First Advisor

Gary Brodowicz

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Health Studies: Physical Activity/Exercise and University Honors


Health Studies


Body mass index -- Psychological aspects, Body image -- Psychological aspects, Stigma (Social psychology), Obesity -- Public opinion




Obesity is widely accepted as one of the major health crises facing the United States, and increasingly, the world. Labeled a disease by the American Medical Association, and frequently characterized as an epidemic, obesity is the target of high profile national health interventions, media campaigns, and a multi-billion dollar self-help industry. The message produced by public health agencies is that obesity is a killer, and that reducing weight is a beneficial and achievable goal generating many positive health outcomes. This paper presents two primary arguments that counter the prevailing attitudes towards obesity: that as a stand-alone measure, Body Mass Index (BMI) is a poor metric for gauging health status of individuals; and that current public health messaging, with its implication that being fat is an inherently unhealthy and undesirable state, is counterproductive to the intended goal of motivating the public to engage in exercise and healthy dietary habits. Via a literature review and a survey, I demonstrate that obesity stigma and fat-shaming create an environment that stimulates and perpetuates poor lifestyle choices, and subjects fat people to dangerous psychological and physiologic stress. I also provide data demonstrating that cardiovascular fitness is a more meaningful health measure than is BMI. It is my contention that public health messaging should stop focusing on weight, drop references to weight reduction as a meaningful health goal, and instead focus on goals of increased cardiovascular health and the development of healthy dietary habits.


In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Persistent Identifier