How and why weight stigma drives the obesity 'epidemic' and harms health

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Abstract

Background: In an era when obesity prevalence is high throughout much of the world, there is a correspondingly pervasive and strong culture of weight stigma. For example, representative studies show that some forms of weight discrimination are more prevalent even than discrimination based on race or ethnicity. Discussion: In this Opinion article, we review compelling evidence that weight stigma is harmful to health, over and above objective body mass index. Weight stigma is prospectively related to heightened mortality and other chronic diseases and conditions. Most ironically, it actually begets heightened risk of obesity through multiple obesogenic pathways. Weight stigma is particularly prevalent and detrimental in healthcare settings, with documented high levels of 'anti-fat' bias in healthcare providers, patients with obesity receiving poorer care and having worse outcomes, and medical students with obesity reporting high levels of alcohol and substance use to cope with internalized weight stigma. In terms of solutions, the most effective and ethical approaches should be aimed at changing the behaviors and attitudes of those who stigmatize, rather than towards the targets of weight stigma. Medical training must address weight bias, training healthcare professionals about how it is perpetuated and on its potentially harmful effects on their patients. Conclusion: Weight stigma is likely to drive weight gain and poor health and thus should be eradicated. This effort can begin by training compassionate and knowledgeable healthcare providers who will deliver better care and ultimately lessen the negative effects of weight stigma.

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Tomiyama, A. J., Carr, D., Granberg, E. M., Major, B., Robinson, E., Sutin, A. R., & Brewis, A. (2018). How and why weight stigma drives the obesity “epidemic” and harms health. BMC Medicine, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5

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