In 2008, the CON-RCO Board of Directors identified weight bias and stigma as the network’s top strategic priority. The board firmly believes that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. To this end, CON-RCO works toward reducing weight bias and stigma through research, education and action.
CON-RCO collaborates with researchers, patients, knowledge users and partners to develop education initiatives and practitioner resources to address weight bias in health care settings, the media and public policies. Below are some of these efforts.
- Incorporated weight bias and stigma in all CON-RCO education and knowledge exchange programs such as the Canadian Obesity Summits (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and biennially thereafter); Dietitian Learning Retreats (2010-present); Canadian Obesity Student Meetings (2010, 2012, 2014); Obesity Research Summer School (formerly known as Obesity Research Boot Camp); Obesity Management Certificate for Post-Graduates (2013-2015).
- In collaboration with health services and primary care experts, CON-RCO has developed the 5As of Obesity Management framework to support primary care practitioners in their interactions with patients with obesity. This was a two-year initiative supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Knowledge Translation Supplement Grant) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (Innovation Strategy Grant). The resources incorporate weight bias sensitivity training and have now been adapted for pediatric and pregnancy populations.
- CON-RCO under the leadership of Dr. Mary Forhan, associate professor, University of Alberta, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, Department of Occupational Therapy, coordinated the first Canadian Weight Bias and Discrimination Summit in Toronto, Ontario (January 2011). The purpose of the summit was to raise awareness about weight bias and discrimination as it relates to obesity and its association to the health and well being of Canadians. The event drew a capacity crowd of 150 health professionals, students, policy makers, industry representatives, and educators who heard from an expert panel of eight speakers from Canada and the United States.
- CON-RCO partnered with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to inform a Canadian Bariatric Research Agenda, which included a priority on weight bias and discrimination.
- CON-RCO and the Public Health Agency of Canada collaborated to poll CON-RCO members to identify and counteract some of the most common obesity myths. Results of this study were published and disseminated to CON members and partners.
- CON-RCO partnered with the Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity to develop an image bank to combat stigmatizing images of people with obesity in the media.
- In 2012, CON-RCO partnered with the World Obesity Federation (formerly known as International Association for the Study on Obesity) to host the first International Hot Topic Conference on Obesity and Mental Health. The outcome of this conference was a Charter calling for action for health system funders, researchers and health practitioners to deal with the stigma associated with both obesity and mental illness.
- In 2015, CON-RCO partnered with the University of Calgary research leaders Drs. Angela Alberga, Shelly Russell-Mayhew, Kristin Von Ranson and Lindsay McLaren to participate in a two-day Weight Bias Summit (March 12-13, 2015). The objective of the summit was to bring together stakeholders (researchers, practitioners and policy makers) to discuss and facilitate the design of research projects aimed to reduce weight bias in three sectors (education, health care & public policy) in the province of Alberta.
- In May 2015, CON-RCO established its first Public Engagement Committee (PEC) comprised of people living with obesity from across the country. The mandate of the PES Committee is to be the voice of individuals affected by obesity within CON-RCO and to elevate the conversation of obesity and its impact on health in the community.
- In August 2015, CON-RCO established a collaborative called EveryBODY Matters. This group is composed of CON-RCO members working in research, healthcare, education, public engagement and policy. The mandate of this collaborative is to exchange knowledge, identify opportunities for collaboration across research and practice/policy sectors, and support CON-RCO’s efforts to reduce weight bias and obesity stigma in Canada.
CON-RCO has seen an increase in weight bias and obesity stigma research in Canada. The first Canadian Obesity Summit (2009) only received a handful of abstracts focused on obesity stigma. CON-RCO began to see a shift at the second (2011) and third (2013) Canadian Obesity Summits with more inclusion of weight bias research in the program. In 2015, the summit included four plenary presentations on weight bias, three workshops, and ten oral and poster abstract presentations. This shift is reflective of the increased awareness of weight bias and the growing body of literature focused in this area. This shift also positions us well to move to the next level and develop evidence-based solutions.
- In order to change the way health professionals, researchers, and policy makers approach obesity, CON has also adopted the use of people-first-language standards to encourage respectful communications about this chronic condition.