Weight Bias: pervasive yet hidden harm of obesity

Introduction

Worldwide prevalence of obesity has been increasing at a menacing pace. As per WHO data, the incidence of obesity worldwide has tripled since 1975. As discussed in my post ‘Is obesity a disease or a risk factor for other conditions?’ in 2016 more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight; of these 650 million were obese. It has assumed epidemic proportions in children too. As discussed in my post ‘Childhood obesity: a serious public health challenge’, as per a study led by Imperial College of London and WHO, in a span of just 40 years, the number of school-age children and adolescents (5-19 years of age) with obesity has risen more than 10-fold from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. Unfortunately, the obesity epidemic has been accompanied by a parallel epidemic of weight bias.

Rally for end to 'shaming and blaming' people for weight.
Rally for end to ‘shaming and blaming’ people for weight.

In my post ‘Complications of obesity: the mother of all diseases’, I had highlighted that obesity affects almost every aspect of health, from reproductive and respiratory function to memory and mood. Among the various psycho-social complications of obesity, I had discussed weight bias, which negatively affects not only psychological well-being but physical health as well. Although weight bias is pervasive in society and undermines people’s health extensively, awareness about it is very limited. In order to raise awareness about the prevalence, severity and diversity of weight stigma, the World Obesity Federation chose ‘End Weight Stigma’ as the theme for the World Obesity day 2018. To begin with, to help understand the topic better, the term weight bias and other related terms will be explained here briefly.

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