Position statement on obesity stigma
Obesity stigma refers to the negative attitudes and beliefs associated with obesity including bias, discrimination, stereotyping and social exclusion (1). This stigma is pervasive in society with people living with obesity experiencing stigma across a number of settings including in healthcare, education, the workplace, the media and in personal relationships (2). Research shows physical and mental health consequences of experiencing obesity stigma. In addition, experiencing obesity stigma can lead to internalised stigma or ‘self-stigma’ (3). This occurs when individuals living with obesity become aware of negative weight-based attitudes and beliefs and apply these to themselves. Experiencing obesity stigma is linked with anxiety, lower self-esteem, social isolation, unhealthy eating and weight-control behaviours and higher exercise avoidance (4). Some studies indicate that individuals may delay seeking medical care, having an impact on treatment and prevention (5).
The All-island Obesity Action Forum understands that obesity stigma is harmful and unacceptable. The purpose of this statement is to set out the steps the forum will take to discourage stigmatising attitudes and reduce obesity stigma.
The All-island Obesity Action Forum asks its members to commit to the following:
- Use people-first language. People-first language puts the person first and avoids labelling people with their disease. Use language such as ‘people living with overweight and obesity’ rather than ‘overweight or obese people’.
- Use positive language, avoiding the use of combative language such as ‘the war on obesity’ or ‘fighting obesity’.
- Use non-stigmatising images. Images used to depict individuals living with obesity are frequently stigmatising. There is a variety of free to use non-stigmatising image banks available to use.
- Share accurate information and evidence about obesity aimed at eradicating obesity stigma.
- Be deliberate in presenting information on obesity. Frame obesity as a complex disease with many contributing factors.
- Challenge incorrect or biased assumptions. Explain how our environment shapes our choices and how changing our environment can improve people's health.
- Support initiatives and training aimed at preventing obesity stigma across healthcare, education and the workplace.
Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity Image Bank
Obesity Action Coalition People-first Language
WHO Weight bias and obesity stigma: considerations for the WHO European Region
Reducing Weight Bias in Obesity Management, Practice, & Policy
1 Pervasiveness, impact and implications of weight stigma. Brown, Adrian et al. eClinicalMedicine, Volume 47, 101408
2. Weight stigma. World Obesity. www.worldobesity.org/what-we-do/our-policy-priorities/weight-stigma
3. Pearl, R. L., and Puhl, R. M. (2018) Weight bias internalization and health: a systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 19: 1141– 1163. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12701.
4. Rubino, F., Puhl, R.M., Cummings, D.E. et al. Joint international consensus statement for ending stigma of obesity. Nat Med 26, 485–497 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-0803-x
5. Phelan, S.M., Burgess, D.J., Yeazel, M.W., Hellerstedt, W.L., Griffin, J.M. and van Ryn, M. (2015), Obesity stigma and patient care. Obes Rev, 16: 319-326. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12266