A lot of people fall prey to the misconception that lean and thin people are healthy while larger and fatter people are unhealthy. Sadly, this mindset attributes to stigma and bias against people in larger bodies that cascades into the workplace, healthcare, and many other day to day activities. If you’re not a person who lives in a larger body, you may try to refute this, but just one example of this would be the Canadian woman who sought out medical intervention and was told to lose weight when she actually had cancer and died as a result of malpractice.
The fallacy that thin and lean is healthy while large and fat is unhealthy is a damaging and oppressive belief that needs to stop. People come in all different shapes, sizes, and compositions regardless of their health status. We don’t expect every breed of dog to be lean and muscular, we don’t expect every flower to be pink, so why would we expect there to be only one way for people to look in order to be healthy?
There are many factors that contribute to a person’s overall health including diet, health behaviours, genetics, environment, social status, etc. All of these things are independent of bodyweight and composition. The proportion to which these factors effect someone’s health may surprise you.
You may notice that body weight and composition is not listed on here. That’s because bodyweight and body composition are not indicators of health status, while healthy living and habits are (but only to a certain extent.) With this in mind, it’s good to think of the classic example of the lean and thin person who never gains weight despite eating highly processed foods without having touched a vegetable or fruit in 10 years, doesn’t exercise, regularly opts out of sleeping, and regularly abuses alcohol and drugs. And then of course there’s the larger person who eats plenty of vegetables, gets 8 hours of sleep nightly, engages in intense exercise and physical activity regularly, doesn’t drink alcohol or use drugs, and their body will not lose weight or change composition.
On a snap judgment, regardless of behaviours, people will judge both of these individuals assuming that the leaner person is healthy and the fatter person is unhealthy, even if it is clearly not the case. It’s quite obvious that the larger person in this example is going to be healthier just based on their behaviours alone. All of this to say it’s impossible to know someone’s health status based on their body size and composition. On top of this, a person’s health status is really nobody’s business but their own.
So before you assume that larger and fatter people or unhealthy, acknowledge your bias, and remember you that can’t know somebody’s health status just by looking at them based on their body size and composition. Being thinner and leaner does not equate to being healthy, nor does being fatter and larger equate to being unhealthy.
We also have to acknowledge, considering all of the factors affecting health status, that being in a good health is a privilege. When we consider social status, economic status, ability, and environment – a lot of people don’t have access to opportunities or resources to easily engage in healthy behaviours that could attribute to improving their health and wellness. People are not obligated to be healthy, and many are not able to partake in activities and behaviours that could improve their health.