Arguments Against Obesity As A Disease #6: Stigmatizes People Living With Obesity

sharma-obesity-weight-bias-conduit1Continuing in my miniseries on arguments I often hear against calling obesity a disease, I will now deal with the issue of stigma and discrimination, namely that declaring obesity a disease stigmatizes people who may be healthy.

I have already dealt with the issue of not using the terms “obesity” to describe people of size, who are perfectly healthy.

Thus, using the actual WHO definition of obesity (the accumulation of excess or abnormal body fat that impairs health), this term should not used to describe people who do not experience health problems from their body fat.

That said, how exactly does obesity stigmatize people who actually have obesity (using the above definition and not simply BMI)?

No doubt, obesity is a highly stigmatised condition, but so are numerous other diseases including depression, addictions, HIV/AIDS and many others.

While much has been achieved in destigmatizing these conditions, obesity still lags far behind.

This problem cannot be addressed by refusing to call obesity a disease – it can only be addressed by getting people (including friends and family) to understand the complex and multi-factorial nature of this disorder and the rather limited treatment options that we currently have available for people living with this disease.

It is not calling obesity a disease that promotes weight bias and stigma, rather, it is the fairy tale of “choice” and the overly simplistic “eat-less move-more” propaganda that stigmatises people living with excess weight by promoting discriminatory stereotypes and the notion that they are simply not smart or motivated enough to change their slovenly ways.

In contrast, acknowledging that obesity is a disease with a complex psychosociobiology, if anything, can actually help move us towards destigmatising obesity in the same way that depression has been destigmatised by reframing the issue as a matter of “chemicals in the brain” (which incidentally would also apply  to most of obesity).

Thus, not only should calling obesity a disease help reduce stigma but also hopefully go a long way in reducing wight-based discrimination in everything from access to care to disability legislation.

New Orleans, LA