Unpacking Weight Stigma: Challenging Society's Misconceptions About Obesity

5 minutes   Published on February 27, 2023

Hello everyone, I hope this blog finds you well. Today I want to discuss a topic that is not talked about enough in our society: weight stigma. As we delve deeper into this issue, I hope you'll understand why it's such a dangerous and harmful reality that affects millions of people and may be impacting our ability to address this complex health condition.

A recent post by an expert in the field Georgia Rigas highlighted how different managing obesity is to other health conditions:

“A recent Australian study show a mean delay of 9 years from when a person with obesity starts to struggle with their weight and when they had a discussion about their weight… is there any other health condition where the patient feels they need to manage on their own for so long?”

Part of the problem could be weight bias...

The Problem of Weight Stigma

Weight stigma, or weight bias, is the social devaluation and discriminatory actions and beliefs towards individuals due to their weight and size. These beliefs are informed by prevailing societal norms about acceptable body size and shapes and are perpetuated by the media. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with obesity arises from the general misunderstanding of the drivers of obesity and the perception that it is only about a failure of personal responsibility.

It's crucial to understand that obesity has strong social, genetic, biological, and environmental influences and that the rise in obesity prevalence over the last 30 years is mainly a biological response to modern environments that promote unhealthier foods, stress, physical inactivity, and weight gain. For example, genetic factors can have a major influence on an individual’s susceptibility to weight gain and make weight loss a constant challenge.

The Impact of Obesity

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that in 2018, 8.4% of the total burden of disease in Australia was due to overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity affects about two in three Australian adults and one in four Australian children, and the number of adults living with obesity more than doubled in the ten years to 2018.

Obesity affects people from all different backgrounds and levels of education and wealth, but some groups are more affected than others. For example, people living in remote and regional areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and people living in low socio-economic areas are more likely to be affected.

The Danger of Weight Stigma

Weight stigma and bias are harmful and have considerable physical and mental health consequences, including increased depression and anxiety, disordered eating and eating disorders, and decreased self-esteem. It can also lead to a lower quality of care for patients with obesity, ultimately leading to poorer health outcomes and increasing the risk of mortality. In addition, weight bias is also associated with inequities in employment and education. Because obesity is visible, the stigma tends to assume that the individual has caused such a condition. 

What We Can Do To Fix It

It's time for us to change the way we think about obesity. We need to explore and understand experiences from people living with obesity to We need to consider it like other health conditions and support people with obesity in their journey to better health and ensuring approaches are patient led. This means understanding the many drivers of obesity, including the social, biological, and environmental factors that are outside of people’s control, and acknowledging that managing obesity isn't just about moving more and eating less.

It takes a whole movement to make change, and we all have a part to play. Healthcare providers can play a crucial role in improving care for patients with obesity by reducing weight stigma and bias in their practices. The media can help by promoting positive body images and representing a wider range of body types. And, as a society, we can work together to create a supportive environment where everyone has the resources they need to achieve optimal health and wellbeing.

In conclusion, weight stigma is dangerous and has a real impact on people's lives. It's time for us to take a stand and support each other in breaking down the harmful attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate weight stigma and use lived experiences from individuals to develop programs that are patient centred. Let's work together to create a kinder and more inclusive world where everyone is accepted for who they are.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this important topic. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Stay well,

Pennie McCoy

Proudly partnering  with leading Australian health funds to offer their members the benefits of the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet


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