Challenging weight stigma in everything we publish 

06 Mar 2020
by Milly Durrant
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© World Obesity Forum

As part of the celebrations for World Obesity Day 2020, I’m excited to discuss the new communications guidelines we are implementing internally to ensure that the Association does not stigmatise people living with obesity in our own publications. 

Stigma and discrimination towards people with obesity are pervasive in society and have numerous negative consequences for their mental wellbeing and may even impact physical health. 

People with obesity face these challenges in education, in the workplace and even in healthcare settings. Doctors, dietitians, physiotherapists and others have all shown a propensity to ascribe stereotypical characteristics to people in larger bodies, and in some instances, do not provide the advice, support and care[1].

Fear of discrimination and weight-based stigma can also lead people with obesity to avoid seeking medical care. This may increase healthcare risks and can create barriers to obesity prevention and effective treatment strategies.

Indeed, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity report indicated that only “26% of people with obesity reported being treated with dignity and respect by healthcare professionals when seeking advice or treatment for their obesity”, and “42% of people with obesity did not feel comfortable talking to their GP about their obesity” [2].

At the BDA, we want to do all we can to avoid and end weight stigma. Our new guidelines are designed to ensure we do so in our published materials and communications through respect & dignity for people targetted by weight stigma. Whilst expecting that the thinking, evidence and language used in this area will continue to grow and change, our guidance focuses on using humanising imagery and people-first language, as well as avoiding stigmatising and combative language.

Alongside these new commitments to ensure the BDA’s own communications are not stigmatising, we will also be looking to work with journalists to reduce their use of stigmatising language and imagery. 

The BDA has over 100 expert spokespeople, who answer hundreds of media requests each year for print, radio and TV. This is a good opportunity to educate journalists and broadcasters about the issue of weight stigma and the impact it has on people’s lives. 

We know that media, be that the national newspapers or social channels, often falls short when it comes to the issue of weight stigma. The BDA has built up a strong reputation as an authoritative voice on nutrition and diet issues, and we hope we can use that influence to improve the way the nation talks about weight.

We named “fat-shaming” our number one diet trend to avoid in 2020, after celebrities including Bill Maher and Piers Morgan called for more stigmatising behaviour as a solution to rising rates of obesity. In her critique of this worrying trend, BDA Spokesperson Katherine Kimber instead called on people to “Recognise the complexities of body weight, and understand that weight is not a behaviour. It's very complex. It's also about supporting all bodies, regardless of size, to have equal access to health. Because Every Body is worthy, and Every Body matters.”

We know we haven’t always got the language right when talking about obesity and the people it affects and we know that the discussion around weight stigma is always evolving. Hopefully this is a good starting point to help ensure we are mindful of terminology and imagery when talking about this really important issue.

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