Rehabilitation Medicine at the University
of Alberta. Forhan has completed several
projects with the support of Alberta
Innovates and is an active member of the
Canadian Obesity Network.
“I often hear people say, ‘If people
could just show a little self-control, they
wouldn’t be that way. Why don’t they
just eat healthier and get off the couch?’ ”
But in fact, genes, hormones, other
chronic illnesses, neurobiology,
environment, social and economic
status, access to high-quality nutritional
food, community safety and even
transportation can all contribute to how
our bodies burn or store energy and how
Our attitudes and the messages we
send to people living with obesity can
make an already hard situation worse.
Those facing negative messages about
their obesity can experience high blood
pressure, anxiety and depression.
And then there’s the longer-term
damage caused by living in a world
where weight bias is entrenched.
Anti-obesity messages, be they subtle
or overt, are common in workplace,
school, healthcare and social settings.
“For example,” Forhan says, “weight
bias is implied when the doctor’s office
or hospital clinic doesn’t have a chair
in the waiting room for someone who
weighs more than 250 pounds. It says,
‘This space isn’t really for you—you
don’t belong here.’ ”
Images in the media repeat and
amplify the negative messaging.
Over time, weight bias and stigma
cause people living with obesity to
become increasingly isolated. “Research
participants have described their world
becoming smaller and smaller and they
can come to feel they don’t belong in
their workplace, educational institution,
or even among friends,” Forhan says.
So what can you do to make sure you’re
not perpetuating stigmatizing attitudes?
Start with language. Forhan suggests
using what is known as “person-first
language,” such as, “people living with
obesity,” rather than labelling them with
their condition: “the obese.”
Hear their voices. Our own
preconceptions can get in the way of
meaningful communication. Forhan says
she’s heard of several instances where
people were sent home from emergency
departments and told there was nothing
wrong with them except their excess
weight, when in fact they had an
underlying, undetected health issue.
Say something. Speak out when you
hear negative comments about people’s
appearance or size. Be a role model and
help put an end to negative stereotypes
or name-calling. Kindness is a powerful
antidote to stigma.|a
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Over time, weight bias
and stigma can lead
to isolation for people
living with obesity