Luminarium Sculpture on Human Rights

Weight Stigma: Health and Human Rights

A new analysis in the European Journal of Health Law seems guaranteed to draw you in to read this perspective on weight stigma as a tool against obesity.

Nothing whatsoever in the title or the abstract tells the reader where this scholar of health law, Mette Hartlev, is going with the suggestion that “the use of stigmatization as a public-health strategy” might be reasonable to consider. She asks, “Is there not only a right to health but also a duty to be healthy?”

The dense legal analysis that follows covers the subject thoroughly:

  • The Human Right to Health
  • The Challenge of Obesity and Its Causes
  • Public Health and Human Rights
  • Stigmatization in the Context of Public Health and Human Rights
  • Human Rights Aspects of Public Health Policies for Obesity

Hartlev analyzes public health policy documents from England, Denmark, the European Union, and the World Health Organization. She finds little consideration for human rights in them and only superficial acknowledgement of the risks and impact of stigma and bias. She notes that weight bias and discrimination documented in the research literature “may, to the extend they qualify for protection in the corpus of human rights law, amount to violation of basic human rights.”

After many pages of this analysis, Hartlev arrives at a completely satisfying conclusion:

A human rights compliant public health policy should not only strive to ensure that governments live up to the duty of ensuring the individual’s right to health but also take action to prevent and combat human rights abuses of overweight and obese individuals caused by stigmatization. This demonstrates the importance of integrating a human rights approach in public health policies.

Great reassurance can be found in having legal scholars earnestly consider the stigma so casually promoted in some public health policies aimed at obesity. We hope the perpetrators will take note.

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” — Nelson Mandela

Click here to access the analysis.

“Luminarium” Sculpture on Human Rights, photograph © United Nations Photo / flickr

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