Zero Tolerance for Obesity Stigma Campaign Video Launched by HOBS Sweden

Zero Tolerance for Obesity Stigma Campaign Video Launched by HOBS Sweden

EASO congratulates HOBS, the Swedish patient focused obesity association, on the launch of the new film in conjunction with their important campaign Zero Tolerance for Weight Stigma.

EASO ECPO President Solveig SIgurdardottir applauds this ongoing work to tackle stigma by HOBs.

“Putting an end to weight bias and stigma in obesity is important part of people living with obesity reclaiming their health. Size stigma can  make it more difficult for people to seek help and treatment from their GP.”

This thoughtful Swedish video can be viewed with English subtitles and in several other languages by selecting options on the bottom right.

Jenny Vinglid on the HOBs Zero Tolerance Campaign

HOBS, the Swedish patient organization for people living with obesity has recently released their campaign Zero Tolerance for Weight Stigma. The campaign film has received great responses and is nominated to an international film festival in Italy. These are exciting times for HOBS and we have interviewed their General Secretary Jenny Vinglid.

What is the situation like for people living with obesity in Sweden?

Today, 51% of Swedes are living with overweight and obesity, and it is estimated that about 350 000 people live with sever obesity. The situation for people living with overweight and obesity is unfortunately far from where we would like it to be. Stigmatization, discrimination and weight-based bullying is something that they face every day – not only from the society, but from employers and health care professionals as well. As in many other countries, we are also struggling with misconceptions and stereotypes about obesity.

Regarding the provision of health care services to people living with overweight and obesity, subsidized surgical treatment is offered nation-wide. However, medical treatment is only provided by 6 out of 20 regions in Sweden. We also know that the treatment quality varies quite substantially between the regions, especially when it comes to childhood obesity. It is alarming that even though our National Board of Health and Welfare declared obesity as a chronic illness in 2013, there are still no national guidelines for treatment of obesity. It is up to the regions to decide on guidelines for treatment, which has caused the insufficient and unequal health care people living with obesity experience today. Some regions completely lack guidelines.

Please tell us about the organization and your role:

HOBS was founded in 1995 and we are a non-profit, politically and religiously independent patient organization. We are funded through both project and government grants. The needs and interests of patients living with obesity is our focal point, and to increase the knowledge and understanding about obesity is our overall goal. We believe our work plays an important role to counter misconceptions about obesity and to break stigmatization of people living with obesity. Advocating for adequate and equal health care for people living with obesity is high on our agenda. Along with influencing health care politics, we also provide support to patients. We want to empower the patients so that they get ownership over – and become specialists in – their illness. HOBS works closely with health care providers, the profession and partake in all national and regional expert groups. We reach out to about 60 000 people per week through our various platforms.

Have there been recent developments at HOBS?

There has been a lot of developments at HOBS over the last 6 years. We have built and established strong collaborative relationships with the profession, policy makers and patients. This means that we are able to work with pushing for political decision-making directly, as we do this collaboratively with the profession and patients. By establishing focus groups, our work is influenced by – and anchored in – the opinions of the patients.

Since 3 years back, we’re running a comprehensive national project focusing on children and youth living with obesity. Gathering the opinions and experiences from this group is key for our work with advocating for equal and sufficient health care for children and youth living with obesity. Matter of fact, a report about Sweden’s health care provision for children with obesity was released this month (October). The report points to the serious deficits and inequalities in the treatments offered by the different regions. We are therefore pushing politicians to address the fact that we lack national guidelines for treatment of child obesity.

In addition to this, we are running a wider project for equal health care and to improve the patient’s knowledge about, and ownership over, their condition. A huge amount of the stigmatization is grounded in the lack of knowledge about obesity. We want to spread the knowledge that obesity is a chronic illness, to all levels of society. And our hope is that through an increased understanding, it will be considered and treated as any other chronic illness. Surgery is the only treatment option that is subsidized in Sweden today and we want other forms of treatment to become accessible and subsidized. Simultaneously, we are working for better pre-op and post-op care and information for our patients.

The organisation has a longstanding reputation for developing creative materials, including feature length films, to educate people about obesity and build resilience and community among people living with obesity. (perhaps you can comment here).

We have always found it important to listen to the needs of our target group (i.e. the patients). We noticed that lack of proper information and education regarding their illness is common and have put a lot of effort into producing adequate and informative campaigns and educational material. Our collaborations with the profession and health care providers has been of great importance when developing these platforms, films and forums for our patients. We know we must do this together with others and are therefore always keen on collaborating with patients, other organizations or stakeholders, with the profession and policy makers.

Are there new challenges or opportunities on the horizon?

Like many other similar organizations around the world, we are also working hard to tackle the stigma and misconceptions about obesity. We believe this is one of our greatest challenges. As long as obesity is not recognized as a chronic illness, it won’t be treated as it. As mentioned already, we are currently pushing hard for national guidelines for treatment of obesity in Sweden. At the same time, we are running our campaign for Zero Tolerance for Weight Stigma. We have found it challenging to work for both causes simultaneously, with some criticizing us for not taking a body positive stance when pushing for improved health care. It is a difficult balancing act where we have to take a firm position as a patient organization that advocates for equal and adequate health care for our target group. We are very clear with the fact that our bodies come in different shapes and sizes – and that they all should be celebrated. However, we also need to make sure that those that seek health care will receive proper care.

We also see great opportunities on the horizon. We have established good relations with policy makers in the parliament as well as in the different regions in the country. It will enable us to work more effectively with increasing the knowledge about obesity among politicians, and with pushing for the political decisions we believe are necessary. While also having great relations with our target group, we know our work is anchored in the needs expressed by the patients themselves. Another big challenge is the financial constraints. We are currently mostly run by project grants, which means we are unable to plan more long-term projects. Our hopes are that more resources will be allocated to the field. Slowly but steadily we can se that more attention is given to this subject, as we are invited to partake in various seminars, workshops and conferences. Only through raising the voice of the patients, collaborating and spreading the knowledge we can make change happen.