Yenyening Lakes Star Trails in Western Australia

Calling for a Media Shift on Obesity in Australia

It’s time for a shift in media narratives about obesity in Western Australia. So says the Health Consumers Council of Western Australia, in concert with the government there. The HCC is a nonprofit voice of the health consumer. It works across many health issues to ensure people have a say in health policy. HCC listened to nearly 800 people Western Australia about their own experience to find that respect is lacking for people with obesity. So the call is simple, says Deputy Director Clare Mullen:

“The majority of Western Australians have a higher body weight, but there is lots of
misunderstanding about what influences this and what the impact is. One way to help reframe this
conversation is through a collective shift in the way overweight and obesity is represented and
talked about in the media.”

Shaming People Doesn’t Help

On obesity, the U.S. has been ahead of the rest of the world for many years. But not in a good way. Prevalence has been higher than the rest of the developed world for a long time. And in dealing with this health problem, we have managed to stigmatize it more than ever. All too frequently, it has only made the problem worse. Telling people they’re too fat doesn’t really help. But hyping the problem can easily promote stigma.

Our own research suggests that Australian public attitudes about people with obesity may be as harsh or harsher than they are in the U.S. We’ve also seen some pretty unfortunate public health campaigns on obesity from Australia.

Respectful, Positive Words and Images

So we have nothing but praise for the HCC and the Department of Health for Western Australia. To promote health, we must start with respectful, positive words and images. Cultures certainly vary, but respect is something that every human being understands.

Click here and here for more on this initiative, and here for the Shift guide for media and communication professionals.

Yenyening Lakes Star Trails in Western Australia, photograph © Trevor Dobson / flickr

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November 27, 2020