If you look at the market, it’s no wonder that this is how we feel about our bodies.
Earlier this year, researchers in New Zealand unveiled a weight loss device that uses magnets to close a patient’s jaws to prevent them from ingesting solid foods.
The device allows the jaw to open by just 2mm to allow breathing, drinking and speaking.
The researchers involved said the product was developed as “the world’s first weight loss device to fight the global obesity epidemic”.
It soon drew a lot of criticism, however, and was labeled “excruciating” on social media. Others found it infantilizing and offensive to assume that those looking to lose weight must have their jaws wired.
While the jaw clamping device may seem like an extreme example, in reality it is just a symptom of a larger industry that no doubt continues to idealize weight loss.
Over the years, several companies have launched equally degrading devices and devices designed to trick people into not eating. Amazon, for example, sells a diet pig that sits on top of your pantry or refrigerator and “oinks” when the door is opened. ELLM, meanwhile, sells a bite and step counter that tells you how many bites you are eating with a meal.
Beyond these shocking individual examples, the industry plays a major role. In 2019, the U.S. diet control market was valued at a record $ 78 billion, while the global weight loss industry is expected to be worth $ 295.3 billion by 2027.
The industry is feeling depressed with ads for meal replacement kits, fasting apps, diet tricks, and tips that saturate online spaces, and it’s only recently that social media platforms have begun to put some quality control over them.
Earlier this summer, Pinterest became the first major platform to ban all weight loss and dieting ads on its website. The move was significant, especially considering the size of the weight loss industry and its impact on social media.
It’s a small step in the right direction, but more radical action is needed to tackle the alarming rise in eating disorders, especially considering what’s at stake.
According to Our World in Data, an estimated 16 million people worldwide have anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, yet research on eating disorders in the United States is the least funded in the mental health field.
There is also a clear lack of care for eating disorders. 85% of those affected report difficulty accessing treatment.
The bottom line is that eating disorders continue to increase. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the prevalence of eating disorders increased sharply between 2000 and 2018.
Of course, numerous factors influence a person’s chances of developing an eating disorder, but social factors are hard to ignore, especially when they are as garish and powerful as the weight loss industry.
In truth, the weight loss industry is keeping itself on an agenda that weight loss is not only inherently healthy, but a requirement for modern life. Unless this agenda is broken and eating disorder treatment receives the attention and funding it needs, we can hardly expect any major improvements in the foreseeable future.
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