Wed, Oct 09, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Obesity, fat-shaming will not do

News regarding the eating and exercise habits of Taiwanese have repeatedly made headlines this year, as the nation ranks high among Asian nations for obesity, which comes with many health issues and risks such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

The Taiwanese Association of Diabetes Educators on Thursday last week reported that the average age of Taiwanese with diabetes has been decreasing, with the number of diabetics under the age of 20 increasing by 44.5 percent over the past seven years.

The reasons for this trend are not surprising, as the usual culprits were cited by the association — a love of night markets, fried foods and sugary, starchy drinks such as bubble tea, as well as a lack of exercise and irregular living habits.

People should be strongly encouraged to make better choices, especially from a young age, as childhood obesity is also a glaring issue, while Taiwan already has an adult overweight or obesity rate of more than 40 percent.

The good news is that there is an ever-increasing number of healthier options available.

Low-salt, low-oil lunchboxes that are also delicious are suddenly the rage, and it seems like a new gym opens every week.

It takes time to change one person’s habits, not to mention a nation’s, but at least the choices are there.

Taitung County provides an example of how to encourage such changes:

For years, Taitung ranked as the most overweight county or municipality in the nation, but after a vigorous county government campaign, including working with local food providers, it dropped to fourth place in 2017 and, as of August, has stayed there.

Education does work and all levels of government need to step up their game.

However, on the flip side, fat-shaming remains a problem. It is still seen as acceptable to make fun of overweight people in public with insensitive and callous comments.

Even if such remarks are meant as well-intended criticism, they are usually counterproductive, affecting the recipient’s self-esteem and causing mental stress.

It is not just poor eating habits or lack of exercise that causes weight gain; there could be mental or physical factors. One should understand someone’s situation before passing judgement.

More alarming is that these remarks often come from the people closest to those who are overweight.

The Taiwan Millenium Health Foundation in August reported that 56 percent of survey respondents indicated that their family members have made fun of their weight, with remarks ranging from “fat pig” to “how pregnant are you?” Some reported getting sneered at by family members every time they eat a snack.

This is not unlike mental health issues in Taiwan, which are often not taken seriously, with people told by their loved ones to “snap out of it” and “stop being a disgrace to the family.”

These are legitimate health conditions, and shaming is no way to treat someone who needs as much support as they can get.

The problem of fat-shaming is tackled in the upcoming film Heavy Craving (大餓), which opens in theaters next month.

Hopefully viewers will remember its positive message — that people should lose weight not because of how others view them, but for a healthier physical and mental state — and that making fun of overweight people is not acceptable behavior.

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