Contrary to the messages we are exposed to from popular culture, media, and public health about body size, focusing on how much a person weighs isn't necessarily an effective way to promote health. These messages play a role in reinforcing what some call “diet culture” and others have called “anti-fat bias.” Diet culture associates weight loss and thinness with health despite mounting evidence of the negative impacts of dieting. Anti-fat bias can persist in workplace, healthcare, and educational settings, threatening both the emotional and physical health of obese or overweight individuals.
Research is showing that weight is not a reliable indicator of an individual's health nor is a weight-centric approach helpful in improving overall well-being. Weight-centric, or weight-normative, approaches emphasize weight, body mass index (BMI), and weight loss as positive indicators of health and well-being. This type of approach values thin body types over others and can have negative consequences such as weight stigmatization, discrimination, and body dissatisfaction; consequences that are associated with weight gain, unhealthy eating behaviors, and depression.
While some weight loss interventions may reduce weight or improve health metrics in the short term, these interventions typically involve other behavioral changes such as increasing physical activity or changing eating patterns which make it difficult to attribute the cause of health improvements. Is the improvement in health due to the reduction in weight or to the increase in physical activity?
Also, while some people on weight loss diets lose weight in the first year, if followed for more than one year, people in peer-reviewed studies typically regain most of the weight back within the following five years. Repeatedly losing and regaining weight, or weight-cycling, increases the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and is an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes, even in normal-weight individuals. Studies reveal that losing and regaining weight may be worse for a person's physical and psychological health than consistently staying at a higher weight.
Due to the issues with long-term ineffectiveness of weight-centric interventions, and increasing recognition of the relationship between racism and anti-fat bias, there is a need to shift focus to weight-inclusive or weight- neutral approaches. Weight-inclusive or weight-neutral approaches emphasize improving access to health promoting resources and reducing weight stigma. Studies have shown numerous health benefits, even in the absence of weight loss, are achievable and sustainable in the long-term using a weight-neutral approach.
One example of this approach includes Health at Every Size (HAES). HAES principles promote the acceptance of body diversity, intuitive eating not focused on weight control, support for policies that equalize access to resources, respectful care towards ending weight discrimination, and inclusive physical activity. Weight-inclusivity does not promote the message that everyone, in every body size, is healthy. What it does promote is that everyone, regardless of their body size, can be working on health-related goals without focusing on changing their body size.
Weight-inclusive approaches that are rooted in a social justice and systems-oriented framework can powerfully acknowledge the social and political roots of health inequities. To be most effective, and to avoid other forms of stigma or shame, these approaches should consider the influence of life factors such as poverty, discrimination, stigma, and job insecurity and how these factors constrain or support health behaviors and personal choice.
Research spanning the last decade has been showing that the HAES approach is associated with improvements in blood pressure, health behaviors, self-esteem, and body image and has done so more successfully than weight loss treatment. Further, studies show that interventions that encourage individuals to eat intuitively help participants abandon unhealthy weight control behaviors, improve metabolic fitness, increase body satisfaction, and improve psychological distress. Results from literature reviews favor the promotion of programs that emphasize a non-restrictive pattern of eating, body acceptance, and access to health promoting resources rather than weight loss.
There is a growing body of research showing that HAES and weight-inclusive approaches are better able to address overall health and wellness than focusing on BMI or weight reduction. Shifting focus away from weight loss, thinness, obesity prevention, and looking a certain way to achieve better health could potentially make us a healthier and more equitable society. Despite these movements being met with hesitation, weight-inclusive approaches have been demonstrated to be effective health promoting strategies.
Shifting the focus of health interventions away from losing weight as an end goal is not new and it doesn't even have to be that revolutionary. Many of the governmental recommendations to be physically active and follow a balanced diet following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that UC ANR nutrition programs and CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE programs teach in communities across California could be used in either a weight-centric or weight-inclusive approach. In our San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara county nutrition programs we have advocated for books to be removed from curricula if they promote anti-fat bias and have started making changes in how we talk about our work to prevent chronic disease and promote health instead of preventing obesity. Still, the idea of obesity and overweight as the central concern for public health and popular media has stayed with us longer than has proven necessary or effective for actually improving the health of individuals and society.
Do you have unconscious bias toward overweight or obese people? Consider taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test for Weight.
The University of California Cooperative Extension and its community partners have received nearly $500,000 from the California Department of Food and Agriculture to expand farm to school projects. The CDFA Office of Farm to Fork's 2021 California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program has awarded $8.496 million in grants to 60 farm-to-school projects throughout the state, including the following two UC Cooperative Extension projects.
Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project
UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra received $248,457 to work on the “Tuolumne Agricultural Connections Project” with Jamestown Elementary School District, Office of Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools, Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Center, Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office and local farmers.
UC Cooperative Extension Central Sierra will work with the sheriff's office to expand an existing farm education center on land owned by the county detention center, to provide educational opportunities for public school students and juvenile detention center students.
“We're really excited to offer more learning opportunities for young people in Tuolumne County,” said JoLynn Miller, director of UC Cooperative Extension in the Central Sierra. “At the farm, we will be able to teach students about growing food with hands-on activities and field trips and provide incarcerated residents with job training.”
UCCE and the Sheriff's Office plan to start a sustainable egg-laying operation to supply public schools and other public institutions with locally produced eggs. At the juvenile detention center, UCCE will provide monthly gardening and cooking lessons to juveniles. UCCE also will support school gardens through the School Garden Network and expand Harvest of the Month education and tastings to more public schools and to the juvenile detention center. School food service directors will get help increasing procurement of California-grown foods for their menus to reinforce the Harvest of the Month education. Through Kids' Day at the Market events, they plan to introduce public school students to farmers markets as places to buy healthy foods.
Local sourcing of food across Los Angeles
In Los Angeles County, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College received a $250,000 grant. Occidental College is partnering with Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles County Office of Education, Adventist Health Glendale Foundation, Big Green, Enrich LA, Garden School Foundation, Los Angeles Food Policy Council, National Health Foundation, Sage Garden Project, Seeds to Plate, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles and UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.
The “Farm to Classroom: Sourcing Local for Farm to School Education Across Los Angeles” project will help farm-to-school educators purchase fresh produce from local farmers markets for in-class taste tests, garden lessons and recipe demonstrations. They will also offer teachers farm-to-classroom educational materials on food systems, farmers and agriculture, featured produce items and nutrition.
"We are thrilled and excited to be a partner on the project,” said Keith Nathaniel, UCCE director and 4-H youth development advisor in Los Angeles County. “Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County is poised to provide quality educational materials that support the farm to school learning continuum for young people. Cooperative Extension will continue to build on its expertise to develop relevant impactful materials designed to engage learners to meet their educational outcomes."
A “Los Angeles Harvest of the Month” calendar will be designed for Los Angeles Unified Food Services and be available to others in Los Angeles County to use. The calendar will feature local produce items that are highlighted in the educational materials and available to buy through a purchasing app. Coordination between school food services and teachers will help Los Angeles Unified align their lessons and garden planting schedules with foods offered in the cafeteria. The project team plans to launch a pilot of the program at select Title 1 schools, then analyze evaluation data from the pilot program and modify the program model as needed before sharing it with farm to school educators across LA County and offering an accompanying training.
The California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program focuses on supporting local and regional farm to school projects that promote nutrition education, sustainable food production and procurement, and high-quality student engagement through experiential learning.
A series of ANR publications have been developed for people who wish to engage Latinx youth and families in their programs.
These briefs were inspired by a research project and the Journal of Youth Development article Guiding Principles for Reaching and Engaging Latinx Youth in Youth Development Programs, by Fe Moncloa, Nancy Erbstein, Aarti Subramaniam and Claudia Diaz Carrasco.
“We know that, in general, youth-serving practitioners do not read journal articles so we used the information to write easy-to-read briefs,” said Moncloa, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H youth development advisor in Santa Clara County.
The brief ANR publications are authored by Moncloa and Claudia Diaz Carrasco, UCCE 4-H youth development advisor in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The five-part series are
Engaging Latinx Youth: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8690.pdf
Conceptual Foundations: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8691.pdf
Organizational Infrastructure: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8692.pdf
Program Elements: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8693.pdf
Building Relationships in Latinx Communities: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8694.pdf
“We will start a conversation about prospects for new businesses after COVID-19, and entrepreneurial support for existing and new independent business startups,” said Taylor, who is organizing the series.
Webinars will be held on alternate Thursdays at 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For details and to register for the free events, visit http://ucanr.edu/postpandemiceconomy.
May 20: Utilities of the 21st Century – Kevin Short, CEO of ANZA Electric Cooperative
June 3: Modo Co-operative: A Platform for Carsharing – Patrick Nangle, CEO of Modo Co-operative
June 17: Models of Affordable Workforce Housing – Mikaela Fenton, UC Davis Bradshaw Scholar
- Author: Glenda Humiston
We express our support and sympathy for all who have suffered at the hands of racists, bigots and misogynists and will continue to work to make our organization more diverse, equitable and inclusive. We are already taking steps to dismantle system issues, revise our divisionwide strategic plan, and create opportunities to celebrate the diversity of our workforce and the people we serve. It is our mission to serve everyone in California; we continually analyze how best to reach into all communities, rural and urban.
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources community stands in solidarity with members of marginalized groups: Black, Asian, Latinx, LGBTQIA, older people, persons with disabilities, citizens and noncitizens. UC ANR is committed to doing our part in changing the trajectory of the past with anti-racism actions and policies. We can and will do better.