Blinded by the Light – Is Obesity Over-Exposed in the Media?

Blinded by the Light – Is Obesity Over-exposed in the Media?
by Tammy Farrell CPC, CPA, CFE

Tammy Farrell

Overweight. Bias. Stigma. Exercise. BMI. Personal responsibility. Disease. Fat. Body Mass Index. Calories. Bullying. Activity. Fat-shaming. Morbidity. Obesity. Obesity. Obesity.

Have you had enough? Has America? Has the world? Are we DONE with talking about obesity?

I was struck…dumbfounded really… by a recent conversation I had with the OAC’s own James Zervios, Vice President of Marketing and Communications. I mentioned that I was looking at attending the annual Health Journalism Conference put on by the Association of Health Care Journalists that occurred last week and that I was surprised when I looked at their REALLY LONG list of panels and discussions to find that obesity wasn’t on there anywhere as a topic. Ebola? Yes. Aging? Yes. Pre-term birth? Genetics? Yes and yes. They were there, but not obesity.

What floored me in my conversation with James was that he wasn’t surprised that obesity wasn’t on their list. I later talked with a colleague, Dr. Sarah Trainer, a medical anthropologist with Obesity Solutions (a collaboration between the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University) and she too wasn’t surprised. What were they seeing that I missed?

Is mainstream journalism finished with their coverage of obesity? Has the problem gone away? Has the impact to society and our national budget decreased? Certainly not. Have we just grown weary of the topic?

It’s even worse than that, obesity is normal.

There is less obesity “news.” New initiatives, various programs, and over-stepped boundaries (should this school have sent a note home with a seemingly fit 7-year-old saying that her BMI was too high and that her parents needed to take steps to take care of it?) get the occasional 2 minutes of air time.

Celebrity surgeries are still heralded here and there. Governor Chris Christie broke his silence in an interview recently regarding his 2013 weight loss surgery saying “It’s the best thing that I’ve ever done for my health. And I look back on it now and wish I’d done it years ago.” A side note here – Governor Christie gets kudos from me for speaking up about his surgery. Too often people get the sense that unless the result of bariatric surgery is a body worthy of Vogue or GQ, it hasn’t ‘worked’. It does work people! ;)

Is obesity over-exposed in the media? Has it gone the way of Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, and the omnipresent Kardashians? If the world got too much information (or too much of the same information) I’d say no harm done. More likely though, is what I see as information frustration. People get tired of having to sift through to find the truth.

Exercise is good for you…but don’t over do it. Twenty minutes a day is perfect! Or is it 60? Didn’t we get enough of Britney Spears a while back to just roll our eyes when we heard another something she did? I know I did (and I’m glad she seems to be doing great now). Is it the same thing for obesity? Have we heard too much?

Alarm fatigue is a strange term but it comes to mind when I think about obesity and the media today. In hospitals and other medical settings, alarms go off continually when patient’s heart rates go too low…or too high…or the IV goes empty…or a patient’s TV doesn’t work for the 5th time in a row.

Alarm fatigue is when those alarms go off but it no longer carries the sense of urgency it once had. People get desensitized to the alarm sounds. They’re the norm.

In the saddest of cases the alarms are turned off or ignored.

How can we (or should we?) help keep obesity discussions from being turned off or ignored?

About the Author:
Tammy Farrell, CPC, CPA, CFE, is a professional wellness coach who specializes in working with fellow bariatric patients in Scottsdale Arizona and nationally via phone calls, webinars, and Skype. Tammy’s company, Believe In Action Coaching, provides personalized guidance, group programs, and workshops as well as free monthly support groups, newsletters and resources for her community. As a mom to two young boys, Tammy loves to keep them active and curious about the world around them.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. Information contained in this blog post is based on scientific research that has not been validated. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise, program or hyperlinks mentioned in this blog post.

6 Comments for this Post
  • Tonya Rackett
    May 4, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    I believe people are “fatigued” when hearing about the PROBLEM of obesity. We need to be INSPIRED by people that are doing something about it! I’ve had gastric bypass surgery and I was motivated by people that were successful with losing large amounts of weight. I’m now living the life I’ve always dreamed of! It’s unfortunate that we don’t see more people applauded for their successful weight loss surgery, rather than being condemned for “taking the easy way out”. There is nothing easy about it! I’ve worked very hard to conquer my food addiction. Gastric bypass was an invaluable tool and I am NOT ashamed!

  • Tammy Farrell
    May 23, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Thanks for adding to the discussion Tonya.

    I whole-heartedly agree! It takes a massive amount of courage and continual effort to undergo weight loss surgery and more people should be celebrated for taking this huge step to better manage their health and wellness.

    I’m all over the need for people to be inspired with ways that they can each help to chip away at the obesity epidemic. I’d love it if each retiree (or WLS patient or anyone else) would take an hour a month to go to their local elementary school, middle school or Boys and Girls club to bring balls, frisbees and jump ropes out to the playgrounds to get kids moving! These facilities usually have the equipment, it’s manpower that they lack to get it to where it can be used and played with. Kids WANT to move!

    I’ll step off my soapbox now. ;) Thanks again for your input Tonya!

  • Zana McDowell
    May 24, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    My whole family struggle with their weight. In later years Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure and Cancer ran through my family like a forest fire. It was lit by bad food choices, TV and Telephone time. I am determined to change the paradigm of my family line ! After losing my mom at age 61 (way too young) to breast cancer I know how we got to make changes everyday towards better health. Please everyone who reads this just make changes every week then everyday so that you get in the habit of better choices. Save your life and others by being the example of wellness and abundant health. Thank You

    • Tammy Farrell
      July 5, 2015 at 3:55 pm

      You’re so right Zana! Consistent small changes will help to anchor those changes into your lifestyle.

      As hard as it is to bear the loss of loved ones taken away too soon, you’re doing great by allowing those tragedies to inspire you to make positive changes. Those changes will enhance your life and all of those you touch.

  • Nurse Riley
    June 9, 2015 at 11:58 am

    Creating a healthy lifestyle is not easy today. it’s too easy to stop off at your favorite fast food joint and get a #3 combo with a large cola; then drive home and watch your favorite show on TV while you eat it. At that point unless you have kids to take to dance class or other activities you’re comfortable and settle into “rest and digest” mode for the night.
    It’s too easy to do this and next thing you know you’re 50 lbs heavier and have no energy. What I detest is the fact that in today’s society we point a finger of blame at everyone and everything but ourselves for our poor behavior. When I read the news and see that being fat is okay now, Really? since when did being unhealthy start being acceptable. Political correctness has no place in the obesity epidemic we have currently overwhelming our healthcare system.
    We as a society need to change our behavior, I feel it starts with the family; mothers and fathers need to take charge and be an example to their children. Watch less TV, eat more home cooked meals with out processed foods. I was brought up on meat and potato’s, Type 2 diabetes was unheard of, I didn’t meet a person with type 2 diabetes until I was 20 years old. Now it’s rampant and only getting worse.
    How do we as a community fix this situation? When I say community I mean our local communities, without more government restriction.

    • Tammy Farrell
      July 5, 2015 at 5:04 pm

      Excellent points Nurse Riley.

      Rather than being a slight against wellness, I take the concept that “fat is okay now” from a different perspective. It could be seen as naive but I view it as an evolution of society recognizing that weight and a person’s character and worth are separate things. It’s the person-first concept that I apply to it. A person’s weight should be irrelevant and that might be where it’s seen as fat being accepted more now than it was previously.

      I agree wholeheartedly that we need to take individual responsibility for ourselves and our families. And that it’s hard. I think community fixes sometimes do require government involvement though.

      As we put less food in our bodies, we need to make sure the quality of the food is excellent.The massive tax waivers and subsidies given to big business (companies utilizing GMOs included) need to be adjusted in order for local and organic farmers to have a chance to compete. When organics farmers instead have to pay more in order to simply put an “organic” label on their produce, the cost difference continues to climb.

      Encouraging and promoting healthy eating hits us in the other direction as well. When we try to change our collective habits to lower calorie choices – I’d love for it to be easier for all of us to resist when a 1/2 gallon of ice cream is on sale for $2 and a similar size bowl of cut up watermelon costs $4.

      Community-based programs such as Blue Zones and activity-encouraging programs will do us well in the long run to try and offset the challenges we face at the drive through and the grocery store.

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