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Widespread Weight Bias and Discrimination

     There is a tendency to view body weight simply as a result of people’s lifestyle choices. It is that negative attitude that leads to stereotypes and labels put on people who are overweight. In reality, body weight is related to many factors, including genetics and the environment

     Weight bias and discrimination are widespread issues in our society that need to be addressed. Elementary school kids with obesity face a 63% higher chance of being bullied. Likewise, more than half of adults with obesity report being treated differently by coworkers. Current media studies show 72 percent of images and 77 percent of videos stigmatize people with obesity; for example, people with overweight are often portrayed as only interested in food, as "comic relief," bullies, and not in a position of power.

     Weight bias and stigma can also occur in health care settings. Many adults with obesity report they have experienced weight bias from a health care professional. We’ve heard of health providers not addressing weight in a respectful manner such as focusing on weight loss with patients even when the reason for seeking health care was not related to weight such as a sore throat. On the other hand people who don’t have overweight / obesity may be at risk of not being diagnosed with a health condition that is more associated with overweight such as type 2 diabetes. Some health care facilities do not have equipment for proper assessment and care (such as blood pressure cuffs, scales, comfortable chairs, or assessment tables). And for these reasons, people with obesity may be less likely to seek medical care or follow-up with health care providers.

     Individuals who face weight criticism are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and thoughts of self-harm. These negative experiences can increase the risk of an eating disorder. People with obesity also tend to exercise less; many do not want to be seen exercising in public.

     What can we do instead of focusing on the number on the scale? We need to recognize that everyone has the right to good physical and mental health. We can promote health and well-being for ALL people. People can face health concerns at every weight. Making healthy lifestyle changes such as being more active or eating well improves health status.

     Health at Every Size (HAES®) is a health-centred approach. The principles include acceptance of all body shapes and sizes, promoting individualized eating that is healthy and enjoyable, physical activity that people of all sizes can take part in and enjoy, and respectful care. Research is starting to show that this approach may promote a better quality of life, self-esteem, higher energy levels, improved overall health, and prevention of further weight gain or modest weight loss.

      Prairie Mountain Health is working to prevent weight bias and stigma in health care settings and our communities. Changing patterns of thinking and practices takes time and is a work in progress. The first step is to learn about weight bias and stigma and build awareness of the complexity of obesity. To learn more see Obesity Canada, Size Diversity and Health, or contact Chantal Morais, Registered Dietitian Community Health at PMH, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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-Obesity Canada

-Health at Every Size

-Puhl, R. (2009) . Bias and Stigma weigh heavily on efforts to overcome obesity. Conduit: Guest Editorial, 3(3), 4.

-Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity stigma: Important considerations for public health. American Journal of Public Health, 100(6), 1019-1028. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491