14 May 2019

Why weight is not a measure of health

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:31 pm on 14 May 2019

Our thinking about weight and health is flawed, says an expert in obesity.

Kate Berridge, a bariatric nurse and now owner of the company Beyond Obesity, says weight-cycling and dieting can make people less healthy, not more.

No caption

Photo: Flickr

“Well, it's a very, very complex situation. Lots of people think about their own self-worth around their body image and choose to go on diets and get entrenched into diet culture and what we now understand from the science is the physiology of what we call weight cycling - which means that the more you try to lose weight, the more you're going to gain weight.”

That vicious circle has long-reaching, physical and psychological impacts on people, she says.

“People who live with obesity, or are in bigger bodies, they feel like they take up a lot more space, there are assumptions about that particular body size and they get bullied, life is a lot more difficult.”

Berridge acknowledges that a bigger body isn’t necessarily healthy, but some perspective is required, she says.

“I fully understand that being in a bigger body is not specifically healthy, however, attempting to change it is paradoxical and makes things even worse.”

A better perspective is to be as healthy as you can, in the body you have, she says.  

“That is significantly better long term, then really, really working hard at losing weight.”

People with a predisposition to weight gain have the odds tacked against them, she says.

"This is a global syndemic and we really need to be looking at food systems and the way that we are working with the planet. It's been said that the genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.”

So, it is paradoxical to be critical when overweight people live in an environment, she says, is a perfect storm.   

“We know that there is a genetic predisposition and the environment that we live in at the moment is the perfect storm. So, I'm not being an apologist, but there is a multifactorial reason why people put on weight and it's not simply because they can't step away from the Tim Tams.”

Fat people are often stigmatised or ridiculed, she says.

“There are significant challenges for people who have to navigate the world where they can't fit in chairs, where they’re laughed at, where they're trying to exercise they’re running down the road and somebody throws a can of coke at them and calls them some kind of name out the window.

“This creates isolation and we know that isolation, as far as mental health is concerned, has a very detrimental impact long term.”

  • Death of the Calorie
  • Fat Girls* Dance Club
  • Get the RNZ app

    for easy access to all your favourite programmes

    Subscribe to Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan

    Podcast (MP3) Oggcast (Vorbis)