In fact, we know – and they certainly know – that human beings are remarkably bad at judging how much we're eating. Food companies use that information to encourage over-consumption, and to target certain consumers who tend to have less disposable income to invest in healthy food – poor people, people of color, kids.
Food is a social justice issue that has disproportionately negative impacts on groups already facing hardship. That should be an issue for every socially conscious person. But when looking at the myriad problems caused not only by our big food industry but by the policies that enable them and our cultural norms that incentivize poor health choices, too many people simply turn "obesity" into the boogeyman.
Doctors even blame fatness for all sorts of medical conditions and people don't get proper treatment. Fat women go to the doctor less often for routine cancer screenings, and patients anecdotally report doctors focusing on their weight and ignoring real medical problems like broken bones and asthma.
On the policy side, promoters of laws that incentivize health or push back on corporate food interests such as Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative, bans on extra-large sodas, and extra SNAP benefits at farmer's markets inevitably target "obesity" in their campaigns. That strategy has the effect of maligning the aesthetic of certain bodies instead of encouraging everyone to be healthier and countering the enormous influence of big companies. As a result, many people who should be the natural allies of health-promoting initiatives are put off by the shaming fat language.
"Obesity epidemic" language has also fed into the idea of body size and eating habits as social tribe. Thinner kale-eating elite liberals in the Northeast are trying to force-feed broccoli to heavier real Americans in the South and Midwest. No one wins with that kind of cultural polarization.
Yes, let's push back against big food companies and question their outsized influence in Washington and in our daily lives. Let's focus on making healthy food more widely accessible. Let's realize that the challenges extend beyond just what we eat, and necessitate a hard look at why we make these choices. Let's fight for the humane work policies that will make us all healthier.
But let's do that because public health is all of our concern, not because it's culturally easy to point the finger at fat people. Giving every member of a society the chance to be as healthy as possible is a moral good. It saves money and it saves lives. So let's do it the right way and the most effective way without lazily relying on the word "obesity."