Saturday, July 17, 2010

Public health scare campaigns do not help obese, research finds

We really need to have another look at all the public health "experts" and activists and reassess whether or not they are actually doing more harm than good.

Not talking about doctors or nurses, but the various academic departments set up to promote public health and outfits like Healthways here in Western Australia or the several organisations set up to "advocate" for assoted diseases and maladies.

The trouble is, in my view, that these people and bodies become institutionalised. That is, they take on an institutional life of their own and protecting this and the benefits it brings them, (think about all the community groups for a moment - they all have at least one person on a substantial salary, as well as other paid staff), becomes increasingly the driver of their actions.

You can see this with the Cancer Council now peddling very dubious claims about diet and cancer. The evidence may be weak, but it keeps them in the public relations competition as they compete for money from governments and the general public, (which of course is necessary to pay the CEO and several managers, provide cars for them etc etc).

It also explains why here in Australia these groups insist on pushing for the introduction of nanny-state measures designed to force people to be 'virtuous,' whether they want to be or not, such as the traffic light code system for food or restricting what is sold at school tuckshops, despite the fact that all of them have already been tried overseas and failed.

And nowhere more than with diet and fat is this nannyish need to engage in a moral crusade against latterday "sin" seen at its proscriptive and hysterical worst.

Nothing short of surgery or North Korea will keep the fat off a fatty for long. It's pissing into the wind to try

PUBLIC health campaigns warning of the dangers of obesity demonised fat people and did nothing to help them lose weight, research has found.

Interviews with 142 obese adults found many felt stigmatised, shamed and blamed by government health campaigns, according to a Monash University study led by health sociologist Dr Samantha Thomas.

The Cancer Council's ad linking increased waist size with a greater cancer risk was particularly disliked, Dr Thomas said. Positive campaigns, such Go For Your Life, which encouraged physical activity and healthy eating, were better received, the Herald Sun reports.

"The public health campaigns that people feel are stigmatising are often based on personal blame, personal responsibility and the assumption that if you tell people enough to lose weight, they will," Dr Thomas said.

"Unfortunately for most obese people, that just isn't the case. The causes of obesity are really complex and are not necessarily due to people being lazy, inactive and eating the wrong foods."

Scare campaigns simply didn't work.

"They have not shown to be effective in reducing the prevalence or the level of obesity," she said.

Lilydale mother Elizabeth Sutherland, who was not involved in the study but readily concedes she is overweight, agreed with the study's results.

"The problem is that the campaigns stigmatise people," she said. "You are made to feel guilty about something that is already quite difficult - it can be quite hard living as a fat person in the community."

Dr Thomas said such campaigns often reinforced the public perception that all overweight people were unhealthy: "They are based on the assumption that all people who are fat have, or will have, health problems, and that they will be a burden on the health system, which just isn't always the case."

But Craig Sinclair, director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at Cancer Council Victoria, defended the campaigns.

"We know that many people do not properly understand these risks, so we have an obligation to raise awareness of the strong link between cancer and obesity," he said.

Dr Thomas said the diet industry benefited from "scary" health messages.

"Research has shown 95 per cent of people who go on a commercial diet will regain the weight," she said. "There is also research showing the continual cycle of losing and regaining weight is actually more dangerous and damaging for people's health."

The Monash study findings are published in BioMed Central's open-access journal BMC Public Health.


Posted via email from Garth's posterous

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