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Svelte doc is the one who should be ashamed

Have you heard about the new plan to "shame" us fatties into svelteness?

Yep. I got the news via an article written by former Mail Tribune reporter JoNel Aleccia, now a staff reporter for NBC News.

The article, which also featured the obligatory rearview photo of an anonymous and obese woman, stated that Daniel Callahan, a prominent bioethicist, says heaping more stigma on overweight people may help curb obesity rates in the U.S.

Oh, yeah. That'll totally work. Because everyone knows cultivating self-loathing leads to all sorts of healthy behaviors. And being treated like crap by your peers is always helpful.

Callahan, defined as a "trim 82-year-old," says Americans have grown soft on the tubby. And he wants to see a renewed emphasis on social pressure against heavy people, including public posters that ask whether we're happy with the way we look.

While I was still sputtering my outrage — and asking whether Callahan would do a follow-up teen suicide study if his plan is put into practice — others also were quick to take issue with the good ethicist.

All acknowledged the health risks and medical costs linked to obesity are enormous. But they were quick to give Callahan the smackdown he deserves.

Dr. Tom Inge, an expert in childhood obesity at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said neither teasing nor probing questions nor medications seemed to work, in his experience. And proposing to help by creating more stigmatization seemed "at once both antithetical and unethical," Inge said.

Ya think? Or did we all miss that lesson in grade-school where being ridiculed and mocked for (fill in the blank) not only built character, it was also really for our own good? Please.

Deb Burgard, a California psychologist specializing in eating disorders and a member of the advisory board for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, said she didn't know what world Callahan was living in to advocate for more stigmatization.

Me neither, Deb. And God bless you for this quote: "He must not have any contact with actual free-range fat people."

Art Caplan, the head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and an NBC News contributor, said "zinging the chubby does not require a shift in our daily conversation." Social efforts, he added, should focus on forcing food manufacturers and marketers to stop creating what's been termed an "obesogenic environment."

To promote public fat shaming in an environment that constantly promotes fast, unhealthful foods, while also extolling the high-calorie offerings of celebrity chefs, "is to spit personal virtue against a tsunami of marketing coming in the other direction," Caplan said.

A former smoker, Callahan argued that public shunning had helped him quit his "nasty" habit. Being stigmatized and treated like a pariah had provided Callahan impetus to help him view his "bad habit" as "reprehensible behavior," he said.

"The force of being shamed and beat upon socially was as persuasive for me to stop smoking as the threats to my health," Callahan wrote, adding fat shaming was worth a try.

That is quite a logic leap, Danny Boy. Allow me to point out that the difference between smoking and obesity is, you should pardon the pun, huge. Smoking is an action. One can stop smoking, survive and thrive. The same cannot be said for eating. Which makes things ... complicated. Stigmatizing obesity targets the entire person.

I didn't struggle with my weight until well past puberty. But I did grow up in a household that included four skinny smokers. Secondhand smoke is harmful. Just ask my doctors. However, last time I checked, my fat fanny was not going to give anyone asthma, bronchitis or cancer.

To be fair, Callahan does worry that ratcheting up the fat-bashing will "lead to more retaliation against overweight people in employment and other areas."

He is only asking for "stigmatization lite," and frets about finding a way to pressure people to do something about their extra pounds, but without making them feel too bad about it, JoNel wrote.

I'm still gobsmacked by Callahan's theories. But I'm considering offering myself up for his study. In the interest of science, I want to see how far he'll bounce the first time he calls me Tubby.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.