Canadian Obesity Summit: Taking Action Against Weight Bias

At the sixth Canadian Obesity Summit on Wednesday, three of Canada’s top experts on weight bias presented diverse views on taking action against weight bias. The focus ranged from reducing bias in new healthcare providers to internalized bias and health at every size. Though these experts brought diverse perspectives, they shared a common focus. Reducing the harm of weight bias.

Internalized Stigma

Angela Alberga started with a deep dive into the impact of internalized stigma on health behaviors. When people start to believe they deserve the demeaning treatment they receive because of their size, they become less active and less healthy. She not only presented ideas for future research on ways to reduce the problem, but she also offered some immediate, practical suggestions for addressing the problem.

Self-assessment, client assessment, and support all have a role to play right now. Assumptions do not.

Bias in HCP Trainees

Sara FL Kirk reviewed the evidence for ways to reduce weight bias of healthcare professionals in training. She starts from an unequivocal position. People with obesity have a right to respect when they seek healthcare. To the shame of all providers, disrespect and bias not only happens. It happens routinely.

Kirk aims to change this. Most intriguing was her proposal that four paradigms can be helpful when they come together: changing beliefs about obesity, modifying social norms, counter-conditioning, and evoking empathy.

Health at Every Size

Registered Dietitian Maria Ricupero presented the principles of the HAES® movement, including what she sees as some misconceptions about it. She explained how preoccupation with weight loss can serve to promote weight stigma. So, too, can public health campaigns that promote moral panic about obesity.

In a nutshell, she said, the focus should be upon health. Not weight.

Too often, we see a focus on disagreements between advocates for the HAES movement and advocates for obesity research and care. In Ricupero’s presentation, we saw more space for common ground than division.

Click here for Alberga’s presentation, here for Kirk’s, and here for Ricupero’s. For slides that ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle presented on the shifting beliefs about obesity in Canada, click here.

Ottawa, photograph © Mike Hewitt / flickr

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April 25, 2019