This month, in conjunction with Obesity Care Week in the U.S. and World Obesity Day, the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness joined leading experts, clinicians and advocates from across the world in a new consensus statement for eliminating weight bias and stigma of obesity.
Obesity is a complex chronic disease in which abnormal or excessive accumulation of body fat impairs health. Adult obesity rates have more than doubled since the 1980s — in the U.S. today, obesity affects over 1 in 3 adults and almost 1 in 5 youth. Obesity and its related complications are major drivers of rising healthcare costs, diminished health-related quality of life, and a decline in U.S. life expectancy.
In a series of new fact sheets, the STOP Obesity Alliance, a project of the Redstone Global Center, reports that as the prevalence of obesity has increased, so has the prevalence of weight bias. Perceived weight-based discrimination increased 66% from the 1990s to the 2000s. Weight bias is prevalent in medical settings and among healthcare providers. When surveyed, medical students reported that they were exposed to weight bias in many forms.
Although some have argued that weight bias could prompt those with obesity to lose weight, evidence have repeatedly shown that stigma and bias have harmful effects. Bias can be destructive and disruptive to both the personal lives and clinical experiences of those with obesity.
In the new consensus statement, published in Nature Medicine, the signatories:
- Individuals affected by overweight and obesity face a pervasive form of social stigma based on the typically unproven assumption that their body weight derives primarily from a lack self-discipline and personal responsibility.
- Such portrayal is inconsistent with current scientific evidence demonstrating that body-weight regulation is not entirely under volitional control, and that biological, genetic, and environmental factors critically contribute to obesity.
- Weight bias and stigma can result in discrimination, and undermine human rights, social rights, and the health of afflicted individuals.
- Weight stigma and discrimination cannot be tolerated in modern societies.
- The use of stigmatizing language, images, attitudes, policies, and weight-based discrimination, wherever they occur.
- To treat individuals with overweight and obesity with dignity and respect.
- To refrain from using stereotypical language, images, and narratives that unfairly and inaccurately depict individuals with overweight and obesity as lazy, gluttonous, and lacking willpower or self-discipline.
- To encourage and support educational initiatives aimed at eradicating weight bias through dissemination of current knowledge of obesity and body-weight regulation.
- To encourage and support initiatives aimed at preventing weight discrimination in the workplace, education, and healthcare settings.
Learn more: go.gwu.edu/weightbias