How many times have you heard “How could you let yourself get like that?!” or how often have you met the situation when overweight people got rejected to be hired because of obesity? Maybe your consciousness is clear because you’ve never discriminated against them, but have you ever reacted in the right way against obesity discrimination? I don’t think so.
If a century ago, slightly overweight people were considered as pretty ones, then what is happening today? Did our vision really change? Nope. What truly matters is the stigma of obesity.
In a classic study performed in the late 1950s, 10- and 11-year-olds were shown six images of children and asked to rank them in the order of which child they ‘liked best’. The six images included a ‘normal’ weight child, an ‘obese’ child, a child in a wheelchair, one with crutches and a leg brace, one with a missing hand, and another with a facial disfigurement. Across six samples of varying social, economic, and racial/ethnic backgrounds from across the United States, the child with obesity was ranked last.
Well, I am quite sure, many of you will saიy “obesity is bad for health and that’s why people have such reaction” and bla bla bla…
Exactly! That’s the point: how often have you bullied people who suffer a heart attack or asthma? I hope never. If nobody discriminates any type of illness, then why fat people are victims of:
- Unequal employment opportunity
- Acceptance of being publicly humiliated
- Inferior healthcare when compared to those of normal weight
- Difficulty in accessing individual insurance coverage
- Inhibition in seeking medical care
- Is difficulty gaining social acceptance?
The stigma associated with obesity is a major psychological and socioeconomic burden for affected persons and their families. It is a major barrier for patients accepting obesity as a disease, and to adhere to effective treatment. Societal changes occur too slowly. Therefore, the medical profession should take the lead and act promptly to overcome the societal stigma associated with obesity as well as other chronic diseases.
While we are bulling overweight people, obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Currently, more than 65% of Americans are overweight or obese. Obesity is correlated with several medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Obesity and its related diseases are responsible for ≈400 000 deaths per year in the United States, paralleling the number of preventable deaths caused by smoking. Overweight in pediatric age groups has nearly tripled in the past 30 y. Today, an estimated 16.1% of adolescents (12–19 y of age) in the United States are overweight (body mass index ≥95th percentile for age). Studies indicate that 50–77% of these adolescents will become obese adults; 80% of those with one obese parent will do so. Data show the significantly lower quality of life scores for obese children compared with children of normal weight. They also show an increased risk of obesity-related comorbidity, including degenerative joint disease and type 2 diabetes.
Your role is enormous!
Individuals in medical and social interactions have the responsibility to make the other person feel comfortable; this is a two-way process. No one is perfect, and we need to recognize the value of each human being. However, obese patients also need to accept certain realities and take firm responsible for their own behavior. Considering the escalating epidemic of obesity worldwide, initiating a nationwide, culturally-accepted, medico-social campaign to overcome obesity-associated stigma and encouraging healthy life-styles are timely. Such fundamental approaches would be more cost-effective than all medical and surgical treatments for obesity put together.
Most of us like to think of ourselves as unprejudiced. We would never harass a fat person in the street, beat them up, or give them inferior service in a shop.
But children as young as three exhibit anti-fat attitudes. They are not born with these beliefs – they are picking them up from the cues in their environment, for example from the attitudes and behaviours of parents and caregivers, or from ubiquitous anti-fat messaging and stereotyping in kids’ cartoons. If we genuinely want to be part of a kind and decent society, if we want our children to grow up in that world, it is up to us not to let hostility go unchallenged. Oppression comes in many forms, and we all have a role to play in addressing it.
If you are still asking yourself if fat people matter, scroll above once again!