A Global View of Weight Stigma

Small Worlds IVCultural norms regarding body image vary all around the world. Likewise, priorities and perspectives about health are quite variable, too. So we find it quite remarkable that a global view of the difficult issue of weight stigma emerged this week with leadership from the World Obesity Federation in Obesity Reviews.

We note that, with the exception of Antarctica, every continent on the globe is represented among the authors. World Obesity Federation CEO Johanna Ralston emphasizes the importance of reducing weight stigma for global health:

“We firmly believe that addressing weight stigma is critical to fostering a more equitable and inclusive society. With collective efforts targeting weight stigma, we aim to promote healthy bodies and minds and support societies that embrace the well-being of all individuals.”

Body Size and Obesity

Among the nine recommendations in this global position statement, one stands out first. It is the importance of distinguishing between body size and obesity. Obesity is a disease of excess or abnormal adiposity that harms health. Not a disease of size. Much of this confusion arises from the misuse of BMI to define obesity. On many levels, stakeholders in obesity research, care, and policy are struggling to move beyond that mistake. But we are making progress.

Human Rights, Stigma, and Discrimination

Reducing Weight Stigma GloballyThe authors of this global view recognize that weight stigma is an issue of human rights:

“While body weight or obesity may not be an explicitly protected characteristic in human rights codes, discrimination based on health status is prohibited in some countries. Further, discrimination based on weight in the workplace may also be a breach of employment law. Campaigning for weight-based human rights protections may contribute to efforts to reduce weight stigma, promoting the notion that all people are equal in dignity and basic human rights. Establishing efforts to hold health providers, educators, and the media accountable for using non-stigmatizing language may accelerate a shift to more positive and health-promoting narratives around health and weight.”

As one of many authors, we fully endorse the progress this global view represents and the roadmap it provides for further advances.

Click here for the paper in Obesity Reviews.

Small Worlds IV, painting by Wassily Kandinsky / WikiArt

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


October 20, 2023

One Response to “A Global View of Weight Stigma”

  1. October 20, 2023 at 9:33 am, Allen Browne said:

    “ the notion that all people are equal in dignity and basic human rights.”

    I would suggest this should be way more than a “notion”