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  • Writer's pictureSasha Borissenko

EPISODE 10: Where to from here?

The final episode of the Chewing the Facts podcast investigates why people are fixated with the idea of personal choice over facts, and what can be done about it.

When *Cath goes on a bus, she feels both visible and invisible.

“There can be a perfectly serviceable seat beside me, but a person won’t sit there because ‘they might be too close to the fat lady,’ she told Chewing the Facts.

Assumptions are made that she takes up more space than she actually does, and the same assumptions aren’t made for tall or broad-shouldered people, she says.

“There’s this whole underlying thing that ‘you chose to be fat and you did this to yourself’. I’ve tried to do a lot of things to not be fat in my life, but I’ve never tried to actively do anything to be fat. It’s just how I am.”

A 2018 meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies found more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years. By five years, more than 80 per cent was regained.

Contrary to popular belief, studies show food digestion accounts for 8-15 per cent of total energy output, metabolic rate can account for 60-80 per cent, and physical activity accounts for just 15-30 per cent.

Specific genes inform the way hormones and metabolism are expressed. Genetic influence varies between 25 and 80 per cent of the factors behind how some people gain weight.

The World Health Organisation classified o*esity as a disease in 1999, citing genetic disposition and a change in food and work environment.

Public narrative researcher Jess Berentson Shaw says despite decades worth of research debunking the idea of personal choice, it’s embedded in Aotearoa’s cultural environment.

“There’s a type of thinking, which we call meritocracy, which is if you work hard, you will succeed and do well. You see it in health, and poverty - ‘people can pull themselves out of poverty because everyone gets the same opportunities’.”

The human brain is designed to process information subconsciously through set values, which are driven by media, government policy, and education messaging, she says.

In a 2016 study, more than 2000 participants were given news articles portraying fatness as a health concern resulting from poor choices, and articles detailing the opposite.

Links were found between negative articles and greater fat discrimination. Positive, stereotype-free images led to a decline in prejudice. Multiple studies have produced similar findings.

Berentson Shaw also says confirmation bias means any scientific or factual information that contradicts embedded values may be subconsciously rejected.

“There’s a whole cognitive chain of events, which now sit in people’s heads and facts just really bounce off these mindsets and narratives that people are already holding.”

Cath says even though people may see it’s wrong to discriminate against people, fat people are not included in the equation.

“There’s always some sort of caveat - what about your health? What about how much you’re costing the taxpayer?’ I’ve been a taxpayer for 38 years and I’m certainly not getting back what I’ve paid in tax.”

In fact, studies show fat discrimination has been linked with high blood pressure, inflammation, and cholesterol, sleep disturbance, alcohol use, mental health conditions, suicidality, disordered eating, weight gain, and death.

Size discrimination isn’t included in the Human Rights Act, meaning it’s legal to discriminate against people in health, education, goods and services, and public settings.

Berentson-Shaw says policy-makers and media need to move away from an individual focus in favour of research-driven messaging to promote more nuanced, complex ways of thinking.

“When you ask people in these situations, you will hear what we call ‘less dominant’ or often suppressed ways of thinking.

“And you will start to hear people reason that [the food] environment matters. You will hear people reason, that ‘actually, there is a [hereditary] element. You will hear, ‘maybe it is more complex than this, and when I tried to lose weight that time, it was really hard’.”

*Not her real name

Chewing the Facts - new episodes out every Sunday. Produced with the NZ Herald, with support from NZ On Air. Show notes and research are available via

You can follow the podcast at iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This article was originally published via the NZHerald here.


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