Normally the word "neoliberalism" has negative connotations to me. Well, apparently I am guilty of being a NEOLIBERAL HEALTHIST and I'm owning it. Last week, my best friend was at the biggest conference in public health (American Public Health Association) and started texting me from a session entitled:
Introduction: The focus on obesity at the individual and health behavior level can mask the social and structural production of obesity. It has also proven to be largely ineffective, as the increasing levels of obesity in the U.S. have shown. Further, the focus on 'obesity reduction' may alienate women of larger sizes and actually result in their engaging in fewer health behaviors, such as exercise, due to issues of stigma.
So take everything you read here with a grain of salt, I did not attend the session and this is clearly NOT my area of expertise BUT...I play a health expert in blogland.
I was so intrigued by my friend's texts (i.e., rants on the fact that health statistics show you can't be healthy at any size) that I had to do some internet searching on this new term for lack of any other route to learn more. I found masters theses, Ph.D. dissertations, blog articles, online mag articles, and articles from peer-reviewed literature on this topic. And they incensed me!
From what I can gather, neoliberal healthism is that idea that the individual is responsible for obesity and poor health and that good health can be achieved through one's own determination and actions. The neoliberal healthist believes that the individual is responsible for choosing a healthy lifestyle and even has a social obligation not to be obese, not be unhealthy, because of the high cost of disease to society (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc). According to some folks out there, including those who spoke during this session, this is BAD to put everything on the shoulders of the individual.
They believe that focusing on the individual masks the problems in society and culture that contribute to obesity. Oh, and don't use the words "obesity" and "obese" because it makes people feel bad and creates an intimidating environment.
I can see where they're coming from with using the term obesity. BUT I don't see any reason why individuals shouldn't take responsibility for their own health and when people don't take responsibility, I think it makes it MY problem, our problem. And that's not cool, yo.
I strongly feel that when they say we shouldn't focus on the individual, they are taking POWER AWAY FROM ME. They are telling me, "Sorry hon', but you're weak, you really cannot resist temptations out there, you aren't capable of taking care of yourself or making healthy lifestyle choices, you really can't change anything about your life. Just give up, we'll try to take care of this one for you by fixing all the problems with our media, marketing, food production and service, educational system..."
Sure we need to make larger changes at the societal and cultural level but in our free market system, I think we have to affect change from the bottom up. We have to make the change through our lifestyle choices, using our power as consumers. It's not happening from the top down. Unless you think the federal government can get away with a cap & trade system on sugar, fats, and preservatives in food?
This really struck a chord with me and was quite upsetting. It challenges my belief that I AM an individual, I am empowered to make smart choices. Also, I'm raising a toddler and I put a lot of effort into trying to teach him personal responsibility and consequences for his actions, so how can people say that making individuals responsible for their actions is WRONG?
What do YOU think?
If you find this interesting, do you own searching and look into this then tell me what you find out.