Expert Opinion

Weight stigma and discrimination: finally at the top table

On the 15 May 2018, I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on obesity’s launch of the “The Current Landscape of Obesity Services”. Within the report, the findings of a survey that amongst other topics explored patients’ perceptions and experiences of weight stigma and discrimination were disseminated.

At the Government committee

This was a great opportunity to discuss the results of the survey, but also to highlight the widespread nature of weight stigma, as well as discriminatory behaviours and practices, which have increased over time in the UK.

The report findings highlighted that patients reported experiences of weight stigma and discrimination across a range of settings including but not limited to employment and healthcare. For instance, it was reported that “88% of people with obesity have been stigmatised, criticised or abused as a direct result of their obesity”, and that only “26% of people with obesity reported being treated with dignity and respect by healthcare professionals when seeking advice or treatment for their obesity”. Healthcare settings should represent a safe environment that is free from stigma and discrimination of all forms. People should be able to communicate freely within healthcare settings without fear or anxiety of being judged, stereotyped or discriminated against.

At the Government committee

Findings in the report that people with obesity are reporting that they do not feel able to communicate free with healthcare professionals is very disappointing and highlights the need for action. The APPG report highlighted that “42% of people with obesity do not feel comfortable speaking with their GP about their obesity”. This a major concern and needs to be addressed. At no point should people not be able to speak about their health with healthcare professionals. Consequently, one of the key recommendations from the APPG report, which I support, is to introduce obesity and weight management training into medical school syllabuses as a means of supporting GPs and other healthcare professionals to communicate about obesity and weight without stigma and discrimination.

Cover of the report

Other panellists, including Professor John Wass (Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust), Professor Francesco Rubino (Kings College London), and Sarah Le Brocq (Director of Helping Overcome Obesity Problems; HOOP) also highlighted the importance of both considering and addressing weight stigma and discrimination, and that there is a need to improve healthcare professionals education and training about obesity.

At the Government committee

Personally, the findings highlighted in the report of weight stigma and discrimination experienced across a range of settings in the UK, is not a surprise. People and patients with obesity report experiences of stigma and discrimination almost daily, and our research also highlights the commonality of these experiences. What is encouraging, is that weight stigma and discrimination is now being discussed at Government level. We anticipate that public health efforts that include a focus on obesity, will consider weight stigma and discrimination and accordingly, we hope that there will be actions to intervene to reduce these experiences.

Dr Stuart Flint

Dr Stuart Flint is a psychologist with a specific interest in the psychosocial effects of obesity; in particular obesity stigmatisation and discrimination, conscious and unconscious attitudes, body image, attitude and behaviour change and factors that influence exercise participation. Stuart previsouly lectured at Leeds Beckett.

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