What is weight stigma and how do we change the conversation?
People living in larger bodies are often faced with pervasive stigmatisation and discrimination because of their weight. They experience weight stigma from family, friends, co-workers and even health professionals.
Weight stigma is “the social rejection and devaluation that accrues to those who do not comply with prevailing social norms of adequate body weight and shape”.*
Weight stigma can impact how people are treated. Many people who have experienced weight stigma have reported:
- feeling ashamed for failing to lose weight
- that people assumed they were eating unhealthy foods
- being criticised or threatened by family including partners for not losing weight
- being accused of cheating by their health professional
- receiving simplistic advice to eat less, and
- feeling embarrassed to go to a gym or exercise in public.
The fear of experiencing weight stigma is not limited to people who live in larger bodies. Research has shown that women of a healthy weight have reported being concerned about becoming overweight because they feared being subjected to weight stigma.
You can find out more by downloading the Stigma Factsheet. This excerpt has been reproduced from the Shift media guide, with permission.Download the Stigma Factsheet
“…long after people have stopped calling me fat, fatty, fatty-boom sticks, smelly Kelly with the big belly, the big girl, the big chick, the larger woman, those words, those labels, are still part of my fabric”
The impact is real
Experiencing stigma and discrimination has wide ranging and long lasting impacts on people, and can significantly decrease the success of a person’s attempt to improve their health and wellbeing. Weight stigma is associated with:
- negative behaviour changes such as exercise avoidance and binge eating
- increased risk of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety
- internalising stigma which contributes to long term mental and physical ill-health
- increased risk of further weight gain, which increases a person’s risk of future chronic diseases
- increase mortality risk
Weight stigma also has a significant impact on children and young people. Weight-based bullying is the most common form of harassment experienced and reported by children and adolescents. It can lead to long term issues such as mental ill-health, substance abuse, disordered eating, poor school performance, and social isolation.Hear what consumers have to say
“I have been overweight and struggling with weight problems since I was 12 years old, being a teenager and overweight has had a huge emotional impact on my life, especially when people’s perceptions of you is that you don’t exercise or you over eat.”
Changing the conversation
Make the pledge to end weight stigma
A team of international experts have come together to outline an International Consensus Statement and pledge to end weight stigma. You can make a difference too.Make your pledge today
*Source for weight stigma definition: Tomiyama AJ, Carr D, Granberg EM, Major B, Robinson E, Sutin AR, et al. How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health. BMC Med. 2018;16(1):123.