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Weight Stigma Slows Fight Against Obesity

Stigma on overweight slows progress from IOM strategies and bariatric surgeryIn the wake of recent efforts by the Institute of Medicine to implement a nationwide strategy to conquer the American obesity epidemic, many are taking another look at how the overweight are treated in our society. The two-thirds of our nation who are now overweight are often subjected to ridicule and bias based on their weight, which may be the last socially-accepted form of discrimination in our country. Weight stigmatization causes the overweight to not only become marginalized and depressed—it also contributes to continued weight gain throughout America.

If you’re a patient of a bariatric surgery like LAP-BAND, you know how difficult the battle against obesity can be. Ending the obesity epidemic will take every American working together, and that means ending the stigma that many place on the overweight. To progress, the blame for obesity needs to shift from overweight individuals to the kind of environment that is causing obesity to become so increasingly prevalent, which starts with education in positive strategies to make our nation healthier as a whole.

Here are some troubling facts about weight stigmatization:

  • Michigan is the only state that bans discrimination based on weight. In every other state, it’s actually legal to refuse a job or rental property to people because they are overweight.
  • Fearing chastisement from doctors, obese patients may be more likely to delay seeking medical care. One study even showed that doctors are more likely to believe that overweight patients are not taking medications as prescribed, which can even lead them to forego prescribing needed medicine in the belief that their overweight patients will simply not take them.
  • Being targeted by weight stigmatization often causes the overweight and obese to become depressed and withdrawn from society, which often results in increased binge eating and a more sedentary lifestyle. It also limits the amount of physical activity they feel comfortable engaging in outdoors.
  • Children as young as three years old tell researchers that they identify overweight individuals as unpopular, unattractive, unfriendly and unintelligent. This means that for many, the obesity stigma begins before even reaching kindergarten.
  • In a recent poll, 61 percent of respondents identified the primary cause of America’s obesity epidemic as personal diet and exercise decisions, while only 19 percent implicated food manufacturers and marketers.

In its “Weight of the Nation” conference earlier this month, the Institute of Medicine laid out myriad different strategies for loosening obesity’s grip on America. From the limitation on the marketing of unhealthy foods to earlier and more in-depth education about healthy diet and physical fitness in our schools, the IOM insists that these strategies will only work if they are implemented on a widespread level. They require the commitment and dedication of everyone in America, regardless of weight, but that commitment can never be achieved without removing the stigma placed on the overweight.

Many people who aren’t overweight simply don’t understand that fighting obesity is a complex process, and that their stigmatization of the obese is making things all the more difficult. If you’ve been the target of weight stigmatization, don’t let it affect your progress. Working to lose weight and educate others in the fight against obesity is the only way to win.


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