It’s Not the Weight, It’s the Weight Bias

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Sept 28 - Oct 2 is the 2nd Annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week (#WSAW2020), so let’s talk about weight stigma. Weight bias is having negative attitudes and beliefs about others or oneself because of weight. EveryBODY can experience weight stigma, but It’s generally directed towards people who live in larger bodies. Unfortunately, individuals with higher body weights are commonly perceived as unattractive, lazy, and less intelligent due to societal idealization of thinness. The reason why we’re discussing weight stigma is because it’s both a social justice as well as a public health issue. We all need to care about this, and we all need to act. It's NOT the weight, it's the WEIGHT BIAS.

Where does weight bias occur?

Weight bias occurs in healthcare (physicians, nurses, med students, dietitians, psychologists), the fitness industry, insurance companies, workplace and employment settings, media, family, friends, and the list goes on.

How does weight stigma negatively impact health?

Often times, weight-centric research places blame on weight and establishes a false sense of causality between higher body weight and ill-health. Correlation is NOT causality. When scientific research accounts for confounding factors such as social determinants of health and weight stigma, the correlation between weight and health disappears. Conclusion? It's the actual weight, it's the weight bias. Here are all the different ways that weight stigma impacts health:

Eating & Movement:

· Increased binge eating

· Increased disordered eating

· Increased calorie consumption

· Lower motivation for movement

Physical Distress:

· Elevated blood pressure

· Increased stress hormones (cortisol)

· Increased inflammatory protein levels

· Increased HbA1C

· Poor glycemic control

Psychological Distress:

· Increased depression, anxiety and stress

· Lower self-esteem

· Poor body image

· Increased substance abuse

· Increased suicidality

Healthcare & Health Outcomes:

· Avoidance of follow-up care

· Delays in health screenings

· Distrust in healthcare providers

· Advanced and less effectively controlled chronic diseases

· Lower quality of life

What can we do to end weight hate?

1- Avoid using shame in the name of health (ex: I’m just concerned about your health)

2- Avoid using language that implies stereotypical behaviors (ex: excuses, cheat day, self-control)

3- Ask permission to weight, or talk about weight, shape or size

4- Ask about preferred terminology, don’t assume (es: fat, larger bodied, etc.)

5- Avoid using stigmatizing terms (ex: ob*se, morbidly ob*se, ob*sity pandemic)

6- Focus on health behaviors and quality of life rather than weight (weight is not a behavior)

7- Ask about experiences of stigma and coping with stigma, rather than what someone eats and how much they exercise

8- Don’t tell folks in larger bodies to “just eat a salad” or “go to the gym”

9- Understand that weight-based discrimination contributes to and exacerbates eating disorders and other health conditions

10- Work on your own internal biases

Conclusion: it's not the weight, it's the weight bias!

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