No Barking

Three Reasons to Keep Ranting about Weight Bias

It’s predictable. Whenever we write about weight bias, someone protests. “Why do you want to let those people off the hook?” Sometimes it comes on the form of ranting. Sometimes it’s snide humor.

Obesity Fault, May 2016Most often it’s a simple comment along the lines of: “You can’t tell me it’s not their fault.” And in fact, many if not most people seem to feel that way. In our research, we find that only 27% of the U.S. adults will agree that if someone has obesity, it’s not necessarily their fault.

Despite, or perhaps because of these entrenched attitudes, we focus on this problem for three simple reasons.

  1. It’s wrong. Blaming, shaming, and punishing people because of a chronic health problem is simply wrong. It it violates a core human value: respect for the dignity of every person.
  2. It makes everything worse. Weight bias makes the problem of obesity worse. Research has shown that experiencing weight-based discrimination leads to worse health for people with obesity. It raises the odds that obesity will progress to a more serious form. It leads people with obesity to avoid seeking healthcare that could improve their health.
  3. It’s based on a lie. The notion that obesity is voluntary and reversible is a lie, plain and simple. Just as with any other chronic disease, personal choices can make a difference. But no one actually chooses to have obesity. Most of the risk for developing obesity is inherited. People spend billions of dollars every year trying to reduce the impact of obesity on their lives and their health. But even the best evidence-based care does not cure the condition.

The good news is that we see signs that weight bias might be fading. In tracking for the Obesity Action Coalition, the tendency to blame people with obesity is dropping slowly. Social acceptance of people with obesity seems to be improving slowly. And in the last few years, fat shaming has become socially unacceptable. We’ll be presenting detailed data on some of these trends at ObesityWeek in New Orleans.

And we’ll keep ranting about weight bias until it’s gone.

Click here for more on weight bias from the Obesity Action Coalition and here for more from the Obesity Society.

No Barking, photograph © Scott Schiller / flickr

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August 4, 2016

3 Responses to “Three Reasons to Keep Ranting about Weight Bias”

  1. September 04, 2016 at 1:35 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Slow, steady, progress. Keep up the good work.

    • September 04, 2016 at 3:00 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Allen!

  2. September 04, 2016 at 10:30 pm, Brian Trainor said:

    I was at the #ywm2016 obesity conference in Washington DC, August 24th-28th, and was amazed at the passion those in attendance had about preventing all types of abuse, both subliminal and overt, relating to obesity, and person’s of size. Fat Shaming is definitely one of the last prejudices where society allows others to blame the victim for a given disease rather than blame the disorder. As one presenter stated, “If you have cancer, people don’t say…”You’re cancer.” They say you suffer from or have cancer. So why is it okay to say, “You’re obese, or you’re fat.” An obese person suffers from the disease of obesity. It defines their disease, not who they are as a person. Society needs a wake up.