Does fat shaming help people lose weight?

Does fat shaming help people lose weight?

Until a few days ago, the most unpopular person on the Internet was the woman who posted the image above.

That woman has now been replaced as Most Hated in Cyberspace by the North Dakota woman who planned to withhold Snickers and KitKats from trick or treaters she deems overweight and, instead, hand them this note:

Does fat shaming help people lose weight?

This Halloween Grinch has gotten a lot of air time from news outlets desperate for a new angle now that the old razor-blade-in-the-apple scare has been pretty much shown to be an urban legend. Even among those who think she’s a meanie, some feel that she is “sending the right message” about the health dangers of excess candy, given that about one in three American children are overweight or obese.

But is she?

It’s not at all clear that fat shaming helps people lose weight. One study found that overweight people who felt subjected to weight discrimination in employment and other settings were more likely to become obese than those who didn’t. Massachusetts schools no longer send home letters informing parents that their kids are overweight because these letters didn’t help the children get healthier and may have contributed to bullying.

Research supports what most of us know from our own experience: positive feedback is more motivating than negative feedback. From whom did you learn more: the teacher whose praise you wanted to earn or the one whose criticism you hoped to avoid?

So, lady in North Dakota: hand out money for UNICEF to all the kids if you disapprove of candy.

And super-buff lady with three little kids: get back to me when they’re teenagers.

I’ll save you some Snickers.

Suzanne Koven is an internal medicine physician and a Boston Globe columnist.  She blogs at In Practice at, where this article originally appeared. She is the author of Say Hello To A Better Body: Weight Loss and Fitness For Women Over 50

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  • Suzi Q 38

    Even though the woman with three kids flaunted her body on the Internet she makes a good point.
    She had three kids and she basically could whip her body into shape after having had three kids so quick quickly, one after the other.

    • WarmSocks

      I looked that fit when I had four kids in five years. Now that they’re older… well, I work out, but am never going to fit back into my size 3s. Like the author said, let’s see a follow-up picture when those kids are teens.

  • C.L.J. Murphy

    We’ve become a society of blue-nosed bony-fingered moralising neo-puritans when it comes to judging our neighbours’ personal habits.

    Chastising people for the sins of gluttony &/or sloth is best left up to their priest or minister, and helping unhealthy people take steps towards regaining their health is best left up to their family physician.

    All other tut-tutting moral busybodies should be sent to their rooms with a copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” and perhaps some transcripts from the Salem Witch trials.

    Meanwhile, I’ve still got a handful of fun-sized Snickers bars I squirreled away from the Hallowe’en loot. Anyone care for one?

  • fatherhash

    so now we are criticizing people that work hard to be healthy?….or are we criticizing her for “encouraging” others?

  • Eric Thompson

    I don’t know any providers that give more than lip service to weight management. Not that they can’t see that some of their patients are fat. They get hit with being called discriminatory and/or bigoted. Society jumps all over smokers. Try supporting the smokers with the same enthusiasm as we do for the overweight.

    • Jim Miller

      Imagine if there were as much public opprobrium for fat people as there is for smokers!

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    Step up as a parent, you losers! That ND lady is great, absolutely hilarious. If other people don’t meet your standards, even if you have no responsibility for them or they for you, make them feel bad. Or even better, make their children feel bad. Halloween candy kills.

    Now of course it does everyone else no good at all, but it does make the ND lady feel better. Which is the whole point.

  • Ken Leebow

    You know who she is an inspiration to? People who are already leading a healthy lifestyle. And I’m one of them. Thank Maria … I just became one of your 230,000+ fans.

  • Victor Trismegistus Lyc-Vamp D

    Contemporaneous society has become excessively aware of some health conditions like weight control. To be sure, must of us have heard at least once in the last 6 months some “educational” article in the TV, on the radio, on some kind of public campaign, from his/her attending physician, on some educational campaign…
    While this sure is a public health problem — and measures about it should be taken — I do think it is a case of “overkill”. We must understand this is a tradeoff, where each individual has his/her wright to opt. And that excess repetition — so I believe — ends up by bringing problems and disturbances by itself.

    So much for “primum non nocere” and for the ethical principle of Autonomy.

  • L Greenhall

    There is so much genetic factor in weight loss – this lady has the genes that responded others can work as hard and not see much result and the result they do get goes back quickly when the relax just a little.

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