NEW DELHI: Lazy. Gluttonous. Unattractive. The stereotyping of people facing weight issues often follows a pattern and, according to the World Obesity Federation (WOF), many people suffer from weight stigma on this account. Weight stigma is defined as pervasive misconceptions and stereotypes associated with higher body weight. The WOF, in a position statement published recently in the journal Obesity Reviews, has suggested a slew of steps to counter this emerging crisis.
First, the WOF says, obesity should be used to refer only to individuals with an obesity diagnosis which is when there is excess or abnormal accumulation of fat that presents a risk to health. “Although Body Mass Index may be used as a population measure and a clinical screening tool, it should not be used as a medical diagnostic tool,” the federation says. Second, WOF suggests, one should use person-first language, meaning saying a person who is obese instead of using the term obese.
Other recommendations include using non-stigmatising language and imagery and engaging in weight-neutral health promotion. “In communication about body weight and obesity, language and imagery should not perpetuate stereotypes or blame and shame individuals for their weight. Communications should also avoid alarming, catastrophising, or combating language,” the WOF says.
According to the WOF, in the post-partum – the first 6 weeks after delivery – where mothers feel social pressure to rapidly return to pre-pregnancy weight, weight stigma is associated with postpartum weight retention and is a risk factor for postpartum depression.
Among adolescents, experiencing weight stigma is associated with increased depression, anxiety, suicidality, disordered eating and substance abuse. Adults may be subjected to weight discrimination, including reduced job opportunities and associated financial implications, limited healthcare access and quality, and poor interpersonal relationships.
“Weight-stigma is common in India, especially among the youngsters. I see so many students, young professionals who are obsessed about their weight so much that it starts to affect their physical and mental wellbeing,” Dr Samir Parikh, consultant psychiatrist and director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare said. He added that as incidence of obesity and overweight increases, there is growing need for addressing issues associated with stigma associated with the condition.
Another psychiatrist, Dr Shanu Srivastava, told TOI recently how obese kids become afraid of socialising as a result of being bullied. They always feel judged and start avoiding social gatherings. “I had a patient whose grandparents used to tease her because she was fat, due to which she developed an eating disorder and her performance in studies also decreased,” she said.
Leading endocrinologist Dr Anoop Misra added that small steps like using non-stigmatising language is going to help indeed in reducing the stigma associated with obesity. “In our practice as well as research papers, we have already started referring to people with higher body weight as persons with obesity instead of obese,” he said.

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