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NEWSLETTER

Weight stigma: equally as dangerous as obesity itself? 


According to a recent BioMed Central article, weight stigma is the "social rejection and devaluation that accrues to people who do not conform to existing social norms of optimal body weight and shape." Simply put, weight stigma is prejudice based on a person's bodily weight.

According to the writers of this paper, weight stigma can cause changes in the body, such as higher cortisol levels, which can contribute to poor metabolic health and weight gain. Furthermore, people who are overweight may cope with weight stigma by increasing alcohol and substance usage, overeating to cope with negative feelings, and avoiding health care settings or social engagements. Chronic social stress leads to bad health outcomes, and studies have shown that weight discrimination raises the risk of death by 60%, even when body mass index (BMI) is taken into account.



What steps may be taken to overcome weight stigma?
There are numerous approaches to addressing weight stigma. The first step is to recognize that it exists because we can not combat anything until we first recognize it.

Altering the way we think and speak about people who are overweight is another step we can take. Eliminating the term "obesity" from our vocabulary is a vital step in this direction. When referring to a person with obesity, we should endeavour to remember that they are a person with an illness and to speak to them as a person rather than the illness they have. For instance, "person with obesity" should be used rather than "fat person." This is referred to as employing person-first language.

Addressing weight discrimination in health settings 
The healthcare setting is one in which weight stigma is very prevalent, resulting in severe health repercussions for those who are overweight or obese. According to studies, physicians exhibit a substantial anti-fat bias in health care settings. This bias reduces the quality of care and is another way that weight stigma leads to the poor health of overweight and obese patients.

As in daily life, there are numerous approaches to combating stigma in healthcare settings. Clinicians should recognize that weight bias exists and try to use language in their speech and medical records that put the focus on the person.
 
In addition, patients would benefit greatly from eschewing the conventional recommendation to eat less and exercise more in order to reduce weight. This kind of advice doesn't take into account the many environmental, genetic, and physiological factors that can lead to obesity. Instead, it blames the patient for being overweight.
 
Clinicians should also avoid assuming that a patient with obesity inherently engages in overeating and should believe their patients' accounts of dietary intake and physical activity. The clinical visit should be focused on acquiring information and gaining a grasp of the patient's unique circumstances. A referral to an obesity expert may be necessary if the practitioner does not feel comfortable discussing or prescribing various treatment options.
 
To optimize the quality of their care and minimize the negative consequences of weight bias, it is of the utmost importance for obese patients to seek care from caring and informed healthcare practitioners.

  

Where to find additional data and resources
The following organizations provide patients and healthcare practitioners with ample information and tools to learn more about obesity as a condition and how to overcome weight stigma.
 
The goal of the Obesity Action Coalition is to improve the health of obese people through education, activism, raising awareness, and support.
 
The Obesity Medicine Association has a search engine that lets you find a practitioner in a certain area who is board-certified in obesity medicine.
 
Bariatric surgery information is available from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery for people with extreme obesity or with modest obesity and accompanying medical issues.

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