Weight Stigma Through the Cultural Lens of the Global South

Woman with a MangoScholars have noted that in lower income countries, obesity can be taken as a signal of wealth. This observation in turn fuels a presumption that weight stigma might not be a problem in countries of the Global South. But a new scoping review in Obesity Facts suggests this presumption is likely false.

Laura Eggerichs, Oliver Wilson, John Chaplin, and Ximena Ramos Salas examined stigma research in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. They found 130 sources in 33 countries and territories that document experiences, practices, drivers, and personal outcomes from stigma in these places.

So no. Weight stigma is not a problem exclusive to the advanced economies of the Global North.

Cultural Norms?

Co-author Ramos Salas chairs the nonprofit Bias180, which seeks to promote global health equity through a focus on health bias – including weight bias. She explained the impetus for this work:

“The prevailing attitude in some circles has been that weight bias and stigma in the countries we studied are not as ingrained as they are in western countries. In part, this is due to variations in cultural norms about body size and beauty.

“In fact, we found was that weight stigma is indeed being researched in most places in the world. This tells us people there experience stigma across the lifespan and across settings such as home, school, work and healthcare. Clearly, more work is necessary to better understand weight stigma through cultural lenses and to create appropriate interventions for it. But we must first start by not denying that stigma is indeed a problem in these countries and cultures.”

Global Issues with Obesity and Health Stigma

Two things are very clear. Obesity is becoming an important health issue all over the world. And health stigma is an ancient and universal problem. So it is no longer safe to assume that weight stigma is no concern in the Global South. The World Obesity Federation made this quite clear in the January issue of Obesity Reviews:

“There is growing evidence of stigma against people with higher body weights in all regions of the world. Given the far-reaching and detrimental impacts of weight stigma, it is critical for the global community to address this significant social determinant of health and wellbeing and to make efforts to change public discourse to reduce weight-stigmatizing narratives.”

Health stigma and thus weight stigma is a serious problem for all of us, all over the world, to address.

Click here for the new paper by Eggerichs et al and here for the WOF position paper. For further perspective, click here.

Woman with a Mango, painting by Paul Gauguin / WikiArt

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February 23, 2024

4 Responses to “Weight Stigma Through the Cultural Lens of the Global South”

  1. February 23, 2024 at 11:14 am, John DiTraglia said:

    In Mexico “gordito” is an endearing term for cute little kids. But maybe not so much anymore.

  2. February 23, 2024 at 11:26 am, John DiTraglia said:

    Also I read a a report once (probably in my piles here somewhere) from a certain Caribbean island, that found that bulimia didn’t exist but anorexia nervosa was just as common as in the global north, demonstrating that bulimia was cultural and anorexia was hard wired pathology.

  3. February 23, 2024 at 2:47 pm, John Dixon said:

    Much of the true global south involves the Pacific islands. Many of these have the among highest obesity rates in the world.

    In this region the situation is complex as a larger size can seen as a cultural and religious positive. WHO is generating stigma in these communities?

    • February 23, 2024 at 4:14 pm, Ted said:

      I probably don’t understand your question correctly, John. But my thought would be that WHO does not speak with one voice on obesity. Where some are speaking in terms of moral panic to draw attention to obesity, I think there’s a fair argument that they are generating stigma. Where others are providing thoughtful outreach about obesity as a complex chronic disease with many factors contributing, I would say not.