Jamie Oliver and the Stigma of Obesity

WDGG's DJ Rod is wary of the stigma of obesity for his city.

The most recent episode of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” continues to show people in Huntington, WV resisting his presence.  Many were cautious of how a reality show would portray them and their fellow citizens.  They just didn’t like the label of “fattest city in the US” that the Centers for Disease Control report had burdened them with.

Jamie Oliver was fundraising for his school lunch program and decided to target the local medical community figuring their deep pockets and interest in the region’s health and well-being would be a good match.  But even these professionals were concerned that the spotlight of a network television show was being shined on their city.  Doug Shiels of Cabell Huntington Hospital insisted the label was wrong stating, “What [the CDC study] doesn’t say is this area covers five counties and three different states; it’s not just Huntington.”

Beverly McCoy of Marshall University School of Medicine added, “Businesses look at workforce cost, and there is a stigma related to obesity.  If [ABC] has this promotion [surrounding the show], then what business is going to come to Huntington?”

Jamie, always fixated on the health issues and trying to create better lives for kids, was a bit flummoxed by their responses finally saying, “So this is about money then.”  Yes, Jamie, it’s always about money.  I don’t even blame the residents; I’d be defensive too.

The obesity epidemic in the US costs companies big bucks.  One study stated that private employers pay about $45 billion per year in medical expenditures and absenteeism related to obesity, more than smoking or alcoholism.  It doesn’t just cost the employer; overweight employees make $7,000 less per year than their comparable skinny co-workers.

So I don’t really blame Rod the Morning Show DJ from WDGG for being ornery.  I don’t blame the hospital big wigs for not wanting Huntington to be the poster child for a universally fat America.  Such designations hit them in their pocketbooks and make it an even harder problem to deal with in their community.

Even from a mental health point of view, citizens could just accept the label of “fattest city in America” which could lead to defeatist behavior.  After all, why bother eating a salad when we’re all fat anyway?

So Jamie Oliver is trying to do a very good thing by showing how a city, in a difficult situation, can find hope and gumption and turn things around.  If they can do it, anyone can.  But he is also doing it at the expense of the very city he is trying to help.  Like it or not, thanks to this program, Huntington, WV now does carry the label of “fattest city in the US” at least until the next CDC report comes out.

What are your thoughts on the stigma of obesity?  Have you had to fight it yourself?  Do you think it’s fair that an overweight co-worker makes less than one with a more normal weight?

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

, , , ,

13 Responses to Jamie Oliver and the Stigma of Obesity

  1. merri April 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    I watched the first episode of this show last night…so many people seem to NOT want his help. I understand, id hate someone coming in and telling me how to do my job..but if I knew I was doing it worse than I could and that it would help so many people if I finally get to do it right, I’d be happy. I also understand why the city wouldn’t want this title..but they had it anyway. Now they can fix it. And yes, they might lose a bit of $ in the process, but they were losing their entire lives before. Maybe they will be more famous as the city that turned their health around. And of course, its not fair if I make more than an overweight coworker, just based on our weights. Obviously, it should be on performance. I have not been overweight, except for a few years when I was a kid, but I’ve definitely seen others been stigmatized by it. To me, this show is not about making the people get skinny, but about them learning to live/eat healthily.

  2. Trece April 19, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

    Having lived in WV for several years, I would like to say that West Virginians tend to be suspicious of outsiders, and definitely don’t cotton to an outsider telling them what to do.

    I’m kind of surprised that Oliver has been able to keep going with the show – except maybe he got TED money. And the attitudes he’s running into aren’t going to be changed overnight, or by some Tv show that portrays them as the “fattest city in America”.

  3. Joy April 19, 2010 at 7:05 pm #

    Interesting numbers and information here. We can look at it as “poor them”, they are carrying the cost of being labeled the fattest city, but we can also see it as a challenge for everyone (them and the other cities) to help them get them out of this title. At some point, we do have to consider that fact that: It is what it is. Now what are we going to do about it? If they hadn’t gotten that kind of attention, were they going to do something about it? Sometimes, it takes a bad situation for people to take action. I mean, I hate to say it.

    About earning less…shouldn’t we take a look at why that is so? Is it fair? Would it be fair for those who are putting in the hours and work to be earning the same as those who are putting in less? I haven’t had to fight obesity. Sure, I have the challenge of gaining more weight than I’ve had in my lifetime and I am doing something about it because I want to take care of myself. I don’t blame anyone else for that and neither am I asking that I be treated any different (better or worse) because of it.

    I think people should think more about accountability more than anything. Numbers are just numbers. Where’s they why? Are we to blame media and big companies for making us fatter? Whatever happened to personal accountability?

    “Even from a mental health point of view, citizens could just accept the label of “fattest city in America” which could lead to defeatist behavior. After all, why bother eating a salad when we’re all fat anyway?” — No, they shouldn’t. Now, the question is: What are they going to do about it to make themselves better?

  4. Lisa Johnson April 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    Merry, I totally agree with you. I understand their defensiveness but it’s also pretty darned important that they get over it. They’re getting help from lots of people, a unique opportunity really. :-) Thanks for the comments. L–

  5. Lisa Johnson April 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    Very interesting Trece, good insight to have … :-) L–

  6. Lisa Johnson April 19, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Joy they are all excellent points and there are definitely two arguments that have been around for a while now.

    1. It’s all the fat person’s fault, it’s their responsibility to fix it, they’re they ones shoving the cheeseburgers in and
    2. It’s society fault for creating so many opportunities to be obese, with bad cheap food, huge servings and saturated advertising

    I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. What this show does point out is that education goes a long way. A lot of these people literally don’t know how to eat and it’s easy for the intelligentsia to brush it off, but that would be the wrong thing to do. Working with a regular ole population like Huntington WV shows the ugly side of obesity. It’s ubiquitous, has systemic roots that are hard to get rid of, it’s actually supported by our government and it requires a multifaceted approach to solve.

    I’ll definitely be writing more and more about this. Thanks so much for your comments :-)

  7. Amy April 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    I had a disagreement with a friend the other day talking about this show vs. Biggest Loser and I tried explaining to her that this show was much more important because….

    1. this is about health not losing weight…anyone can work out in a gym with 2 trainers and lose weight but when they go home what happens? It is much more important that someone sees the food they are eating is making them and everyone around them sick. If you have the knowledge, you can share that knowledge and it’s so important to start with the kids.

    This show is my favorite show and I really wish he could go into every state. Because although WV has the highest obesity rate, kids are eating processed foods in every state.

  8. Joy April 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    I completely agree that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I’m a half glass full person, and from my rose-colored glasses point of view obesity can be an opportunity for a good change. Something new. Something great.

    The attention is there and what better time to make a change and to revive not only their own personal lives, but also their city and have people invest in them because they are facing harsh criticisms regarding their health and yet they choose to better themselves. I was so relieved to actually see in the last episode that things are beginning to turn around. Change is not easy!

  9. Lisa Johnson April 19, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    Joy,

    I’m actually willing to go out on a limb and say that their stats are going to be better in the next CDC report and that someone else will be labelled “fattest city” then we can send Jamie there … heh … L–

  10. Lisa Johnson April 19, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    Amy,

    I agree and the childhood obesity numbers are rising as significantly higher rates than adults! Here’s a link for more info on that, you can look it up by state. Biggest Loser is spectacle and unrealistic circumstances. The contestants have a lot of heart but the show itself is just a machine. Jamie Oliver’s show is all heart, and no one gets kicked off weekly.

  11. Paul April 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    Amy,

    I agree and the childhood obesity numbers are rising as significantly higher rates than adults! Here’s a link for more info on that, you can look it up by state. Biggest Loser is spectacle and unrealistic circumstances. The contestants have a lot of heart but the show itself is just a machine. Jamie Oliver’s show is all heart, and no one gets kicked off weekly.

  12. Jeff April 24, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    Merry, I totally agree with you. I understand their defensiveness but it’s also pretty darned important that they get over it. They’re getting help from lots of people, a unique opportunity really. :-) Thanks for the comments. L–

  13. Lisa Johnson April 24, 2010 at 9:51 pm #

    Paul, I agree the show is all heart, although I’m still a little bummed that the product placement was frozen veggies. He did sell out at least an eensy bit.

    Paul, thanks for your contribution to the discussion, it’s an important, complex topic that is difficult to solve. L–

Leave a Reply