Are You Living With Obesity? Time To Speak Up

Yesterday, at Obesity Week, I co-chaired a symposium on how stigma and weight-bias directly affects the health and health care of people living with obesity.

As several of the speakers pointed out, the prevailing false narrative that obesity is simply a matter of lifestyle “choices” that people make and that there are easy solutions (just eat-less move-more) is so dominant, that it has even been internalized by people living with obesity – they also believe that they have “done this to themselves” and “know what to do” (just eat less and move more), which is why they generally don’t reach out to health professionals and “demand” the standard of care and support that they would expect if they were living with a less stigmatized condition.

Indeed, in any other health area, people (and their family members) would hardly accept the almost complete lack of support or access to care (as for e.g. the grotesquely long wait-times for bariatric surgery) as people living with obesity are apparently willing to put up with.

Unfortunately, not speaking up and demanding the same level of health care as people living with other chronic diseases, is by far the #1 barrier to getting policy makers to move on this issue – as long as people living with obesity continue to blame themselves, feel “undeserving” of care, and are too ashamed to stand up for themselves, not much is going to change.

At Obesity Week, I also attended a full-day workshop of the international OPEN coalition, where I listened to experts on advocacy explain that the only way to ever effectively change policy is to speak up and speak out – not something most people living with obesity are comfortable with.

Unfortunately, there is no alternative – as long as people living with obesity are “OK” with being treated as “second-class” citizens and are “OK” with not having better access to proven and evidence-based obesity treatments, nothing will change.

If you are someone living with obesity who feels strongly that you should have the same right to supportive health care and treatments as people living with other chronic diseases, seek out and engage with organisations, who are there to help (e.g. Obesity Canada). Fortunately, you are not alone – there are millions of people living with obesity – if only a fraction of them stood up for themselves and demanded action – no politician seeking re-election could afford to ignore this issue.

If you are a healthcare provider, encourage your patents living with obesity to speak up and join and support organisations (e.g. Obesity Canada), who can help amplify their concerns and ultimately ensure that the health system allows you to provide the care that your patients need.

Las Vegas, NV