Stigma is nothing new. Throughout the centuries people have been stigmatized for everything from the color of their skin and country of origin to their age and religion.
A hundred years ago, people were not stigmatized for weight; yet today, people are routinely and pervasively abused for being anything outside of our thin “ideal.” And, it starts early in life. Research reveals that even pre-school children, age three to four, view obese peers as mean, ugly and stupid. In elementary school, the likelihood of being bullied is 63% higher for an obese child. Obese youth are stereotyped as lazy, unfriendly, dishonest. Adolescents are teased more for being overweight than anything else.
Prejudice extends far into adulthood; even medical professionals (especially medical professionals, sadly) are guilty of weight bias, often perceiving overweight or obese patients as less disciplined and non-compliant, or even viewing them as annoying or problem patients. Sadly, as body mass index (BMI) increases, so does a doctor’s intolerance of these individuals.
Medical education consistently promotes the falsehood that BMI is an end-all, be-all measure of health. Many healthy people such as professional athletes have BMI’s in a range that would be labeled overweight or obese. Very few of us would consider LeBron James unhealthy (physically, anyways!) despite a BMI that makes him obese.
The stigma and abuse of people of size is pervasive in the media and advertising as well. The popularity of TV shows such as the Biggest Loser indicates just how obsessed we are in America with thinness and extreme dieting or exercise. Sustainable health lives in the middle. People can be healthy at a whole wide range of sizes and shapes.
I wonder what it will take for us to start looking at and valuing more accurate measures of health such as blood pressure, exercise tolerance, and blood sugar instead of BMI? I wonder what it will take to shake us from our obsession with the health food and diet industry that exploits our fear of fat to the tune of billions of dollars a year? Does anybody know a person who has been able to sustain a healthy weight by going on a diet? Or taking a pill?
This is what Weight Stigma Awareness Week is all about. It is a chance for everyone to take a moment and consider how they view those who are overweight or obese, and if any negativity is attached, possibly reconsider this type of value judgment.