Silence Please

Do We Talk about Obesity in Polite Company?

A workshop on cross-sector obesity projects at the Institute of Medicine leaves us wondering: do we talk about obesity in polite company?

The title of the workshop — Cross-Sector Work on Obesity Prevention, Treatment, and Weight Maintenance: Models for Change — didn’t exactly match the content. It was really about obesity prevention and community transformation projects. A succession of remarkable and dedicated community activists presented their work on the built environment, health disparities, economic opportunity, health promotion, nutrition, and physical activity. The underlying assumption is that these important problems are root causes of obesity that must addressed.

Apart from some statistics, nobody really talked about obesity. And certainly no one talked about obesity treatment or weight maintenance.

A clue about why came in the panel discussion at the end of the day, when most of the day’s presenters assembled on the stage for discussion. Someone remarked that none of this was really about obesity and panelists responded. “Obesity is just a byproduct of deeper problems…No one in our community wants to deal directly with obesity…It’s about health, not obesity.”

Talking about obesity is hard, because blame and shame gets in the way. Pervasive weight bias erects barriers for people with obesity who have health concerns. Blaming and shaming people for a health problem is rude. So perhaps it’s easier to avoid the subject. But the bias is still there, and so are the health problems.

It’s tough to do something about a problem that we can’t talk about.

Click here to read about the workshop and here to read about pervasive bias as an obstacle to obesity solutions.

Silence Please; Bodleian Libary Sign, Oxford; photograph © Dark Dwarf / flickr

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