Weight Stigma

I was really excited to learn that this week has been designated the “First Annual National Weight Stigma Awareness Week” by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). I have written before about how important it is to separate health from size due to how incredibly damaging our diet-centered culture can be.

It seems like every day I encounter some new reference to the “war on obesity”. I have been troubled by this from the first. I even have a partly written letter to Michelle Obama living in my drafts file regarding my feelings about the inherent contradiction in waging a war on obesity whilst decrying bullying. Check out the stats below! Did you know that weight is the #1 reason children are bullied? Seems like the “epidemic” we need to be more concerned about is the lack of respect for differences. But I digress.

Effectiveness aside (and it isn’t), what I keep thinking about is the message this sends and the emotional toll this takes on an already stigmatized group: fat folks. (Note: In purposefully use and reclaim the word “fat” as a value-neutral descriptor to raise awareness that people come in all shapes and sizes. I also dislike the medicalized term “obese” because fat does not necessarily equal medical problem. I get that this term is very loaded and not everyone’s cup of tea!). It is possible to focus on healthy behaviors (see Health at Every Size for a great example of this) without contributing to the cultural climate that makes it acceptable to “other” and stigmatize people who are fat. We know that stigma takes a toll on our physical and emotional health.

So with that being said I share with you the press release I received from BEDA:

BEDA Launches First Annual National Weight Stigma Awareness Week

Severna Park, MD (September 21, 2011) – The Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) announced today that it will launch its first annual National Weight Stigma Awareness Week, September 26-30, 2011. The objectives of this event are to build awareness of what weight stigma is, the harmful effects weight stigma can have on people of all ages in all environments, and what can be done to stop it.

“Whether it is children being teased and bullied in school because of their weight, adults being discriminated against in the work place, or patients being shamed in a physician’s office, weight stigma insidiously affects a variety of people.” says Chevese Turner, CEO of the Binge Eating Disorder Association. “We want to raise awareness around weight stigma and how a focus on weight rather than health and placing a higher value on “thin” can, in fact, have a negative effect on the physical and mental health of a person-of-size-especially those who have or are predisposed to eating disorders.”

As the “war on obesity” rages on and the $60 billion weight loss industry continues to grow, paradoxically, rates of obesity are not decreasing and eating disorders are rapidly increasing.

Afflicting more women than breast cancer, eating disorders have the highest rate of mortality of all mental illnesses. They are complex disorders triggered by environmental factors, and studies have shown weight stigma plays a significant role. Several studies conducted by The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University have found that more frequent exposure to stigma was related to more attempts to cope with maladaptive eating practices and higher BMI.

“Weight stigmatization is widespread in our society and affects individuals in multiple domains of life, often on a daily basis,” says Rebecca M. Puhl, Ph.D, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. “We know from decades of research that children and adults are targets of weight stigmatization in educational institutions, employment settings, health care facilities, the media, and even from family members and friends.This has a devastating effect on people’s quality of life, and leads to numerous consequences for emotional and physical health. Weight stigmatization is both a social injustice and a public health issue. We need to increase public awareness and societal efforts to address this problem. Otherwise, it will continue to create disparities, discrimination, and barriers to effective prevention and treatment for individuals affected by obesity.”

The call to action for BEDA’s first annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week is “Healing Myself First: Challenging Weight Stigma from the Inside Out.”

BEDA encourages individuals to participate in several activities BEDA proposes as part of Weight Stigma Awareness Week, beginning with looking within to assess personal weight biases and becoming an advocate.

Turner says, “Let’s begin by asking ourselves, ‘Did I make fun of other kids when I was a child because they were overweight?’ ‘Do I look down on myself or others because of size? Do I exclude people based on body size? Do I contribute to ‘fat talk,’ such as, ‘I need to lose 10 pounds,’ or, ‘You’re too fat to wear that,’ or, ‘You look great! Did you lose weight?’”

A recent Journal of Pediatrics study found that children are bullied 63% more if they are overweight than for any other reason. Yet statutes do not include any language around size bullying. Individuals can write letters to members of congress in support of protecting overweight children from bullying.

For more information about BEDA’s first annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week, visit www.bedaonline.com.

For more information about The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, visit http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/.

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2 Responses to Weight Stigma

  1. Kerro says:

    Hi Kathleen, I love this post. I’m sick of the “war” on obesity; the “war” on smoking… I’m sick of all the “wars” that feel like they’re targeted to me, personally. I just want to be me, and accepted by the world… well, mostly by me. Thanks again. ;)

    • Thanks for commenting Kerro! (and nice to see you :) )

      Yes, and accepting ourselves is all that much harder when we feel targeted in these kinds of ways. I find myself wondering when we will notice that these “wars” don’t seem to work all that well. Shaming people is just not an effective change strategy.

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