More Science and Care, Fewer Food Fights in Obesity

Woman ScienceAt ObesityWeek®, we noticed a subtle shift. In past years, health policy discussions have sometimes been stuck on very detailed food fights. But this year, it seems that such food fights were less in the foreground. Instead, we saw a much greater focus than ever before on health equity, disparities, and the people who are living with and affected by obesity. Consistent with this, a special issue of Nursing Clinics of North America makes a clear call for a focus on the science of obesity and care for the people living with it.

This includes a focus on action to reduce the disparate effects of obesity on marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The editor of this special volume, Angie Golden, explains the rationale and timing for it:

“Nursing is on the forefront of inpatient and outpatient care, so creating this special volume to highlight the science of obesity and the care needed for people living with obesity is critically important at this  moment in time.”

Systemic Inequity

Inequity in health and obesity care comes not by chance, but by design. Structural racism contributes through many pathways. For example, food insecurity, physical environments, access to care, and weight stigma  come into play, along with other factors.

Faith Newsome, Clarence Gravlee, and Michelle Cardel explain in their paper for the special volume of Nursing Clinics:

These complex, intersecting factors place patients in marginalized racial and ethnic groups at increased risk for developing and maintaining obesity.

In short, social and economic disparities make health inequity all but inevitable. One of the key reasons for this inequity is the disparate burden of obesity that racial and ethnic minorities bear. Food fights serve only to obscure this fundamental public health problem.

Respecting Both Science and Persons with Obesity

In another paper for this volume, Harvard’s Fatima Cody Stanford and ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle suggest the need for more effective policies in obesity. Neglect of racial and ethnic disparities is part of the problem. So, too, is the pursuit of policies that are grounded more in bias than in science. They write:

“Bias toward people living with obesity compounds the harm to their health, while contributing to poor access to effective care that might serve to improve it.

“Better public policy will come from an increased application of objective obesity science, curiosity and research to fill knowledge gaps, and greater respect for the human dignity of people who live with this chronic disease.”

Stanford tells us:

“Turning attention to health disparities in the disproportionate impact of obesity in communities of color is a welcome change. This shift will bring meaningful change, long overdue.”

Click here for the paper by Kyle and Stanford and here for the paper by Newsome et al. For the full contents of this special volume, click here.

Woman Science, graphic art by Eugène Grasset / WikiArt

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November 8, 2021