Rather than trying to create laws that help obese people lose weight, the legal community and society as a whole need to invoke interventions that lead to people becoming more healthy, according to a UWindsor law researcher.
“The central message is to not be obsessed with people’s weight, but to focus more on healthy eating and physical activity,” says Bill Bogart, a professor emeritus in Windsor Law and author of the recently released book, Regulating Obesity?: Government, Society, and Questions of Health.
“Undue emphasis on weight loss and the prevention of excess gain have largely been failures and have fueled prejudice against overweight and obese people,” he said. “We have to understand that once people are obese, it’s extremely difficult for them to lose weight and keep it off. Putting collective pressure on people to lose weight is a fantasy. In many cases, it’s just not going to happen.”
In Canada, obesity rates have climbed to historic highs with about 25 percent of the population categorized as obese, according to a study released earlier this year by the University of British Columbia. In the US, meanwhile, rates have leveled off, but are still hovering at about 35 percent of the population, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Bogart, who will appear on CJAM this afternoon to discuss his work, said the real challenge lies in shifting norms away from the stigmatization of the obese, and towards more nutritious eating and drinking, increased activity, and acceptance of bodies in all shapes and sizes.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we collectively throw our arms in the air and simply accept obesity, Bogart added. Alternatively, using the law effectively to promote healthy eating and physical activity may be a solution to combating many of the health risks that are associated with obesity, he said.
Areas where the law can intervene to promote healthier living include the regulation of marketing, fiscal policies like taxes on unhealthy foods and subsidies that promote healthy ones, and a built environment that promotes increased physical activity, Bogart said.
Taxes on junk food can be an effective part of the regulatory mix to combat obesity, but if we believe so-called “fat taxes” will directly lead to people becoming thinner, “then we’re setting ourselves up for failure,” he added.
Bogart will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.