Pillars of Justice

3 Social Justice Issues of Obesity

Social justice provides a lens for examining obesity in a new book, Social Justice and the Urban Obesity Crisis — Implications for Social Work, by Melvin Delgado. For people with an interest in obesity, this book is well worth reading because it provides a fresh perspective on obesity that lies outside of the typical framework of public health and bio-medical research.

Among the social justice issues Delgado identifies, three stand out.

  1. Disenfranchisement. Routinely, policies to address obesity are formulated, discussed, and debated without a single person who’s directly affected participating in the process. A 16th-century principle — nihil de nobis, sine nobis —  calls for no policy to be made without the full and direct participation of people affected by that policy. Loosely translated into English, “nothing about us without us” came into modern use with disability rights activists late in the 20th century. It’s a touchstone for identity politics. But it’s widely disregarded in obesity policymaking. When the eminently qualified Regina Benjamin was nominated to be Surgeon General of the United States, some medical authorities suggested that her excess weight should disqualify her for the position. “It tends to undermine her credibility” said a former NEJM editor (who should have known better).
  2. Social Stigma. Delgado deeply explores the ways that weight bias leads to social inequality and effectively nullifies the human rights of people with obesity. In particular, he examines the fixation upon individual responsibility for obesity to the exclusion of social, environmental, and biological factors.
  3. Economic Penalties. Disparities in access to jobs, healthcare, nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity are a part of Delgado’s examination of economic penalties. He goes on to examine disparate costs for clothing, public accommodation, and healthcare, just to name a few of the notable economic penalties.

These issues are just the beginning of what you will find in this worthwhile opus that examines the issues and proposes a framework for addressing them in social work. Delgado’s model for community led health promotion deserves consideration by all who work on obesity as a public health issue.

Click here for a new review of the book. Click here and here for more information on the book and how to order it.

Pillars of Justice, photograph © Hindrik Sijens / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


4 Responses to “3 Social Justice Issues of Obesity”

  1. December 03, 2014 at 6:40 pm, Joanne Ikeda said:

    NAAFA, a membership organization of fat people, has been in existence for over 40 years. The goal of the organization is to achieve civil rights protections for body size. NAAFA leaders are more than willing to represent the fat community but are never asked to give input. They are completely ignored by the government as well as organizations representing health professionals. Because the membership is comprised primarily of fat people the entire organization is stigmatized. Access information about NAAFA at naafa.org
    Joanne Ikeda
    Nutritionist Emeritus
    Department of Nutritional Sciences
    University of California, Berkeley

    • December 03, 2014 at 6:48 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Joanne, for taking time to comment. I agree that policies should be formulated with full participation of people they directly affect. The pervasiveness and damage done by weight bias and discrimination is intolerable.

  2. December 04, 2014 at 4:50 pm, Lizabeth said:

    Regardless of how we advocate, organizations that represent people who have experienced bias and who feel stigmatized can work together to put an end to these and other social injustices. We must find common ground and amplify our voices – no matter how you choose to exist in your body, your body is not grounds to discriminate against you.

    Thank you for pointing out these ‘common ground’ examples that we can ALL work to prevent.

    • December 04, 2014 at 5:07 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Lizabeth. I agree wholeheartedly.