Let’s end weight stigma

Reducing negative behaviours and attitudes towards weight

The theme of this year’s World Obesity Day focuses on raising awareness about the prevalence of weight stigma.

The World Obesity Federation (WOF) is calling upon the media to end their use of stigmatising language and imagery and to portray obesity in a fair, accurate and informative manner - and, although we may be loathe to admit it, it's probably not only the media who are guilty of this.

Action is required, both to reduce stigma and to help reduce obesity

Obesity is currently the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK, accounting for 6% of cases in 2015.

A new Cancer Research report finds that obesity could overtake smoking as the single biggest cause of cancer in UK women in around a quarter of a century, if current trends continue as projected. For UK males this crossover is likely to occur later.

Together, smoking and overweight and obesity could cause more than 95,000 UK cancer cases in 2035 alone – compared with around 75,000 cases in 2015.

Duradiamond Healthcare's Chief Medical Officer Dr Alasdair Emslie FFOM FFOM (I) comments, “Obesity is an employment issue, because can be related to elevated levels of sickness absence, ill health early retirement and can effect occupations demanding physical fitness. Our experience shows that healthcare professionals discussing issues about weight and health, in an empathetic and non-discriminatory way, can often be the trigger to encourage people to improve their diet and exercise regimes. Our healthcare professionals undertake holistic assessments of people’s health, including support for weight management.”

What is weight stigma?

Weight stigma occurs across society, with destructive stereotypes leading to weight stigma.

Weight stigma occurs when negative behaviours and attitudes are directed towards individuals solely because of their weight. If weight stigma is to change, WOF believes language and attitudes, awareness and education are important, hence the focus today, which aims to:

  • Raise awareness about the presence and impact of weight stigma and what can be done about it
  • Encourage engagement with advocacy/campaigning on weight stigma
  • Help people overcome the barriers that arise as a result of stigma, which can prevent them getting the medical treatment they need.

WOF suggests:

  • Media abandon the use of negative images and language about obesity
  • Greater awareness of the (multiple) sources of weight stigma and greater understanding of the steps to avoid it. They recommend that all places of work (a) implement policies that protect employees, employers, students and clients in regard to their weight (b) take steps to raise awareness about and prevent weight discrimination
  • Governments to improve the environments we live in, rather than focus on individual responsibility and blame
  • Health care providers to acknowledge the environmental factors that cause obesity, which will improve support and efficacy during diagnosis and treatment.

See the mind map below, which highlights some examples and details the causes, drivers and effects of weight stigma.