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African Journal for Physical Activity and Health Sciences

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Obesogenic slurs: How pervasive fat-shaming undermines the battle against juvenile obesity

J. Shehu, M. M. Mokgwathi, A. S. Faros, M. Moruisi

Abstract


The purpose of this paper is to deepen understanding about the biopsychosocial relationship between fat-shaming and vulnerability to weight gain and inability to lose weight among school children and youth. The growing juvenile obesity trend in Africa is associated with multiple risk factors, such as dietary habits, physical activity pattern, built environment, school physical education curriculum and socio-economic status of obese individuals and their communities. An important issue that has not been significantly theorized and investigated to inform juvenile obesity containment policies in the African context is the use and consequences of obesogenic slurs or fat-shaming in homes, schools, communities, mass media and health care systems. Fatshaming is often used by well-meaning or mean-spirited significant others such as parents, peers, teachers, coaches and medical workers to discourage unhealthy dietary and sedentary habits in chubby kids in the hope of inducing behaviour modification. Paradoxically, the use of fatshaming to induce weight loss is a significant public health issue, as it has been linked to eating and exercise psychopathology. As juvenile obesity increases in African societies, there is a continuing risk that obese school children and adolescents in physical activity settings will become targets of fat-shaming that damage their developing self-image and weight management efficacy. The thesis of this paper is that fat-shaming in physical activity contexts can undermine efforts to stem juvenile obesity, promote lifelong physical activity and redress health inequities. The paper is based on review of contemporary literature on the correlates and consequences of fat-shaming. Implications of fat-shaming for physical education pedagogy and juvenile obesity interventions in Africa are drawn.

Keywords: Physical education, juvenile obesity, fat-shaming vulnerability, maladaptive
consequences.




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