Students lead campaign against 'fat talk'

By Lily O'Gara
On October 22, 2013

  • The student-run initiative has organized a week full of events, such as ‘Inspiration Stations’ in the MUB. Courtesy Photo

The epidemic that is negative body image is sweeping across the nation and the world; more than 30 million people - men and women - suffer from an eating disorder in the United States, and anorexia nervosa kills more people than any other psychiatric disorder. University campuses are not immune to this unfortunate trend.
Fat Talk Free Week (FTFW), an annual campaign to promote positive body image and acceptance, is an important tool in combating this issue. This week, Oct. 21-24, students at the University of New Hampshire will join over 50 other schools across the country in striving for a seemingly impossible goal: to refrain from fat talk.
"Fat talk" includes any demeaning language about a person's figure or appearance in general, and it's a pervasive part of campus culture. Such talk often slips into conversations subconsciously.
According to Maria Caplan, a nutrition educator at UNH Health Services, students at UNH are suffering from the adverse effects of unrealistic media portrayals of beauty and also from fat talk.
A spring 2013 survey revealed that, although 60 percent of students are at a healthy weight, 61 percent of females and 28 percent of males are trying to lose weight, either through exercise or dieting.
"These numbers are shocking-over half of the students on campus are considered to be in a healthy weight range while those same students are all trying to lose weight," Caplan said.
Caplan believes that events like FTFW are critical in addressing these startling statistics. Promoting awareness acts as both a preventative method and also as encouragement for those who are struggling to seek help. In addition, shedding light on the issue provokes students to challenge media ideals and to adopt more positive ways of thinking about their bodies, as well as about their peers'.
Caplan attributes the success of FTFW to the fact that it is a student-run initiative.
"Fat Talk Free Week is a completely student-run outreach program sponsored and run by the peer education group Eating Concerns Mentors (ECM)," Caplan said. "By having students lead, implement, and design programs for students, research shows that peer to peer education is sometimes more effective than professional interventions."

Fat Talk Free Week is a branch of the Reflections Body Image Program, which was developed by Trinity professor Carolyn Becker and the school's Greek life program, particularly the Delta Delta Delta fraternity. UNH Health Services and the Eating Concerns Mentors program have been involved since the inception of Fat Talk Free Week in 2008, and the campaign has grown in momentum over the past few years.

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