Should obesity be treated like cancer?

Dr Nick Fuller
Leading Obesity Expert at the University of Sydney and founder of Interval Weight Loss.

Would you consult with a person without qualifications if you had cancer? Why is it any different if you have obesity? It shouldn’t be. 

Obesity is a serious problem, a disease and should be treated accordingly. It’s the greatest policy challenge of our time - 2 in 3 people are now overweight or have obesity. 

Parallel to this exponential growth in the obesity epidemic is the pop-up “wellness” industry with an explosion of unqualified personnel and entrepreneurs specifically cashing in on the weight loss industry - worth an eye-watering $100 billion dollars.

It appears as though everyone has an opinion on what we should be eating these days and how we should lose weight. The absurdness of it all means that some of these people have even completed some form of 2-day online certificate or had a lived experience that certifies them as one of the many so-called “experts” in the field. They might even be a social media sensation, a fitness trainer, a chef or a celebrity. So I guess we should be listening to them, right? Has the world gone mad?! Do people really think that the likes of Kayla Itsines, Jen Selter, Faya Nilsson, Massy Arias, Anna Victoria, Tracy Anderson, Michelle Bridges, Ashy Bines ET AL, or a pretty fit girl or ripped guy on Instagram, are going to solve their battle against the bulge?

These are the last people you should be getting advice from. Obesity needs to be treated seriously and not by those giving advice not qualified to do so. These “influencers” or pretty people we follow on Instagram simply don’t know what they are talking about and their advice or programs are not evidence based – it’s all anecdata.

We largely have social media to blame for the boom in the number of “wellness” experts. 85% of 15-24 year olds are now active on social media and yet young people are also where the greatest expansion in waistlines are being seen. BUT it’s not just limited to the young - 10 million people check Facebook daily and more than 1/3rd of Australians check social media at least 5 times per day.

What impact does this have on public health?

Some of the better known TV celebrities do cop flak from time to time from certain governing industries - like Pete Evans and his bone broth for babies but influencers go unregulated. Social media is for fantasy NOT advice - Pretty girls on Instagram spruiking skinny tea or waist trainers are setting us up for failure every single time by selling nonsense “health” and “lifestyle” programs and promoting an unhealthy body image. These “influencers” are unqualified, unregulated and uninterested in anything but personal gain - their only qualifications are looking good in a bikini or ripped with their shirts off.

The prevalence and use of social media has meant that we can now look at these “wellness” experts all the time – they are in the palms of our hands 24/7, from all over the world. Their constant message puts doubt in our heads – we look at the mirror every day, convince ourselves that we are fat and them tell ourselves “yeah, maybe I’ll try that diet”. They create an unhealthy portrayal or what is a healthy body weight.

BUT we don’t look like these aspirational Instagram stars because we work, we lead a realistic life. We aren’t paid to look pretty or spruik different products online.

Sadly, you are doomed for failure every single time - not only is their advice unrealistic and unhealthy to follow but your body also prevents you from succeeding which is why obesity is a disease. And their advice only compounds this issue more. Restrictive eating, dieting and an obsession with body image results in a fear of food – a fear that you will eat something that’s not allowed. Inadvertently, creating a dieting mentality and a cultural obsession with weight loss and body image.

Our body is far smarter than we give it credit for and will always work to protect its “set point” or level of fatness. Eventually you put the weight back on. But not only do you eventually end up back where you started, you end up in a worse off position because of the damage you impose on your metabolism and the obsession with weight loss and body image that you have developed. Research has clearly supported this and proven that irregular eating and a history of dieting as two of the key factors that actually accelerate getting fatter, rather than preventing it.

The take-home message

Firstly, the government needs to take ownership and start regulating this industry.

As individuals, we need to make better informed health decisions when it comes to our health and body weight. Our health is too important to put in the hands of someone unqualified. This means stop listening to social media in a field that goes completely unregulated and of which is full of misleading and bad advice.

Long-term weight loss success comes down to a making room for a healthier relationship with food and body image. NOT listening to unqualified personnel who don’t know what they are talking about.

How to navigate your way through the field of health and wellness “experts”

1. Look for their qualifications. They should be easy to find on their social media page or website. If you can’t find their qualifications, they won’t have any and therefore you should ignore them.

2. Check what sort of qualifications they have. For example, A 2-day online certificate in nutrition doesn’t mean they are qualified in the field and a certificate III or IV in fitness means they are a personal trainer, not an exercise or nutrition specialist. 

3. Check their qualification is applicable to their industry or business. A degree in, for example, marketing, journalism or business doesn’t mean they should be advising on health, disease, diet and exercise, or weight loss. But then again this is why they are probably doing so well in the business world. Clever isn’t it!

About Dr Nick Fuller

Dr Nick Fuller is the founder of Interval Weight Loss and is a leading obesity expert at the University of Sydney with a Ph.D. in Obesity Treatment. Dr Fuller is also the author of three best-selling books and his work been published in top ranked journals in the medical field, including JAMA, Lancet and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.