Monday, April 5, 2010

"Weighty Matters" Recap

First, thank you so much for all of your kind words and good wishes after my post on Saturday. I really appreciate the support! (One thing that makes this community so great!!) I see the podiatrist soon and will let you know what happens.

Friday I mentioned briefly that I had attended a program titled: “Weighty Matters: Effectively Communicating About Weight & Health.” The panel was sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and STOP Obesity Alliance. When I first read about the event on NEDA’s website, I found it a bit odd that these two organizations would be joining forces, but when explained to us Friday morning, it seemed like a perfect fit. Both organizations are concerned about how the media (news and entertainment) portrays body image, weight, and health. The goal set forth was to create a productive discussion between panelists and also audience members in order to devise productive guidelines for media to follow while reporting on health and weight issues. Both organizations feel something needs to be done about the unrealistic images portrayed in the media and also that the media has a responsibility to clarify what is healthy and fit.

Panelists included: Emme (model & NEDA Ambassador), Dr Max Gomez (Medical reporter for WCBS-TV), Kate Dailey (reporter for Newsweek), Wendy Naugle (Deputy Editor, Glamour Magazine), Dr. Donna Ryan (President, The Obesity Society), Jen Drexler (Partner, Just Ask a Woman), Joe Nadglowski Jr. (President & CEO, Obesity Action Coalition), and Dr Ovidio Bermudez (Past President, NEDA). Also in the audience were Laila Ali (Muhammad Ali’s daughter) and Matilda Cuomo (former First Lady of New York).

Here are a few key points I wanted to share with you:

Overwhelming consensus that there needs to be a shift in focus from appearance and weight to health. The link between body image and weight needs to be broken.
• Society tells us to eat all the time (marketing, culture, etc) but we’re not supposed to look as though we do.
• Media shorthand says thin = healthy and fat = unhealthy. As of yet, there is no language to describe the spectrum of what health looks like.
• Media often reports studies without putting results into context or linking one study to another (and often time’s results are conflicting).
• Obesity is not easy to live with – quality of life is greatly diminished, psychologically and physically.
• There is a worry that the emphasis on weight-loss (not health) will trigger eating disorder tendencies in some people. Thus, the need to focus on health.
• While the diet industry is expanding, people are not getting healthier.
• The diet industry is ‘teaching’ how to lose weight rather than doctors and health professionals.
• Doctors need more training on nutrition and weight loss to effectively communicate with patients.
• Health insurance plans need to cover weight loss and nutritional counseling.
• The goal of the food industry will always be profits, but they do need to take some responsibility. People need to vote with their dollars. Don’t support companies that don’t support health.
• A decrease in weight of just 5-10% can result in health improvements, making the need for some medications unnecessary and decreasing the risk of some diseases and conditions.
• People need to take responsibility for their own condition and habits.
• The media and corporations need to start talking to women (and men) how they talk, and understand the issues they face every day.
• Media should focus on healthy habits – being active and eating right – rather than numbers on a scale and appearance.
• The focus needs to be placed on parents - their actions and words. When a young boy is referred to as a ‘big boy’ it is seen as a good thing, but a ‘big girl’ is a concern. Also, parents need to set good examples when it comes to eating and activity levels.

A note about BMI: BMI measurements are effective when tracking populations over time but it is not necessarily good on an individual basis. For instance, body builders may have high BMI’s while they are extremely fit but have high muscle mass. The Doctors on the panel agreed that we should use BMI because it is a scale we have that can be used, but more research needs to be done and the fitness of a person should be determined by other factors in addition to the BMI test.

The two hour discussion could have easily turned into an all day event. I wish the event had gone longer as I feel there were more topics to cover and ideas to be shared. The mostly female audience was passionate and full of concern, yet ready to for action. I’m not entirely convinced that enough attention was really paid to the core reason for the panel – creating guidelines for the media when discussing weight – but I hope the event does lead to change, or at least more discussion. While people are encouraged to lose weight, the emphasis should be put on health not looking a particular way. It does seem to be human nature (at least in this culture) to want to look a certain way, and we probably will never completely get rid of that ‘ideal image,’ but perhaps if the media alters the way it covers this issue, then maybe more people will be able to lose weight and gain health through a sensible approach and be able to keep the weight off once they’ve lost it because they’ll change their lifestyle rather than follow a fad diet that isn’t design to be sustained.

What do you think? Do you think the news & entertainment media have any responsibility when it comes to discussing weight?

For further reading, here's an interesting graphic you may want to take a look at from The New York Times yesterday.

Workout Stats -
13.75mi bike
90 crunches
3x10 overhead tricep extensions
3x10 tricep kickbacks
3x10 (ea side) weighted twists
3x10 leg curls


Writing Without Periods! said...

Love your post. I'm always worried about my BMI. Good luck to you. What a great way to keep up with your progress.

Molly said...

I do think magazines need to take more of a cautious approach in how they focus on weight and image. Glamour magazine has been featuring "normal size" women and plus sizes for a while now, and the April issue of Vogue talks about this topic in several articles. More publications need to follow their example.

Good luck at the doctor! Hope you're feeling better!

Katie @ Health for the Whole Self said...

Thanks for sharing this! Sounds like a very interesting panel discussion (and makes me wish I lived in NYC and could have attended!). I do think that the media holds a certain level of responsibility when it comes to the images it portrays, and that many publishers and media corporations would be surprised at the positive reactions they would get if they embraced a wider diversity of models, images, etc. (Case in point: Glamour magazine, as mentioned above.)

I'd also like to mention that I think healthy living bloggers are part of the media we're talking about here. I am very passionate about ensuring that my blog focuses on HEALTH more so than WEIGHT, and that I continually emphasize that health - in all of its many facets - should be what we're striving for. While most bloggers emphasize a similar message, I'm sure there are some that focus more on weight and are then contributing to these issues.

misszippy said...

Sounds like such an interesting discussion. I just saw a bit on the Today show about how people can be healthy even if they are not a size 2. I think that is an important message to get across. So much of Hollywood is thin, but they are not fit or healthy. Big difference!

Maureen said...

I think a lot of that stuff is good information. I get really upset when I realize exactly how bad people eat. It isn't the weight that I think is the problem but they don't realize what they are putting in their bodies. My brother is young and a stick so he eats whatever he wants but my parents are concerned that high cholesterol is going to be awful bc he eats so poorly. Definitely is something that needs to be addressed in schools at a young age.

Lisa Eirene said...

I think media contributes to the general laziness of people and the desire to have a "quick fix" when it comes to fitness and health. Standing in line at the grocery store EVERY magazine has an article that says "Lose 20 pounds in a week!" "Get this skinny body without working out!" Really??? I was 250 pounds and you know what, nothing worked until I changed my diet and started exercising! Ok. End rant. :)

Anne said...

Absolutely! I like the dove "transformation" videos, where they actually show a model going from street to photoshoot to photoshop. Very interesting and definitely touches on this topic.

The Laminator said...

I know we've talked about this, so I won't belabor the point, but I think everyone needs to take responsibility in the fight against obesity. The solution will not come from one party or one individual or the government. Doctors need to learn how to communicate with their patients. Patients need to motivate themselves and be responsible for their health. The government needs to provide subsidies for heatlhier living and create opportunities for parks and recreation for the kids; and parents need to understand that what they do affects not only them but their kids' health as well.