When it comes to being fat, we’re simply too polite

North Americans are heavier than ever. If our doctors aren’t calling us on it, who will?


Two years ago my doctor told me I was overweight—not in a Karl Lagerfeld to Adele sort of way—but in the privacy of his office, during an annual physical, and in a sensitive manner. The result? After calling him terrible names in my head, I lost 20 lbs over the course of five months. And the next year, I weighed in just about right. It’s been the most effective weight-loss tool I’ve ever encountered because every year I know I have to get back on that medical scale, and I don’t want to disappoint the doctor, or myself.

But recent results from a national survey published in the journal Chronic Diseases and Injuries in Canada show that few of our doctors (one in three) are advising obese patients to lose weight. But if 59 per cent of Canadians are either overweight or obese, and being fat causes God knows how many health problems, and our doctors aren’t measuring waistlines (fewer than one in five of the survey’s participants, the journal reports) and 40 per cent of overweight or obese Canadians describe themselves as just, “about right,” than that’s a fat problem. If we can’t count on our doctors to call the kettle fat, then who can we count on?

 It’s a touchy topic, one that the U.S., in particular, is having a hard time framing. Recent American health campaigns aimed at bringing the problem of  childhood obesity to the floor have been lambasted for being too critical of fat kids. And in late February Disney shut down an interactive anti-childhood obesity exhibit after critics said its fat, villainous characters, such as “The Snacker,” were insensitive to overweight youngsters. Those chubby children could be stigmatized, or worse, bullied. And that would be terrible. But the problem remains that 40 per cent of children in the U.S. are overweight and obese, more than in any other of the 32 countries polled in a 2010 obesity study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Whose job is it to keep our ballooning waistlines in check?

The report I mentioned above suggests that our timid doctors are “a further indication of the widely held societal view that obesity is an issue of personal responsibility rather than a medical problem.” Maybe it’s a bit of both.

I just had my annual physical yesterday. I knew I’d gained about five of those 20 lbs. back. I also knew why; I’d stopped running regularly (I run so I can eat more without gaining weight, not for the health benefits, but those are great side effects), and I’d had more dinners of Dr. Oetker’s frozen pizza polished off with a half container of Häagen-Dazs pralines and cream than I care to admit (including the very night before the doctor’s appointment.) The important thing is, I think, that I know what I have to do to lose that last five, and that my doctor gave me a bit of stink eye for gaining it.

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