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Reader View: Mayor’s efforts to encourage health may backfire

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Posted: Saturday, June 14, 2014 7:00 pm

I was pleased to read about Mayor Javier Gonzales’ recent attempts to raise awareness about health and fitness by publicizing his own efforts to shed a few pounds (“Mayor seeks to shed pounds as part of City Hall fitness challenge,” June 8).

But, as a psychologist who specializes in treating eating disorders, I’m aware of the downside to such public campaigns. To begin with, diets rarely work; there is ample empirical evidence that most people who lose weight gain it all back, plus some. In addition, such campaigns rely on weight as a proxy for health — an overly simplistic yardstick that distorts the truth that there are unhealthy thin people and healthy overweight people. And finally, when weight loss is emphasized over more holistic goals (like improving a range of health-related variables, as well as subjective well-being) the message is undeniable: Being thin is crucial, more important than anything else. This message — woven throughout our culture and underwritten by a $20 billion-a-year diet industry — likely plays a role in the development of eating disorders and contributes to the stigma of obesity.

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