The Juxtaposition of Weight Stigma and Obesity
MPH, ‘18, Nutritional Sciences
"You need to lose weight." This is the first thing I always hear when visiting a physician. It doesn't matter the reason for my appointment. I have gone in with a sinus infection and strep throat, and my weight was the first thing addressed.
I get it. I'm overweight. I've heard it so many times that I don't even hear the words anymore. I've gone numb to them.
However, I can remember the number of times a physician has given me a list of resources for weight loss: 1.
I can remember the number of times a physician has taken the time to discuss lifestyle changes I can make to lose weight and improve my health: 0.
The current societal message would place blame on me, the individual. It is my fault that I have obesity, and it is my fault if I fail to lose weight. I am instantly seen as lazy, lacking self-discipline, having poor willpower, and am non-compliant with weight-loss treatment.1 People with obesity, including myself, face daily discrimination for their weight in healthcare facilities, in mass media, in their workplace, and even from friends and family. It has become the social norm to believe that weight stigmatization is justifiable and even necessary to motivate individuals with obesity to adopt healthier lifestyle behaviors.1
Recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of weight stigmatization has increased by over 66%, and yet the rates of obesity are still increasing.1 It is clear- weight stigmatization and discrimination is not going to help people with obesity lose weight.
In fact, individuals with obesity who face weight stigmatization and discrimination are at a greater risk for following behaviors:
- Engaging in binge eating
- Increased abnormal eating patterns
- Increased eating disorder symptoms
- Development and diagnosis of binge eating disorder.1
They are also at a higher risk for body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and depression.1 I have personally experienced all of these behaviors and symptoms at some point in my life.
We need to treat people as individuals, separate from their disease. We need to take the time focus on sustainable lifestyle changes that are tailored to their needs and can be easily implemented into their lives.
I have spent more of my life on a diet than not on a diet. Every single time, I lose a significant amount of weight, only to gain every pound back and then some. In fact, most patients with obesity usually gain back 30-35% of weight lost within the first year of completing a weight-loss program.1 Within five years, those same individuals have gained back all of the weight they initially lost.1
Significant weight loss is not the only answer to improving the health of people with obesity. Just a 10% decrease in weight, for example, can reduce the risk for obesity-related complications such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension.1
Just a 10% decrease, that's it. An individual weighing 250 pounds would only need to lose 25 pounds to experience these health benefits. However, losing this much weight will not be an easy journey for most, and battling stigma can only make that journey more difficult.1
Weight stigmatization and discrimination have no place in the health field. We need to treat these people as individuals, separate from their disease. We need to take the time focus on sustainable lifestyle changes that are tailored to their needs and can be easily implemented into their lives.
The number of times I wished my physician treated me as an individual and not as my weight: every time.
I am not my weight.
- Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. American Journal of Public Health. 2010; 100(6): 1019-1028.
About the Author
Anna Jones has a Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and a Master's in Public Health in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. With her MPH, she plans to pursue a career as a registered dietitian working with patients seeking treatment for eating disorders and weight management. In her spare time, Anna loves to create new recipes, try new restaurants, hike, and go on adventures around Michigan.