Stigma: the main enemy of obesity

People with obesity may face an unexpected enemy every day: stigma. Perceived by some as “lazy” and “lacking in self-control,” people with obesity may suffer a significant burden of discrimination that affects their employment status and access to and quality of medical care and education.

Coinciding with the World Obesity Day, celebrated today, more than 100 medical and scientific organizations publish a Consensus Document in which they request that non-scientific narratives on obesity be recognized as one of the main causes of stigma and strong policies and laws are demanded to prevent discrimination based on weight.

Researchers, coordinated by Francesco Rubino, of King’s College London (United Kingdom) denounce that the harmful health effects of this type of discrimination are multiple and include a deterioration of mental health. This constitutes a icios vicious circle ’notes, since poor mental health can perpetuate unhealthy eating and physical inactivity, which leads to weight gain and, in some cases, to the development of eating disorders.

Denounces that the harmful health effects of this type of discrimination are multiple and include a deterioration of mental health

“The stigma of obesity is a public health problem, undermines human and social rights and is a major obstacle in the fight against this epidemic,” says Francesco Rubino. “The objective of this initiative – he adds – has been to gather a large group of experts and scientific organizations and, for the first time, speak with a single voice to condemn the stigma about obesity and expose false ideas that contribute to bias ».

The document analyzes the main sources of stigma suffered by these people. For example, he complains that health professionals are, paradoxically, a common source of stigma.

Social stigma is based on the typically unproven assumption that obesity derives primarily from a lack of self-discipline and personal responsibility. Such representation is inconsistent with current scientific evidence that demonstrates that the regulation of body weight is not completely under volitional control, and that biological, genetic and environmental factors contribute critically to obesity.

In addition, the media representation of obesity is influential; It plays an important role in the formation of public attitudes and beliefs about people with obesity. The report calls on the media to produce fair, scientifically accurate and non-stigmatizing representations of obesity.

It is also important to adapt public health messages, because in many occasions public health messages are used that use stigmatizing approaches to promote campaigns against obesity that, objectively, are harmful.

The media representation of obesity is influential; plays an important role in the formation of public attitudes and beliefs

“The stigma associated with obesity occurs in almost every aspect of our society, including the medical environment,” says co-author Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of
 Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut (USA). “It is essential that efforts to address this problem include the support and action of the medical community.”

For Rubino to change widespread and entrenched beliefs, long-standing preconceived ideas and the prevailing mentality “a new public narrative of obesity that is consistent with modern scientific knowledge is necessary,” says Rubino.

History shows us with examples such as plague, cholera and HIV / AIDS [y actualmente el coronavirus] that stigma can interfere with public health efforts to control epidemics. “The initiatives aimed at fighting stigma and social exclusion were as important as they are now,” concludes this expert.

The statement was developed through an international conference jointly organized by the World Federation of Obesity, the American Diabetes Association, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Association of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, Diabetes UK, European Association for the Study of Obesity, International Federation for Obesity Surgery and Metabolic Disorders, Obesity Action Coalition, Obesity Canada, The Obesity Society.

In total, more than 100 organizations were registered worldwide, including scientific societies, academic institutions, medical centers, scientific journals, industry, and some political representatives. .

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