Weight stigma is on the rise – Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner - 9/18/2015
OGDEN - Weight Stigma: A negative bias and prejudice toward people who are overweight and obese.
It’s a dark side to obesity that, until recently, hasn’t gotten very much attention. However, according to Stacey Cahn, associate professor of clinical psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, millions of people from all walks of life are frequently stigmatized and shamed based on their weight. Not only is it a form of discrimination, it’s one of the most pervasive and acceptable forms of bias and discrimination and it’s a serious societal problem that is increasing.
In the U.S., the prevalence of weight-based discrimination rose 66 percent from 1995 and 2005, Cahn said. Weight stigma has also led to bullying, especially toward children.
“Discrimination and prejudice are wrong,” Cahn said in a press release. “Yet, individuals with obesity of all ages face discrimination and unfair treatment in virtually all aspects of life.”
For instance, Cahn said, women with obesity report having fewer friends and are less successful in finding romantic relationships. Those with obesity are also less likely to be hired or promoted and they tend to earn less than equally qualified peers. While U.S. federal law protects citizens from discrimination on the basis of race, there are no comparable protections surrounding weight.
Dr. Rohn Rigby, an Ogden Clinic family physician and member of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, said unfortunately, many people look at a person who is overweight or obese and assume that person is lazy, or eats an excessive amount of food.
“Often that is not the case. Someone can be very fit and still fall into the overweight category,” Rigby said. “And often times, they eat a very small amount of food and are still unable to lose weight. Many factors contribute to weight: hormonal issues, stress, metabolic syndrome, diet, lack of sleep, body chemistry, activity levels, weight positive medications and several others.”
Weight stigma can affect the person’s confidence, activity level, increase stress, job search opportunities, recreation opportunities and more, Rigby said. When someone feels that others are judgmental, it may affect the overweight person’s desire to participate in physical activity. They may be uncomfortable in public and feel that they are always being looked at negatively.
Cahn said weight stigma largely stems from the cultural idea of thinness and misperceptions about obesity.
“Obesity is not a lifestyle choice. Body weight involves a complex interplay of environmental, genetic, biological and behavioral factors,” Cahn said. “In fact, obesity is considered a disease by the American Medical Association. The research is very clear that obesity is a chronic condition not easily amenable to lifestyle modification. Of the people with obesity who do manage to lose weight through diet and exercise, 97 percent regain the lost weight and sometimes more.”
According to The Centers for Disease Control, 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, when calculating weight against the Body Mass Index, and even though people are ridiculed, it doesn’t motivate them to lose weight.
“Shaming someone does not encourage positive change. Most overweight people have tried many different options to lower their weight,” Rigby said. “When they feel unsuccessful or unsupported they may become less motivated to make those changes.”
Cahn also said people who experience weight stigma are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and even suicidality.
Rigby said society can be more understanding of the disease and the people who suffer from it. Weight loss is not a one size fits all program.
“It is not as simple as calories in, calories out,” Rigby said. “We need to be supportive of everyone trying to live a healthy lifestyle, and realize we are all different. We need to affect change for insurance coverage. Insurances are still limited as to the options of treatment that they cover.”
Cahn said society also needs to attack the problem of obesity, not the people with obesity.