Fat shaming and diabetes – are we prejudiced or health conscience?

Food Network star Paula Deen made headlines recently with her admission of having diabetes and becoming a paid spokesperson of a drug company. Many people responded with outrage because it came out that Deen’s diagnosis came three  years ago. Still, in the three years since finding out she’s diabetic, she’s still pushed recipes that contained an eye-bugging amount of butter or oil.

Folks are criticizing that while Deen was privately being treated for her diabetes, publicly business went on as usual and she pushed terribly unhealthy food to her adoring public (she even went as far as writing a kids’ cookbook). Her fellow celeb chef Anthony Bourdain got into a Twitter feud with Deen about the food she cooks, accusing her of contributing to the general problem of obesity and childhood obesity in this country.

So why is Paula Deen and her diabetes important?

Well, it is and it isn’t…aren’t you glad I cleared that up?

Let me explain: Deen’s diabetes is no one’s business but her own. If she wanted to keep her condition a secret, that’s her prerogative. The only problem is that she chose cooking as her platform and instead of doing something positive, she chose to help contribute to our country’s unhealthy habits…

But we have to be clear – when we look at Deen critically, we cannot lapse into fat shaming, which happens far too often in public discourse about weight. It’s clear that diet and habit are important factors in diabetes prevention, but using the illness as an excuse to rail on people of size is despicable. And there’s a way of getting at the problem without alienating the people who would benefit most from the information. We have to approach the issue with little judgment and just rely on fact.

We’re not saying that to be healthy and to avoid diabetes you have to look like Kate Moss. In fact, I’d venture to argue that maintain Moss’ weight would also be unhealthy. But staying silent while childhood obesity continues to grow is also wrong. According to the Center of Disease Control, in 2008 the number of children who were overweight or obese rose to 20%. The CDC also maintains that prevention includes a healthy diet and exercise.

Which is why it’s so great that First Lady Michelle Obama has taken on childhood health as a central issue during her time at the White House. Her Let’s Move campaign is working to promote healthy living in youth through outreach to schools. Some silly conservatives who hate anything associated with the name Obama, accused the first lady of meddling and Sarah Palin even charged Obama with trying to snatch cookies away from kids’ mouths. That’s all nonsense. What Obama is doing is promoting a healthier option that parents and schools should seriously consider when looking at raising children.

All this is said, of course, in mind that on the flip side we have a media saturated with images of dangerously emaciated women that project an unhealthy and unrealistic body image. Too often when we talk about health living, we don’t address it as a “lifestyle” change, but merely deprivation. According studies reported in Journal of the American Diabetic Association, a “significant portion of (five-year old) girls associated a diet with food restriction, weight-loss and thinness.” Instead of health these girls were looking at the aesthetic. The study also found that these girls’ ideas of food and diet from their mothers’ eating habits. Even more disturbing, a whopping 40% of tenth grade girls judged themselves to be too fat, according to a study reported by In Healthy Settings for Young People in Canada.

With the news lately spotlighting anti-gay bullying, a good hard look should also be done at bullying against kids who are overweight. According to some studies, kids who are overweight are more than twice as likely to be targeting for verbal or physical assault by their peers.

What these statistics prove is that while we may want to move ahead to a healthier place in our society, we want to make sure that we’re doing it correctly. When teaching about good eating habits, it must be done with a parallel lesson in the importance of embracing natural body types. If we shed the fat shaming from our discourse, I think the message of healthy eating will be heard much more clearly.

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