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Fat-shaming may not help in fighting obesity

An old woman suffering from obesity. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA – Fat-shaming is common in Kampala. Go downtown and you will not miss especially men hurling insults and whistling at women they consider fat. Following the Miss Curvy contest, the tag – “Miss Curvy” is common as they yell at women of all ages. The insults include abusive adages like – “this one must be feeding with blind people” and derogatory statements associating the fat person to a particular tribe or making fun of what she must be like in bed.

In the past Africans associated weight with wealth and comfort, not any more. Today, weight loss fads have caught up with us and those who know how to make a quick back are cashing in on juices, teas and herbs they claim to be able to miraculously remove unwanted weight.

Fat-shaming or good alert: many get offended when advised on to lose weight or instructed on the best way to losing weight fast. Some because they have tried many things and got no good result, others because they believe their weight is genetic and there is nothing much they could do about it.

A common figure on social media recently posted her picture after losing a few lbs and followed it with not-so-friendly advice to people with weight issues. Ordering them to get off their fat behinds and do some real exercise. The poster may have had good intentions, but her language did not go down well and she received a good amount of bashing.

Some people believe that fat shaming helps motivate overweight people to change their lifestyles and lose weight. That could be effective for some, but psychologists say, fat-shaming may cause more problems including depression, discrimination and even suicide in extreme cases.

The BBC this morning reported that “Obesity now causes more cases of four common cancers in the UK than smoking, according to a charity.”

But the same story shows the charity, Cancer Research UK, being criticised for fat-shaming in its new billboard campaign highlighting the obesity-cancer risk.

That shows that if a weight –loss message is misunderstood to be fat-shaming, the whole good in the communication may be lost, as the intended beneficiaries may consider it ‘just another of those’.

Cancer Research UK says bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver cancers are more likely to have been caused by being overweight than by smoking tobacco.

It says millions are at risk of cancer because of their weight and that obese people outnumber smokers two to one.

The study says being overweight or obese causes around 22,800 cases of cancer each year, compared to smoking which causes 54,300. For the four highlighted cancers.

The question that begs is, if it is indeed true that obesity causes more cancer than smoking in given types of cancer; how well can the message be communicated?

The Cancer claims aside, fat many people would be glad to lose some weight and “what they really need from all of us is support. It is a journey they have to walk, a battle they must fight and it is up to us to give them a hand,” says nutritionist Paul Sentongo.

The biggest disadvantage of fat-shaming is that is makes some obese people to completely give up on ever losing weight, according to Mr. Sentongo.

“There are shops you go to and before you are given any service, the attendant eyes you from head to toe, wondering if the dress you want to buy is yours. And before you respond, they rudely assure you that size like yours cannot be found in any shop in that vicinity. That has happened to me twice in Kampala and I always leave downcast,” says Lydia Nanziri, a secondary teacher.

“There is no polite way to advise anyone to lose weight. It always comes off badly, that is why I believe it is should be left to professionals to help people with weight issues,” says Richard Obbo, who managed to lose weight through exercising and watching his diet.

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