People with a higher weight experience stigma in many aspects of their lives, with negative impact on health and efforts to address obesity
People with a higher weight experience stigma in many aspects of their lives, with negative impact on health and efforts to address obesity National obesity conference marks European Obesity Day with focus on addressing weight stigma and patient advocacy
A national obesity conference taking place in Dublin hears how obesity is highly stigmatised and people living with obesity face bias and discrimination in virtually all societal settings, including education, work, online, and even in health care.
The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland’s (ASOI) Annual Conference 2019 is taking place on 17th-18th May in the Convention Centre Dublin. This meeting brings together national and international speakers, and delegates, from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, including clinicians, social scientists, media and patient representatives. According to ASOI Chair, Dr Jean O’Connell, “There is a perception that stigmatising individuals with higher weight, and applying social pressure to lose weight, will have a beneficial effect on population health. Studies have shown that the reverse is true. Weight stigma increases the likelihood of unhealthy behaviours, triggering increased eating and avoidance of exercise. High levels of bias among healthcare professionals negatively impacts the quality of care received by patients with a higher weight and means they are less likely to seek medical care. During this year’s conference we are focusing on how we can work together to address weight bias and enhance patient advocacy”.
Prof Arya Sharma, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta, and founder and Scientific Director of Obesity Canada, opened the conference by outlining the ethical dimensions of obesity prevention and treatment. He highlighted: “Although obesity is now recognised as a complex chronic disease, both the public health and clinical approaches to obesity prevention and management embrace a rather simplistic narrative of “eat-less-move-more”. This approach fails to acknowledge the complex interaction between environmental and neurobiological mechanisms which play a large role in determining body shape and size, much of which is beyond the control of the individual.”
Delegates also heard how people of low socioeconomic status are disproportionately disadvantaged by factors associated with weight-gain as a result of social inequalities and are thus particularly vulnerable to obesity stigma. Dr Oli Williams, a sociologist and Research Fellow at King’s College London, spoke about this topic and the evidence-based comic ‘The Weight of Expectation’ which illustrates how stigma associated with bodyweight and size gets under the skin and is felt in the flesh. This comic is being utilised in healthcare education programmes and services, to challenge obesity stigma and support better care for people living with obesity.
Lessons from Canada were shared by Dr Ximena Ramos Salas, Executive Director of Obesity Canada. Dr Ramos Salas highlighted how Obesity Canada has created a strong sense of community among obesity scientists, health professionals, policymakers, trainees, persons affected by obesity, and industry leaders. She commented: “For the last ten years, Obesity Canada has led weight bias and stigma reduction efforts in Canada, building capacity for research, education and action on all levels and sectors through local, national and international collaboration. Recognition of weight bias, obesity stigma and discrimination has increased significantly in Canada, as evident by the increased number of policies, collaborators, and media coverage.”
An interactive media panel discussion generated debate on how obesity is discussed in print, broadcast and online media, and how to reduce obesity stigma, to better support public health messaging. The panel highlighted how some journalists and media outlets fall short of reporting obesity in a responsible and informed manner. Parallels were drawn with other chronic diseases such as cancer and mental health, which were historically also subject to stigmatized media reporting, and how things did and can improve.
As part of the conference, on Saturday 18th May, the ASOI is marking “European Obesity Day” with a special event for people living with obesity and their families. European Obesity Day 2019 aims to raise awareness and increase knowledge about obesity and the many other diseases on which it impacts. Speaking about the event, Susie Birney, patient representative with the ASOI and Secretary of ECPO (European Coalition for People living with Obesity), said: “One of our main goals as a patient group is to raise awareness about “People First” language and we have received great feedback from this campaign. We feel patient participation at conferences is vital and we appreciate the support the ASOI have given us in doing this. We look forward to planning a repeat of this at ECO-ICO 2020”.
Dr Jean O’Connell, Chair of the ASOI commented: “This conference is an important milestone as the ASOI prepares to host the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and the World Obesity Federation (WOF)’s first joint ECO-ICO conference in Dublin in 2020. We expect to welcome over 2,000 delegates to Dublin including scientific experts from EASO, WOF and some of the most prestigious global research institutes. ASOI is a young organisation yet this year we are delighted that our former Chair, Dr. Grace O’Malley, was nominated to the role of Secretary of EASO, which is a positive development for Irish research, clinical care and advocacy”.
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For more information or to request an interview please contact
Marita Hennessy, Communications Lead, Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland,
Telephone: +353 (0)86 374 3794
- About ASOI: The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) is the Irish representative body at the European Association for the Study of Obesity and the World Obesity Federation. ASOI aims to develop an understanding of obesity through the pursuit of excellence in research and education, the facilitation of contact between individuals and organisations, and the promotion of action to prevent and treat obesity, across the island of Ireland. See asoi.info for details.
- For more information about European Obesity Day visit https://www.europeanobesityday.eu/
- ECPO is the European Coalition for People living with Obesity. It is a patient-led organisation working with the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) to improve the lives of people affected by obesity. ECPO was launched at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow on 29 April. https://easo.org/new-patient-organisation-launched-at-eco2019/
- Please use people-first language and non-stigmatising imagery when speaking/writing about obesity.
- Guidelines on people-first language available at https://easo.org/people-first-language/
- Free non-stigmatising imagery is available from a range of obesity image banks via https://easo.org/media-portal/obesity-image-bank/
- Media guidelines available at https://www.obesityaction.org/action-through-advocacy/weight-bias/media-guidelines-for-obesity/