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Blog: Why is Weight Bias So Important to Address?

By  Dr. Angela Alberga
Banting CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Calgary
aalberga@ucalgary.ca

Weight stigma, also known as bias, prejudice, discrimination, teasing, bullying or harassment about someone’s body weight has increased in frequency and intensity over the last few decades (1). It happens in the media, in the healthcare system, employment settings, at school, in social interactions and even among family members (2, 3, 4, 5). Weight stigma has been associated with many physical and psychological consequences including stress (6) and anxiety (7), depression (8), suicidal thoughts (9), avoidance of physical activity (10), disordered eating (11) and avoidance of the healthcare system (12).

What can WE do about it?

Check-in with yourself.

Awareness of weight bias is the first step. Engage in some personal reflection and think about what your perceptions are about weight and obesity. Many of us have internalized weight bias - do you think negatively or have preconceived judgments about people with obesity?

Watch your mouth.

Language is important. Think about what words you’re using when speaking about people living with obesity and how you talk about obesity as a disease. The Canadian Obesity, The Obesity Society and the Obesity Action Coalition recommend the use of people first language i.e. an adult with obesity, a child with obesity (instead of an obese adult or an obese child). I know we have to think about word limits in our research articles, but can we, as researchers, start practicing what we preach and avoid contributing to stigma in our own research publications and presentations?

Speak up and be an advocate.

Do you feel uncomfortable hearing your friends make fat jokes? Is there a weight-stigmatizing activity at your kid’s school? Still can’t believe discriminating shows like the Biggest Loser exist? Speak up, write about it or contact someone to advocate for you (I’m happy to be the weight bias police- email me here. Show the scientific evidence that blaming and shaming someone for his or her weight isn’t helpful.

Evaluate your resources and be a critical consumer of the media.

What images do you use when presenting about obesity? What types of magazines and posters are in your gym, clinic or practice? Do they promote thin-ideal messages or do they showcase body diversity? CON has the positive image gallery available free and easy to download here.

As CON-SNPs, we are the new and upcoming generations of professionals with an interest in obesity. Let’s be role models and reduce weight stigma now and for future generations to come.

EveryBODY deserves a little Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

References

  1. Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R.M., & Brownell, K.D. Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995-1996 through 2004-2006. Obesity; 16, 1129-1134.
  2. Puhl, R.M., Heuer, C.A. (2009). The stigma of obesity: a review and update. Obesity; 17, 941-964.
  3. Haines, J., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & Thiel, L. (2007). Addressing weight-related issues in an elementary school: What do students, parents, and school staff recommend? Eating Disorders; 15(1), 5-21.
  4. Schwartz, MB, Chambliss, HO, Brownell, KD, Blair, SN, Billington, C. (2003). Weight bias among health professionals specializing in obesity. Obesity Research; 11: 1033-1039.
  5. Puhl, R.M & Luedicke, J. (2012). Weight-based victimization among adolescents in the school setting: emotional reactions and coping behaviors. J Youth Adolescence; 41:27-40.
  6. Schvey, N.A., Puhl, R.M., Brownell, K.D. (2014). The stress of stigma: Exploring the effect of weight stigma on cortisol reactivity. Psychosomatic Medicince; 76:156-162.
  7. Papadopoulos, S., Brennan, L. (2015). Correlates of weight stigma in adults with overweight and obesity: A systematic literature review. Obesity; 23:1743-1760.
  8. Friedman K.E., Ashmore J.A., Applegate KL. (2008). Recent experiences of weight-based stigmatization in a weight loss surgery population: psychological and behavioral correlates. Obesity (Silver Spring); 16(suppl 2): S69–S74.
  9. Roberto CA, Robyn S, Bush J, et al. (2012). Clinical correlates of the weight bias internalization scale in a sample of obese adolescents seeking bariatric surgery. Obesity; 20:533-539.
  10. Vartanian, LR, Novak, SA. (2011). Internalized societal attitudes moderate the impact of weight stigma on avoidance of exercise. Obesity; 19: 757-762.
  11. Schvey, NA, Puhl, RM, Brownell, KD. (2011). The impact of weight stigma on caloric consumption. Obesity; 19:1957-1962.
  12. Drury, CAA & Louis, M. (2002). Exploring the Association Between Body Weight, Stigma of Obesity, and Health Care Avoidance. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners; 14:12: 554-561.