The Stigma Surrounding Weight Bias in Society & In Clinical Setting

WEIGHT BIAS – It’s more common than we think! 

In a society where obesity prevalence is high throughout much of the world, there is a correspondingly pervasive and strong culture around weight stigma. Weight stigma has been broadly defined as bias or discriminatory behaviours targeted at individuals because of their weight. As a dietitian working in the Bariatric surgery sphere, I believe it’s an important issue to be highlighted, as bias can be destructive and disruptive to both the personal lives and clinical experience of those with obesity.

As part of Obesity Care Week 2021, March 1st 2021 is dedicated to highlighting the issue of weight bias. It has wide-ranging impacts on a person’s health and wellbeing and is something everyone needs to be conscious of.  In my personal experience as a dietitian, I have encountered many patients who have been objected to weight bias in multiple areas of their life, including the workplace, from health practitioners, family members, or even from sales assistant’s when shopping for clothes.

Obesity Care Week was launched in 2015, with a mission to help create a society that understands, respects and accepts the complexities of obesity and values science and appropriate clinically-based care.

The ‘STOP’ (Strategies To Overcome & Prevent) Obesity Alliance fact sheet have outlined the top 5 ways to deal with weight bias in a clinical setting:

  1. Using people-first language. Patient’s who have been diagnosed with obesity should be considered “patients with obesity”, not labelled as “obese”. 
  2. Zero tolerance policy regarding derogatory jokes or comments.
  3. Ensuring that waiting areas, bathrooms, and exam rooms are usable and accommodating for patients of all sizes and abilities.
  4. Emphasising the complexity of obesity, rather than focusing on a “calories in, calories out” approach.
  5. Encouraging providers to examine and challenge their existing biases and stereotypes regarding weight. 

Obesity Care Week is a great opportunity for society and health practitioners alike, to educate themselves about the harmful weight stereotypes and work towards reducing the stigma associated with obesity.

Yours sincerely,
Bayleigh Witheriff,
Accredited Practising Dietitian, WLSA