The HAES files: on the fat beat, the Health At Every Size(R) approach deserves “equal weight”

by Health At Every Size® Blog

By Linda Bacon, PhD

By overlooking the Health at Every SizeSM approach, aren’t journalists missing the full story on fat? In coverage of the so-called War on Obesity, why is the HAES-led Peace Movement so invisible?

It’s a Journalism 101 cliché that there are not just two sides to every story, but three or more. Yet most health reporting relies on the singular viewpoint of “anti-obesity experts.” The problem is not just that contrarian voices aren’t heard in articles about weight, it’s that few reporters recognize those voices even exist.

Another tenet of basic reporting is to question every assumption. For every quote about a raging obesity epidemic and crippling BMI catastrophe for the nation’s children, equal time—or at least a chance to respond—should go to the growing number of scientists and health practitioners who just don’t buy it. Yet few reporters bring this kind of skepticism to bear on declarations that fat leads to disease, costs and dire consequences – or that promoting weight loss is the solution.

So, what do we do about it? Advocate!

I’ve begun buttonholing journalists and editors to address the issue with the same analytical rigor they bring to other health and science topics. I take every opportunity to make the case that the media should not just acknowledge HAES viewpoints, but include them in all fat coverage.

You don’t have to be a HAES groupie to understand that this nation needs a new paradigm for addressing health and weight issues: The current one certainly isn’t working! And I don’t think I’m dreaming when I predict an eventual cultural turnaround, where HAES ideas become common currency and Jenny Craig “something crazy our parents used to do.”

HAES-based and allied research trials have laid a solid factual foundation for this transition. (We’ve got the goods on that in this Nutrition Journal review I completed with Lucy Aphramor that we will be presenting at ASDAH’s August conference in San Francisco: Don’t miss it!.)

 The next step is waking the media to the existence of this parallel weight science universe while planting doubt about the current paradigm’s failure. Happily, we’ve seen encouraging steps in this direction. A penetrating HAES-friendly article is due out in the June issue of Prevention magazine (you may need to, gasp!, buy a hard-copy to see that one), and More magazine also interviewed me extensively for an upcoming feature-length piece.

I especially enjoyed talking to simpatico Associated Press reporter David Crary for his recent article on a stigmatizing childhood-obesity campaign in Georgia. The piece went viral, landing in over 100 media outlets and attracting 700+ comments (some of them quite thoughtful) on Huffington Post, alone. I wasn’t surprised to learn later that David is an award-winning journalist, specializing in social justice concerns.

So, where will we find the other David Crarys? We may need to cultivate them. Any time you read a journalist who shows a glimmer of understanding, make sure he or she knows about us, send him or her our stuff. Help get our message out by emailing and tweeting them, posting on their blogs and Facebooks, and sending them material from ours.

Or maybe we’ll have to create them from the media we have on hand. Here’s where we put our persuasive shoulders to the wheel. I recently contacted Scientific American, for instance, to point out the multiple misconceptions that informed this passage from January (canards and buzzwords underlined by me):

Obesity is a national health crisis … If current trends continue, it will soon surpass smoking in care costs … Obesity is responsible for more than 160,000 excess deaths a year … The average obese person costs society more than $7,000 a year in lost productivity and added medical treatment.

Hard to believe the amount of misinformation they managed to cram into just a few short lines, isn’t it?

If you want to help make this happen, send a letter, post a comment or, to join a solid community around the project, join our HAES Promo Team. (Sign on to the mailing list, check the HAES Promo Team box, and you’ll get details.) This is my way of trying to harness the spirit and energy of the many HAES enthusiasts who’ve asked me, “How can I help?” Whatever your interests (parenting, dining, sports, health, sustainability…), we’ll help you put your passion to work by spreading the HAES message in your community and the media, making an impact in areas you care about.

To help hone your message and delivery, come to a participatory workshop that I’m hosting immediately following the ASDAH conference, entitled “Find Your Voice! How to Challenge Resistance and Talk Persuasively About Size Acceptance.”

For all of us, it helps to remember that, as eyes open, paradigms do shift. Cigarette smoking used to be doctor-recommended, after all. The Vietnam War pullout began with a fringe minority called “Yippies.” And, not too long ago, major media viewed threats of climate change as a form of “sky-is-falling” hysteria.

Not every new, paradigm-challenging idea proves out, or should. (Think: anti-vaccination campaigns, Atkins Diet, anthrax precautions.) We rely on journalism to help us, over time, sort fact from fiction. Only that kind of robust inquiry–already underway in the scientific community–can help us understand HAES and decide the best way forward on health and well-being.

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