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Using stigma to further marginalise people living with obesity

healthy obesity shame Mar 03, 2024

Shaming people does not help them get  healthy 

I just read an article with the worst case of fat-shaming I have seen in a long time 

One of my patients sent me an opinion piece on whether the Australian taxpayer should fund Semaglutide, published on March 1 as a double-page spread in multiple papers under the ACM umbrella of community newspapers 

The author is Garry Linnell and the bio for the newspaper column reads as 

“Garry Linnell is one of Australia’s most experienced journalists. He has won several awards for his writing, including a Walkley for best feature writing.”

He describes his weekly publication as “The Echidna is a weekday newsletter with a difference. Featuring the wit and insight of celebrated Australian journalists Garry Linnell and John Hanscombe….” 

This week he produced a piece that was neither witty nor accurate and certainly below the standard of any Walkley winning journalist 

I would expect a serious piece of investigative journalism from a Walkley Award winner. But what we got was an ignorant, divisive piece of writing that shamed people living with obesity. 

As a doctor who works with people with obesity, the first step in any therapeutic process is to remove stigma and shame. 

Witty? I don't think so 

Linnell opens his article by praising a waiter with “Herculean” strength after lifting all the heavy plates of food out to the patrons of a local RSL and then shames the patrons for eating it all. This sarcastic opening falls well short of Linnell’s self-described wit.


Whilst Linnell touches on the addictive nature of the ultra-processed food industry, 

many multinational companies that have spent decades combining fat, sugar and salt to turn millions of us into processed food addicts”

he quickly dismisses it as people being greedy as part of his argument 

 “Is providing cheap obesity drugs simply a quick-fix method of rewarding gluttony?” 


And again Linnell touches on some of the behavioural drivers of obesity 

“Obesity can certainly be a side-effect for those who turn to comfort eating when suffering depression or other anxiety-related issues.”

And then dismisses it with another ignorant comment

“But surely the key driver of our expanding waistlines is overeating and laziness.”

No, Garry! 

The Real Drivers of Obesity

The drivers of obesity are complex and involve a range of issues including 

  • Genetics
  • Epigenetics, 
  • Metabolic hormonal profiles, 
  • Counter-regulatory hormones, 
  • Medications, 
  • Medical conditions, 
  • Socioeconomic status, 
  • Food security, 
  • Trauma, 
  • Intergenerational trauma,
  • Hyper-palatable addictive food products,
  • Predatory marketing including to children 


but I’m sure as a Walkley winner he would know this. 

He just chose not to write this and create a reductive argument


Linnell stated that 

“The fattening of our nation has been mirrored by an increasing normalisation of obesity and a lessening in personal responsibility”

What is this based on? 

Which journal articles is he referencing here? 

What tools has he used to measure this? 

Non3- this is of course just his opinion


Oh and this gem

“Even raising issues like the proliferation of "plus-size models" and the growth of stores catering to XL men prompts accusations of "body-shaming".

Garry Linnell Your ignorance is astounding. 

Do you think that having shops that only stock standard sizing is the answer to the obesity crisis? 

Do you think that people will say to themselves, “Gosh I don’t fit into any standard clothes- I must go and lose weight”

Is that what you’re implying? 

What would you like the people living with obesity to wear? 

A sheet, A toga 

Yes, I’m sure that would fit into your argument that fat people just need to take more personal responsibility and then they too can shop with the "thin people" 


 Finally, as a Walkley winning journalist, I would have expected an argument with facts and figures on the cost to the nation of treatment vs prevention. 

Decisions like this are made on data not moralising

The discussion on this should centre on economics.

He could have presented a well researched, clever article but he didn’t.

Everyone has an opinion

There is a  common phrase “If only we had the confidence of a mediocre white man” so I guess that’s why he feels qualified to offer an opinion 

As a thin, white, man of medium/high SES with no medical, nutritional or public health training, I shouldn’t be surprised that he has the audacity to comment on a complex problem and provide a reductionist solution. 


In the meantime, your article has harmed people the people I look after.  

This is what my patients are saying "Apparently us fatties eat too much & are lazy so we don’t deserve the option of weight loss drugs…. I felt shamed & want to crawl back into my cave" 

People living with obesity, already feel marginalised. 

They already feel bad about themselves. 

They already feel less than,,, 


In one ignorant article, Linnell has just confirmed everything they have internalised. 

Well done! 

He  created an article that centres entirely around "Us" (the strong thin people) and "Them" (the weak fat people) 

So Garry

If you think that this makes edgy-you’re wrong!

If you think it makes you a thought leader-you’re wrong!

and I expect the reason you wrote is for clickbait 

I will reiterate that your article is lazy. 

Do better!

Dr Lucy Burns is a medical doctor, GP and Lifestyle Medicine Physician and co-founder of Real Life Medicine. This an online platform providing health and weight management programs for women that address the root cause of metabolic health dysfunction and teach essential mindset skills for long-lasting change. You can connect with her on LinkedIn Facebook or Instagram 

You can work with Dr Lucy and Real Life Medicine and find details on current programs 


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