Those living with obesity continue to face stigma, bias and discrimination
To mark European “Living with Obesity and People First Campaign Day”, Novo Nordisk conducted surveys aimed at the general public and people living with obesity to better understand obesity stigma and its manifestation in Ireland.
With support of the Irish Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ICPO), results of questionnaires reveal 74% of those living with obesity believe their weight negatively influences how people interact with them.
The findings also revealed that 58% of the general public believe obesity is often the result of poor lifestyle choices and over half believe those living with obesity have a lack of willpower.
Currently, 1.37 million Irish people are overweight or living with obesity.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ireland is among the top countries with the highest obesity prevalence in Europe and is set to have the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity in Europe by 2034.
Despite this significant percentage, those living with obesity continue to face stigma, bias and discrimination.
There are a number of biological and environmental factors that contribute to obesity, many of which are outside of an individual’s control, meaning that diet and exercise alone are not always sufficient alone for weight loss.
Professor Carel Le Roux, an expert in obesity at St. Vincent's University Hospital said:
“The key to advancing the fight against obesity is a better understanding of the brain.
“We thought that overeating caused obesity. But now we understand that the disease of obesity causes people to overeat.”
When examining the impact close relationships have on people living with obesity, 75% of respondents felt that family or friends have cast judgment towards them for their weight with similar numbers reporting that they received intentional stigmatised comments from friends or family in relation to their weight.
91% of people believed obesity leads to other health problems and 36% believe people should take responsibility for their own health without medical interventions.
This may help explain why almost half of those living with obesity do not feel comfortable discussing their weight with their Doctor.
Dr. Jean O' Connell, Consultant Endocrinologist and Chairperson of the Association for the Study of Obesity in Ireland said:
“This survey demonstrates the need for us to change the obesity narrative and follow the science, which clearly shows that obesity is a complex, chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice.
“Obesity stigma has significant adverse effects on people’s physical and mental health, and increases the risk of further weight gain. Stigma and discrimination of any kind is not acceptable and weight stigma is no different.”
Speaking on behalf of the survey results, Susie Birney, the Executive Director of the ICPO said:
“Stigma, in ALL its shapes and forms, needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. While often unintentional, words and images matter. Together we all play our part in raising awareness of how and why we need to change.”
Today, the ICPO collaborate with the European Coalition for People Living with Obesity (ECPO) in creating a new European image bank as part of the greater effort to change public perception of obesity.
The initiative calls to reduce visual weight stigma by highlighting the importance of how we use images when talking about the disease and redefining the way in which people see obesity in the media.
Bringing education and awareness to this issue is simply the beginning. Together we must take a stand to end weight stigma.
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