I expect many of you will have heard or come across the term weight stigma but what does weight stigma really mean and why does it matter?
Weight stigma is bias, stereotyping, bullying and discriminatory behaviour towards a person based on their body weight and size. People with higher weight can experience weight stigma and discrimination in all aspects of their lives; at school, at work, in the media, when accessing healthcare – even from those we are closest to - our friends and family. Unfortunately, the reality is that weight stigma is frequently experienced by our children and young people, beginning negative impacts that can lead into adult life. These experiences of weight stigma are known to have negative impacts on peoples mental and physical health, can create barriers to access services and compromise wider public health efforts to prevent and treat obesity.
Weight stigma exists because our society tends to focus blame on individuals for their weight rather than addressing the complex societal and environmental conditions that cause someone to have a higher weight. Worse still is the notion that stigmatisation is justifiable and can motivate individuals to adopt healthier behaviours.
So, what can we do to address this? As a first step, we have developed a new digital learning hub called the ‘Challenging Weight Stigma Learning Hub’. The hub aims to raise awareness of weight stigma, its impact and what we can do to tackle it. The content of the hub has been informed by evidence and by a wide array of experts from a range of sectors and most importantly by people with lived experience of weight stigma.
This hub is aimed at a wide audience, including those working in health and social care, third sector, leisure, communications, policy, and public health. It is free and easy to access, meaning that anyone with an interest in weight stigma can use it.
The content is divided up into key topics in bite sized sections, all of which aim to promote changes in your everyday practice. You can decide what content to explore and in what order, and if you complete all the sections, you can obtain a certificate of completion. You will find short animations and videos which include accounts from individuals who have experienced weight stigma, like Angela:
“Have you ever made fun of a person because of their body size? Looked into a person’s shopping trolly and thought ‘no wonder they are big’?
The hardest part...is people’s judgement.
My first appointment with a dietician was at the age of 10 years old. The assumption was made I ate too much and was lazy. Nobody actually spoke to me. All I was being judged on was the way I looked. The reality was I was being physically and mentally abused every day because of my body and this carried on into adult life.
Following many experiences of humiliation; at the gym, in the street, in various health care settings - one GP changed my life forever. During a routine appointment she asked me, ’Can we have an open and honest conversation about your health?’ She told me, ‘I’m worried about your weight and the effect it can be having on your health. I know how difficult it is, and I’m here to help you’.
For the first time in 30 years, I had the confidence to open up. I had been seen as Angela and not just excess fat. I wanted to talk to my doctor because she wanted to listen.
I’m seen differently now but I’m still the same person. So, when you next see a person living with a higher weight, please see the person.”
These first-hand accounts illustrate the need for action and to challenge the status quo.
How we communicate about weight matters, often how we talk and write about weight is unintentionally stigmatising. We know from Angela’s experience; it only takes one person to make a huge difference to someone’s life.
Together we can recognise weight stigma and take action to address it. To find out more about weight stigma and what actions you can take in your role visit the learning hub.
Image credit: World Obesity Federation