I recently received an email from the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance in recognition of Obesity Care Week 2022. It outlined 5 pillars that would be the week's focus, along with a link to their website at ObesityCareWeek.org. The pillars included "5 core issues that negatively impact people with obesity":
- Recognition: the way we care for obesity should be based on health and science, not stigma.
- Weight Bias: obesity is not an appropriate measure for a person’s worth or abilities.
- Access to Care: proven obesity treatments should be accessible and affordable for everyone.
- Science-based Treatment: “eat less and move more” is not a magic cure for obesity.
- Prevention: prevention programs should be science-based and improve health.
On the surface, this seems like a step forward in the conversation about body size and health, realizing the impact of stigma and bias, as well as problems with access and the false promise of one-size-fits-all interventions. But that is what makes it even more problematic in my view. This text still uses the term "obesity", which is standard language in the medical community AND is itself stigmatizing. It also perpetuates the notion that having a larger body is a disease, even if it is one that shouldn't be tied to "a person's worth or abilities". And lastly, it suggests that science should be harnessed to prevent people from having large bodies.
Bodies come in different sizes for different reasons. We no longer bind people's feet to keep them from becoming too large, nor do we stretch kids to ensure they reach an acceptable height. A larger body is not necessarily a diseased body, and a small body is not necessarily a healthy one. As an organization that focuses on arthritis thriving, we recognize the role of body size on joint health, and the relationship between inflammation and fat tissue. We can recognize the science and use that information to propose person-centered strategies for healthy living at any size and any body composition. People of any size can strengthen stabilizing muscles to improve joint stability. People of any size can reduce inflammation through lifestyle choices and conventional medicine.
I had a conversation a few years back with Amber Karnes on this topic, where we discussed the science and some of the tensions between medical convention and lived experience for people with larger bodies. The recording can be found here:
My thinking on this topic continues to evolve as I learn more about the emerging biopsychosocial science, and about the lives of people impacted by this topic. Experience in any kind of privileged class begs us to keep examining and re-examining our assumptions in this regard. As someone who has always lived in a smaller body, I appreciate the opportunity to continue learning from those with different perspectives. In contrast to "Obesity Care Week", Yoga for Arthritis wants to take this opportunity to celebrate the many beautiful bodies that are part of our community, each with its own set of strengths and challenges to celebrate and learn from.