Living with obesity means more than just managing the physical challenges of a chronic disease. It also means handling the negative – and often ill-informed – attitudes of other people. If you have obesity, being treated unfairly because of your weight can have serious physical and psychological consequences. Weight bias and obesity stigma are important terms for understanding why this happens, but what do they really mean?
People with obesity are routinely stigmatised by
educators5, employers6, the media7,
friends and family8, and even by doctors and other health
care professionals9. Although men and women experience
obesity stigma, women tend to have more eating-related health problems
and to internalise weight bias more than men10.
Popular attitudes and beliefs about people with obesity – that they are lazy, or lack willpower – contribute to weight bias by oversimplifying the causes of the disease. As well as being ill-informed, these attitudes imply that easy solutions – "eat less, move more" – bring quick results. This sets unrealistic expectations while hiding the complex challenges people experience when trying to change their behaviour.
Such attitudes also focus on "individual willpower" while ignoring important biological, social and environmental factors11.
Watch and learn more about weight bias and stigma
Like other forms of discrimination (for instance, on the grounds of
race, class, ability, gender or sexual orientation), weight bias and
obesity stigma result in inequality, and this can be just as damaging
as the physical effects of the disease itself12.
For people living with obesity, discrimination on the grounds of weight often means a lower income, fewer job and educational opportunities, and poorer healthcare. It can also result in serious psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and low self-esteem13.
Hear Vicki Mooney's perspective on obesity, as she talks about weight loss, surgery and empowering other women to feel good about their bodies.
Obesity is a serious chronic disease that requires treatment. Diet and exercise are important for losing weight, but are not always enough to maintain weight loss.
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