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?