The Obesity Stigma Can Be More Harmful Than the Weight Itself

Obesity Stigma HurtsThe obesity stigma is known to be damaging to both those who suffer from this disease and the people who love them. That said, it’s still not treated in the same way as other chronic illnesses. This disease can contribute to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and a slew of other conditions.  That said, the mental health impact of being labeled as “obese” is also harmful in a way that researchers are only now more closely examining.

Damage from the Obesity Stigma

The obesity stigma begins with the way we think and speak about people who have this disease.  A recent Harvard Medical report recommends that a good place to start when considering individuals who have excess weight is to cease using the word “obese” entirely.

The reason that this step can be meaningful is that it helps to stop defining a person by their condition. Instead, it can serve as a reminder that this is an individual who is experiencing a disease.  By identifying an individual by their disease first reduces their identification as a person.  There is a substantial difference between saying that someone is an “obese person” and saying that an individual is a “person with obesity”.  That second phrase acknowledges that they are a person first, and that they happen to have a disease. It’s called person-first language and is typically the preferred way of speaking about anyone with a medical condition.

The Impact in Health Care

According to the same Harvard Medical report, one of the areas in which patients suffer the most from the obesity stigma is in health care itself.  This, said the report, leads to substantial health consequences for people who measure overweight or who have obesity. Researchers have shown that in health care situations, many doctors show a strong bias against fat.

This bias should be taken seriously as it leads to reduced care quality.  This leads to an additional way in which the obesity stigma reinforces poor health in people affected by it.

The report indicates that people in the health care industry should be particularly aware of the obesity stigma and its impact. They should acknowledge their biases and should also begin with people-first language and should lean on medical documentation as a reminder that a disease is being treated.

Furthermore, the report also recommended tossing conventional cookie-cutter advice to eat less and exercise more, as it doesn’t take enough factors into account that are specific to individual patients. Obesity comes with environmental, genetic and physiologic causes.  By acknowledging them and incorporating this acknowledgment into the development of a more individualized strategy, it eases the stigma by taking the blame off the patient as the sole cause of their disease.

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