Earlier this year I participated in a two-day workshop on weight bias hosted by researchers at the University of Calgary. The over 40 participants included researchers, clinicians, health administrators and a number of other stakeholders, who discussed all aspects of weight bias and discrimination.
A particular focus of the workshop, supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (INMD) and co-hosted by the Canadian Obesity Network was to explore a research agenda towards finding effective ways to reduce weight bias and its negative consequences for the health and well-being of those living with obesity.
A paper by Such and German, published in Veterinary Record, shows that a significant proportion of show dogs in the UK would be considered to have overweight or obesity.
The researchers did internet searches to identify 40 pictures per breed of 14 obese-prone dog breeds and 14 matched non-obese-probe breeds that had appeared at a major national UK show (Crufts). Of 1120 photographs initially identified, 960 were suitable for assessing body condition using a previously validated method, with all unsuitable images being from longhaired breeds.
None of the dogs (0%) were underweight, 708 (74%) were in ideal condition and 252 (26%) were overweight with pugs, basset hounds and Labrador retrievers were most likely to be in the latter category.
In contrast, standard poodles, Rhodesian ridgebacks, Hungarian vizslas and Dobermanns were least likely to be overweight.
In the discussion, the authors wonder whether or not breed standards should be redefined to be consistent with a dog in optimal body condition (read – body weight).
As someone, who could not really care less about breed standards and pedigrees (having shown dogs at dog shows myself as a kid), I find this paper of interest, as it reflects our thinking about appearances, that is by no means limited to animals.
The mental health and physical benefits of owning a dog are well-documented – whether they meet show standards or not, is probably not what determines their usefulness as (wo)man’s best friend.
As a clinician often dealing with patients presenting with binge-eating disorder (BED), I am quite aware of the often pathological cognitive and emotional relationship to food, eating, and body image presented by patients with this syndrome.
Whether or not this impairment in thinking and feeling also extends to other behavioural or emotional domains is the topic of a systematic review by Kittel and colleagues from the University of Leipzig, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The paper is based on the review of almost 60 studies and shows that, individuals with BED consistently demonstrate higher information processing biases compared to obese and normal-weight controls in the context of disorder-related stimuli (i.e., food and body cues) – in contrast, cognitive functioning in the context of neutral stimuli appear to be less affected.
With regard to emotional functioning, individuals with BED also report greater emotional deficits when compared to obese and normal-weight controls.
Thus, these findings confirm the clinical observation that patients with BED tend to have specific difficulties in cognitive and emotional functioning when it comes to food, eating or body image, however, appear to function adequately in other domains.
For clinicians these finding are relevant as they show that while people with BED may benefit from help in changing their cognitive and emotional response to food cues, such problems are indeed more often encountered in people with BED rather than in everyone living with obesity.
Screening for BED should be an essential element of workup in anyone presenting with excess weight gain.
This interesting question was the topic of an intriguing study by Eric Robinson and Paul Christiansen from the University of Liverpool, published in the International Journal of Obesity who examined whether women’s preferences for larger men can be influenced by prior exposure.
The researchers conducted a series of four studies. Studies 1 and 2 looked at how exposure to men with obesity vs. normal weight had on female attraction toward a man with overweight. The findings of these two study showed that exposure to obesity can alter visual perceptions of what normal body weights were resulting in greater attraction toward an overweight man.
Study 3 found that women who are regularly exposed to males of heavier body weights reported a greater attraction toward overweight men.
Study 4 showed that after exposure to images of men with overweight or obesity, females in an online dating study were more likely to choose to date an overweight man than a man of normal weight (Study 4).
Thus the researchers conclude that even brief exposure to men with obesity can increases female attraction toward overweight men and may affect mate choice.
However, as the researchers note, the findings are limited to single women rating caucasian males – whether exposure to women with overweight has a similar effect on male preferences remains to be studied.
Perhaps the results of this study can lead to the following dating advice – if you’re a big man, surrounding yourself with people of your size may just make you seem more attractive.
Regular readers will be well of the very real social and health impact of weight bias and discrimination.
Now, Sara Kirk of Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, invites you to join her free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), on weight bias and stigma in obesity, which will be starting on April 20th 2015 (just a week before the Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto).
The course builds on Kirk’s extensive research in this area and the dramatic presentation that was created from her findings.
Participants will be able to explore some of the personal and professional biases that surround weight management and that impact patient care and experience.
This will hopefully give health professionals better insight into how to approach individuals experiencing obesity in a respectful and non-judgmental manner and provide strategies to build positive and supportive relationships between health care providers and patients.
While targeted at health care providers, the course should also be of interest to anyone interested in learning more about what weight bias is and how it can impact health and relationships.
Participants who complete the course requirements can apply for a citation of completion (for a nominal fee).