Fatphobic Letter Informs UK Parliament That Memes Cause Teen Obesity


Researchers at Loughborough University sent a letter to an English parliamentary committee arguing that memes lead to teenage obesity by making light of unhealthy eating habits, CNN reports.

Referencing a few dated memes in their study, the researchers argue that “a substantial number of individuals on Twitter share health-related Internet memes, with both positive and negative messages” that “contain inappropriate material.” They argue that “there is evidence of uncritical consumption of on-line health-related information by teenagers and a lack of regulation and quality control in relation to on-line health information,” and that “there is a need to be aware of the over optimism of young teenagers with regard to their own online vulnerability.”

Over-optimism? Let’s teach these kids some damn shame!

It sounds to me like the Loughborough University folks believe teens are capable of getting the joke (obviously) but treat memes like reality, unable to separate gag from practice.

For context, here are the ancient memes included in the letter:

The researchers also warn that “internet memes are generally viewed as entertaining but they also represent a body of cultural practice that does not account for the specific needs and rights of teenagers…Unhealthy lifestyles cost the NHS billions every year” and “the dangers of inaccurate/inappropriate health messages” contributes to that.

And there’s the crux of the argument: somehow memes, in the minds of these researchers, are being viewed as “health messages.” It’s quite the intellectual leap, but one that reads like thinly veiled fat-phobia. Remove images of larger people, of jokes about food and somehow teen obesity will go away. It’s not that simple. Health and healthcare are institutional issues, and Parliament would be wise to spend their time on actually meaningful studies.

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