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Experts call on media to stop stigma and discrimination against people with obesity

Several obesity experts, led by Dr Stuart Flint from Leeds Beckett University, are calling on the media to stop stigma and discrimination against people with overweight and obesity.  

Positive image obesity

He has written an open letter, on behalf of many UK obesity and public health organisations and universities, to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and its members. In the letter he urges them to consider amending their own code of conduct which states that a journalist ‘produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, dis\ability, marital status or sexual orientation ‘. He and the other experts represented in the letter, are asking for the NUJ to enforce their code of conduct and to include health status and appearance in the list.

Dr Stuart Flint, Senior Research Fellow in Public Health and Obesity at Leeds Beckett University, explains: “Much of the content used to describe people with obesity is stigmatising and promotes hatred and discrimination. Three examples of national newspaper headlines I’ve seen are ‘Heffalump Traps will Clear the NHS of Fatties’ (The Times), ‘Why I refuse to let my daughter be taught by a fat teacher’ (Daily Mail) and ‘Nearly HALF of all primary school children are dangerously overweight in parts of Britain, reveals first map to track their bulging waistlines’ (Daily Mail).

“The other issue is the choice of images used to portray people with obesity. Many of the images used are highly stigmatising and put forward an inaccurate representation of people who are overweight or with obesity. For instance, many of the pictures used are of people who have their heads cropped from the picture, are of people without their clothes on, and are predominantly of people consuming food. These images only serve to promote stigma and discrimination of people with overweight and obesity.”

Over a 12-month data collection period, 98 per cent of articles informed readers that weight is controllable despite considerable literature highlighting the many uncontrollable causes of obesity including genetics and metabolic disorders. The UK Government’s Foresight Report (2007) identified over 100 factors that cause obesity, yet media portrayal focuses on gluttony and laziness as the core drivers.

Dr Flint added: “Going forward we would like to suggest a working relationship with the NUJ to support journalists to produce non-stigmatising portrayals of obesity. As contributors of media content that is consumed by millions of people across the UK, journalists have an important role in providing information, and as such, they influence public attitudes and beliefs, and subsequent behaviour.”

To view the full letter please visit

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