Science evolves. More research and information comes to light and that is how we as humans get better! The problem is that not everyone comes along for the ride – including those that have the biggest and loudest platforms.

Science tells us that having a higher weight body can exacerbate certain health factors such as cardiovascular disease and put you at higher risk for diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and certain types of cancer. And I believe this – I believe the science.

But is this really why fat people are constantly shit upon? No.

The majority of fear surrounding being fat has very little to do with health and a LOT to do with how society treats fat people. The science actually has been saying this for some time, but most of us refuse to hear it. We have been living in our fatphobia for so long that we can’t see past it anymore.

What I offer you is some academic peer-reviewed scientific evidence around just two of the aspects that have changed around the science of Bariatrics. 1) That it is not the weight causes all the health issues we associate with weight, but weight stigma that is the culprit; and 2) The diet industry has convinced us that it is the solution; and nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, I understand that it’s probably still not going to be your jam (reading scientific journals), and it’s even more difficult to interpret findings without the scientific background. So what I offer below are some highlights and findings from the peer-reviewed journals to spark your thinking, and show you that this is not just pseudoscience or a bunch of people that are looking for excuses to not diet.

It’s now up to you to challenge your own beliefs and understanding. (note: this is merely a fraction of the avalanche of research on these subjects)

  • WEIGHT STIGMA IS THE CULPRIT: It causes more harm than the weight itself.
  • Research:
    • Emerging evidence has demonstrated a high prevalence of weight bias internalization (WBI) among adults, as well as consistent links between internalization and adverse psychological and physical health (Puhl & Himmelstein, 2018)
    • More frequent exposure to weight stigma was related to more attempts to cope and a higher BMI. The most frequent sources of weight bias? Physicians and family members (Puhl & Brownell, 2006)
    • [higher weight] persons report extremely high levels of stigmatization and discrimination; among one group of formerly [higher weight] persons asked to choose between blindness or obesity, 89% chose blindness.[31] Discrimination is also pervasive; there is evidence that parents discriminate against their [higher weight] children, doctors against their [higher weight] patients, and husbands against their [higher weight] wives.[32,33] All things otherwise equal in childhood, [higher weight] people are less likely to reach milestones of social success, including completing schooling, finding a romantic partner, and garnering a good job.[34] As a result, obese persons are more likely to suffer from a negative self-image than thinner persons (Muennig, 2008)
  • DIETS DO NOT WORK: they cause more harm to your health than the weight. Yet, they are STILL prescribed by most doctors.
  • Research:

I will continue to ponder how not only our confirmation bias, but the elements that contribute to that bias: our politics, our culture, our faith, and our strong neurological need for connection. These things continue to be stronger than scientific facts when it comes to being fat. You see these biases at work with those that actively work against science like anti-vaxxers, no-mask wearers, and climate deniers. What is interesting about the science of fatness, is that even the most “woke” among us, who claim science is king, cannot seem to break the trance that a lifetime of diet culture and outdated science has put us in.

The good news is that I am starting to see more articles coming out into the main stream, and the body positive movement, albeit problematic, is still a step in the right direction. I may not see the needle move in my lifetime, but I will continue to spread the message in the hopes that the noise will build and things will change.

One thing is certain though…I believe in science.

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