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How Lifestyle Medicine addresses weight stigma: World Obesity Day 2018

[Image courtesy of the World Obesity Federation]

Launched in 2015, World Obesity Day aims to stimulate and support practical solutions to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and to reverse the obesity epidemic currently facing our health system.

In 2018, the campaign is focused on raising awareness about the prevalence, severity and diversity of weight stigma, and offers solutions for its reduction.

What is weight stigma?

As defined by the World Obesity Federation, weight stigma refers to negative behaviours and attitudes that are directed towards individuals solely because of their weight. Although it has been proven to undermine people’s broader health, weight stigma remains relatively absent from the conversation surrounding obesity.

What can we do to reduce weight stigma?

The World Obesity Federation has outlined four actions points to reduce the prevalence of weight stigma for World Obesity Day 2018 on October 11:

  1. Media to abandon the use of negative images and language about obesity
  2. Greater awareness that there are multiple sources of weight stigma and greater understanding of the steps to avoid it
  3. Government action to improving the environments we live in, rather than focus on individual responsibility and blame
  4. Health care providers to acknowledge the environmental factors that cause obesity, which will improve support and efficacy during diagnosis and treatment

How does Lifestyle Medicine play a part?

As suggested by the World Obesity Federation, working to improve the environments we live in, rather than independently focusing on individual responsibility and blame, is an important aspect of addressing weight stigma, and consequently reducing the prevalence and incidence of obesity in western societies. Additionally, acknowledging and addressing the environmental factors that cause obesity is needed to improve support and efficacy during diagnosis and treatment.

ASLM Director, Stephen Penman, says “Obesity has long been stigmatised as somehow the fault of the individual with negative images of overweight people implying that they are to blame for eating too much or not exercising enough. This is of course a fallacy and completely ignores the elephant in the room – our obesogenic society and environment.”

“In order to prevent, better manage and treat chronic and lifestyle-related conditions, we must concurrently address the determinants of health that exist outside the control of the individual, such as the environmental and social factors that drive obesity, alongside those that exist inside the control of the individual, such as individual health choices,” Penman adds.

“Lifestyle Medicine takes a comprehensive, multidisciplinary, whole system view to bring about a change in the way we understand health and the way in which our health system approaches the chronic and lifestyle-related disease epidemic,” said Penman.

Lifestyle Medicine involves clinicians, public health professionals, researchers, scientists and educators working together to prevent, manage and treat conditions, such as obesity, that result from physical inactivity, poor diet or nutrition, smoking, alcohol overconsumption, chronic stress, sleep debt, social isolation, loss of culture and identity, exposures to toxins and other influences of society and environment.