Shaming People About Their Lifestyle Habits Does Nothing to Improve Their Health
Luna Dolezal, Barry Lyons, 7 Dec 17


Going to the doctor usually involves exposing the body with all its faults and flaws. In a culture that increasingly values self control and bodily perfection, being sick or even merely old can lead to feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Any defects or difficulties can feel like personal failings, especially if they are linked to lifestyle, such as problems related to weight, sexual behaviour, smoking, addiction, alcohol or other substance use. People with these issues face being shamed for “unnecessarily” using health or disability services, or welfare benefits.

This is all part of the contemporary political dogma of “personal responsibility”, which is reinforced by doctors who are now supposed to use every consultation – regardless of its original purpose – to talk to a patient about how to take responsibility for a healthier lifestyle.

What’s wrong with a bit of shaming?

For centuries, religions and laws have thrived on the fact that shame can be used to change or control people’s behaviour. And we know from reality TV series that being shamed can motivate some people to change their life or behaviour to something healthier. But, for the most part, shame makes people want to withdraw and hide.

Research shows that experiencing shame in medical settings can be harmful. In a study conducted by the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), about 50% of patients experienced one or more encounters with a doctor that left them ashamed. And feeling shame is deeply unpleasant, to the point that people will seek to avoid it even if doing so is bad for them. For example, some people will avoid seeing their doctor. Others will lie about the state of their mental or physical health, or lie about their lifestyle. Shame may even make them hide a diagnosis from family or friends.

In the UCSD study, not all patients felt that being shamed had been a bad thing, but even those who thought the experience was valuable were likely to lie to their doctor in a subsequent visit. None of this is likely to benefit a person who is unwell, and it can lead to ineffective or incorrect treatments being prescribed.

Shame is associated with weight gain. Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock


While health-related shame matters to most people, its impact is even worse for those who are part of a stigmatised or marginalised group. These groups suffer from chronic shame about their identity, often related to matters such as poverty, race, sexuality or social class.

Sign in to view full article

Your Next Social Network Could Pay You For Posting
You may well have found this article through Facebook. An algorithm programmed by one of the world’s biggest companies now ...
Jelena Dzakula
Wed, 1 Feb 17
Why Do We Need to Eat so Many Vegetables and What Does a Serve Actually Look Like?
Most adults would know they’re meant to eat two or more serves of fruit and five or more serves of ...
Genevieve James-Martin, Gemma Williams, Malcolm Riley
Mon, 8 May 17
Organ Harvesting in China: Foreigners ‘Are 1 in 5’ Transplant Recipients
Prisoners of conscience are murdered on demand for their organs in China to supply a state-run transplant industry where one ...
James Burke
Mon, 20 Feb 17
Norway’s Oil Fund Is A Tarnished Gold Standard For Sustainable Investment
The largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, Norway’s US$930 billion Government Pension Fund Global, is seen as the epitome ...
Beate Sjåfjell
Thu, 4 May 17
Gut Check: Researchers Develop Measures to Capture Moral Judgments and Empathy
Imagine picking up the morning newspaper and feeling moral outrage at the latest action taken by the opposing political party. ...
C. Daryl Cameron
Sat, 1 Apr 17
An Epoch Times Survey
An Epoch Times Survey
An Epoch Times Survey
Sports Elements
Read about Forced Organ Harvesting