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Megyn Kelly Hit For Fat Shaming, But Shaming Smokers Works Well - Expert
Health Advantages May Well Outweigh Downsides, At Least for Some, as Kelly Said
Banzhaf, an expert regarding smoking, has been called "The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials,"
While the problems of weight and tobacco aren't identical, the phenomenal success in slashing the percentage of Americans who are smokers - thereby saving millions of lives and hundreds of billions in health care costs - by causing them, in their own words, to feel like "social pariahs," certainly suggests that fat shaming can also be very effective in many situations, suggests Banzhaf.
Indeed, he reports that shaming smokers has proven to be much more effective in helping them to quit than expensive public health campaigns are stop-smoking clinics.
While some who have been called out for being fat probably found the experience unpleasant, embarrassing, sometimes traumatic and possibly even counterproductive in their specific situation, in far more situations it may well have helped save the lives of millions from the second most deadly killer of Americans after smoking. And even those who strongly objected to the stigmatization of fat people at the time may well have benefited since, despite their displeasure, they were encouraged to adopt a health life style leading to a longer and healthier life.
With smoking, the phenomena was described in these words in a recent law review article.
"Every time a smoker sees a no-smoking sign, it's a blunt reminder that smoking makes you stinky and smelly, and someone other people do not want to be anywhere around. Some smokers have said such messages make them feel like 'social pariahs' —their term—someone other people shun and avoid. And that it is a major factor in persuading them to quit smoking, just as this new way of looking at smoking is very effective in the real world in helping real smokers—the great majority of whom already want to quit—to do so; thereby saving millions of lives and billions of dollars."
Moreover, as the author of the article notes, he "is not alone here; even the U.S. Surgeon General agreed."
Many have now severely criticized Kelly, claiming that it is never acceptable to shame a fat person. But this can hardly be true in her own situation which Kelly cited, since she herself had requested the fat shaming, and found that it worked for her.
Some fat people may find positive reinforcement more effective than negative, and some may even find they do better without any comments whatsoever. But it is illogical to argue that it is always wrong to honor the requests of competent adults as to what they wish, and what works best for them, with regard to any major health concern including smoking, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, lost flexibility and/or poor balance among seniors, etc.
Other critics have urged Kelly to embrace the fat acceptance movement which encourages fat individuals to simply accept their overweight condition. Some supporters have even gone so far as to claim that one can be healthy while still being grossly overweight.
But dozens of studies have shown this to be dangerously false. Those who fall for it, and give up on trying live a healthier lifestyle at a healthier weight, are likely to have a far shorter life, and one less rewarding as senior citizens because of many health problems, notes Banzhaf.
While there may be some individuals who can run marathons and do well on many physical fitness tests despite being fat (or smokers), the evidence is clear that they are more likely to suffer from - and likely die much earlier because of - heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and many other diseases and conditions than individuals who score as well regarding physical fitness but are not fat (or smokers).
Reasonable people may well disagree as to the most effective ways to tackle major health problems such as smoking, obesity, lack of sufficient exercise, alcohol abuse and use of illegal drugs, but that does not they should be disagreeable towards those who have a different view, argues Banzhaf, noting that women particularly should be encouraged to speak out on important issues.
Too often women's voices have been silenced, or they have been afraid to express their views in the first place, because of harsh criticism they receive as a result, often from men. Here, ironically, the tweets and other public statements attacking Kelly seem to be coming largely from women, who should be the last to criticize a strong women for having the courage to express an opinion on a controversial issue.
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH),
2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418