Stigmatizing obesity will harm, bioethicists claim

Xavier Symons
1 Jun 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Daniel Callahan has again been chastised for his view that obesity should be stigmatized. Whilst most attacks have been from mainstream journalists, the latest critiques come from respected ethicists. In the most recent edition of the Hastings Centre Report two bioethicists argue that Callahan's approach is " a failed and ethically dubious strategy ".

The authors, Daniel S. Goldberg, of East Carolina University, and Rebecca M. Puhl, of Yale University, cite studies demonstrating the ineffectiveness of stigmatizing obesity. They state that: "there is consistent evidence that individuals exposed to weight stigmatization are vulnerable to numerous adverse health consequences, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, and avoidance of health care." Research also indicates that public health campaigns containing messages that stigmatize and shame obese persons actually induce less motivation and lower intentions to improve.

The authors believe that stigmatization is morally wrong, regardless of its efficacy: "even if stigma produced extremely salubrious consequences, we think it should not be deployed as a public health intervention. The intense harms stigma can impose and the way it can literally spoil identity provide a powerful argument against its usage regardless of the consequences."

Goldberg and Puhl's article is just one of six commentaries published in this month's Hastings Centre Report review, all of which question Callahan's view.