The effects of Weight Stigma


Unfortunately, we live in a society where weight stigma is prevalent - generally described as being negative attitudes or environments towards those with larger bodies. The war on obesity, which attempts to shame and scare everyone into dieting, is partly to blame. However, shaming is not effective at getting individuals to become healthier. In fact, we are more likely to nourish & care for our bodies (ie. seek nutritious foods, move our bodies with enjoyment, seek medical care) when we love & respect our bodies. Research has shown that BMI alone does not indicate or measure an individuals health status. There is undoubtedly a clear “association” between higher BMI categories and poor health outcomes, but often research does not account for health behaviours. For example, a person with a “larger” BMI with healthy behaviours is more likely to metabolically healthy compared to a person of “normal” BMI with unhealthy behaviours. But unfortunately which of these people are more likely to be judged or shamed? Measuring one’s health includes a comprehensive clinical assessment that involves treating the individual as a whole - assessing symptoms, physical findings, relevant bloods, as well as diet and lifestyle patterns. BMI or body weight does not define health. Weight stigma alone can elicit a stress response that can increase stress hormones (cortisol) and increase blood pressure. Some data suggests that 79% of women with higher body weights disclose eating more food as a coping mechanism for being stigmatized for their weight. There are multiple impacts of weight stigma on physical health, emotional health & social well being. The focus needs to shift from weight loss “ideals” or goals, to instead a focus on improving health through behaviours. If weight loss occurs as a consequence of this, then so be it.

Changes in health related behaviours, as well as nutrition and lifestyle goals, should be celebrated, rather than the number on the scale.


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