THE BLOG
12/06/2013 11:42 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

The Real 'Fat Shame': Ignoring the Obesity Epidemic

Is it wrong to suggest that women who go vegan tend to lose weight? Some bloggers seem to think so, judging by their rabid reaction to PETA's sensible suggestion that women who are unable to use Plan B birth control because they weigh over 176 pounds might benefit from a vegan diet. Sensible, yes, because the fact is that a vegan diet is likely to result in weight loss, and unlike cream cakes and salmon, vegan foods are far more likely to fill a body up, not out.

Some people have pointed out that not all women who weigh 176 pounds are overweight, and it's true that if they are pretty tall, they may not be, but with nearly 70 percent of American adults overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's safe to say that many women are losing out on Plan B because of excess pounds.

And that's not all they're losing -- some are losing their lives. Numerous studies have linked obesity to deadly diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes -- which is what led the American Medical Association to announce in June that it is officially recognizing obesity as a disease requiring medical treatment and prevention.

What the people who can't abide any suggestion of the advantages of weight loss are doing by throwing the term "fat-shaming" around is really "health education shaming." They are attempting to block any discussion of vital health issues. But people shouldn't be cowed from giving out information that we can reduce health risks and do something about our weight if we want to?

Just last week, a study published in the journal Science indicated that a molecule formed when cholesterol is broken down in the body may foster the growth of cancer cells by mimicking the effects of estrogen. The study builds on previous studies that have found that being overweight can increase the body's production of estrogen and other hormones that fuel the spread of certain cancers, including breast, colon, and uterine cancer.

But can't you be fat and healthy at the same time? Not according to Canadian researchers who analyzed data from eight studies and found that overweight people are more likely to die from heart attacks or strokes, even if they are "metabolically healthy," meaning that their blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in the "safe" range. "Healthy obesity is a myth," says Dr. Bernard Zinman, one of study's authors.

What isn't a myth is the fact that vegans are less prone to obesity as well as being less likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes than meat-eaters are, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Sure, there are heavy vegans and slim meat-eaters, but research shows that the average vegan is 18 percent leaner than the average meat-eater and that meat-eaters are a whopping nine times more likely to be obese than vegans are.

A recent study found that vegans tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and are generally leaner than their meat-eating counterparts. Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products usually have a higher BMI than vegans do, while meat-eaters have the highest average BMI of all. The same study found that vegan and vegetarian diets may protect against type 2 diabetes because the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, like the BMI, increased along with higher consumption of animal products.

Why is the average vegan leaner than the average meat-eater? Many vegan foods tend to be naturally low in fat and calories. They're also often high in fiber and rich in complex carbohydrates, which help boost thyroid hormone and norepinephrine, and they in turn help boost your metabolism, so you burn more calories.

Urging women to adopt a healthy, humane vegan diet in order to lose weight isn't "fat shaming" any more than urging people with heart disease to eat better is "clogged-artery shaming." The use of the word "shaming" is a sham. Ignoring the obesity epidemic or, worse, "shaming" people who are trying to combat it does a grave disservice to people whose health and longevity depend on learning about their choices, hearing the facts, and losing weight. Obesity is a serious health issue, and we don't do anyone any favors by pretending otherwise.