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What Is Weight Bias?

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Also termed weight stigma, these are the negative weight-related beliefs, attitudes, assumptions and judgements towards people who are underweight, overweight or obese.

These people are seen by others as lazy, not intelligent, lacking self-control, discipline, and willpower, are seen as sloppy, unsuccessful and cant stick with any weight loss program.

The assumptions are that there is something wrong with these people and that they deserve the ridicule from the rest of the public.

Men experience weight bias at a BMI of 35 whereas women experience it at a BMI of 27.

For reference, The BMI categories are:

Underweight is below 18.5

Normal is 18.5 - 24.9

Overweight is 25.0 - 29.9

Obese is 30.0 and above

The terms 'obese', 'obesity' and 'overweight' are being thrown around with complete disregard to the individuals true health and body size. People CAN BE healthy and classified outside the normal BMI ranges.

Shaming people with the thought that they'll get motivated to change their body to society's desirable standards does not work and can actually have the opposite effect causing people to engage in more unhealthy behaviors and withdraw more from life.

In fact, harassing, bullying and discriminating against people for their weight and appearance does the opposite of what people are probably intending. Weight stigma causes psychological distress and worse health outcomes in relation to their eating behavior and physical activity. Weight stigma has a negative impact on peoples psychological health, eating and physical activity behaviors and physiological health:

Weight bias affects people in multiple areas of their life including: access to education, access to employment, receiving equitable wages, access to health care, socioeconomic status, psychological health, interpersonal and interprofessional relationships. Weight discrimination in education looks like: Students who were obese were less likely to get into college. Men with obesity had a lower chance of attaining higher education. Girls who are obese have a 50% lower chance of getting a college education compared to girls who are of normal weight. 57% of school principles believe that students who are obese have psychological problems. All because of the preconceived beliefs that people have towards those in larger bodies. Discrimination in the workplace is: 30% more likely to happen if you're obese and 100x more likely if you're extremely obese. Obese men make 3% less than other men doing the same work and obese women make 6% less than women doing the same work. People who are obese are less likely to be hired, qualify for employee health benefits, or get promoted than those with a perceived normal weight. weight stigma in health care: Out of 2449 overweight and obese patients surveyed about their health care experiences, 69% experienced weight bias from a physician, 49% reported bias from nurses, and 37% from dieticians. Physicians reportedly spend less time with obese or overweight patients and view them more negatively with less desire to help.

Because of the weight stigma in health care, these patients fear even talking about their weight. So, it's crucial for health care professionals to ask their larger-bodied patients "What words would you like to use when talking about weight?" and if they're even interested in talking about weight at this time. Be supportive and nonjudgmental. We need to understand that weight-related issues occur as a consequence of many factors, like poor access to quality food, genetics, environmental exposures, and socioeconomic status, not solely due to poor nutritional choices. We need to be aware of our own personal attitudes towards those in larger bodies. We need to avoid using stigmatizing language and imagery like obese, skinny, morbidly obese, and thin and when appropriate, ask patient's if there's a term they'd prefer to be used in regards to their size and condition. Most importantly, we need to stop judging people based solely on their appearance because you never know what someone has already gone through, what they are currently going through, or the goals they have for themselves. I’m still learning how to shift my language from weight-centric to weight-inclusive terms because certain languages can perpetuate stigma in larger-bodied and smaller-bodied individuals. I’d like to say that I don’t endorse consistent unhealthy behaviors yet I do endorse healthy practices for any body at any size. It’s not fair that individuals are treated this way, It is discrimination and it’s not okay. This is a push to change behavior in humans, but also to change the behavior and beliefs of our systems because someone’s weight should not dictate their knowledge, their skills, their worth, or their capabilities. Their competence, performance, personal habits and integrity should.

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