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Awareness Of Weight Bias Should Be Integrated Into Obesity Prevention Efforts

sharma-obesity-weight-bias-conduit1Regular readers will be well aware of the emotional, physical and economical impact of weight bias and discrimination. This issue is often further propagated by the use of stereotypical messages (eat-less-move-more) and images (disheveled headless fat person, shiny happy skinny people) in the media.

That these attitudes are perhaps amenable to change is suggested by a paper by Gail McVey and colleagues published in Prevention of Chronic Disease.

The paper presents the results of a pilot interactive workshop to raise awareness about 1) weight bias and its negative effect on health, 2) ways to balance healthy weight messaging to prevent the triggering of weight and shape preoccupation, and 3) the incorporation of mental health promotion into healthy weight messaging.

The pilot full-day workshop was delivered to 342 Ontario public health promoters and resulted in a significant reduction in antifat attitudes and the internalization of media stereotypes and to significant increases in self-efficacy to address weight bias.

As the authors note,

“Participants reported that the training heightened their awareness of their own personal weight biases and the need to broaden their scope of healthy weight promotion to include mental health promotion. There was consensus that additional sessions are warranted to help translate knowledge into action. Buy-in and resource support at the organizational level was also seen as pivotal.”

Thus, the authors suggest that professional training in the area of obesity prevention should include education on weight bias and the internalization of media stereotypes around thinness.

Such efforts may particularly avoid weight and shape preoccupation or unhealthful eating practices among children and youth.

As an organisation, addressing weight bias and discrimination remains the number one strategic objective of the Canadian Obesity Network and this topic will be widely discussed at the upcoming 3rd Canadian Obesity Summit in Vancouver next month (May 1-4).

Edmonton, Alberta

ResearchBlogging.orgMcVey GL, Walker KS, Beyers J, Harrison HL, Simkins SW, & Russell-Mayhew S (2013). Integrating weight bias awareness and mental health promotion into obesity prevention delivery: a public health pilot study. Preventing chronic disease, 10 PMID: 23557637




  1. Addressing weight bias in health care here in the Edmonton zone continues to be a priority for the Weight Wise Adult Community team as part of provider training. Our patients have provided us with many stories of how bias has hurt them and affected their care. The importance of this issue seems to be gaining interest. I will be giving a presentation on weight bias to staff at public health units this week. Thank you for keeping us abreast of new research on this issue.

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  2. Quote: “addressing weight bias and discrimination remains the number one strategic objective of the Canadian Obesity Network”

    This is valuable – but the NUMBER ONE strategic objective?

    If we had a Canadian Smallpox Network, smallpox would still be around, but the CSN would be very busy running anti – poc-scar bias and discrimination programs.

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  3. Dear Dr. Sharma,

    As long as science cannot yet clearly disentangle or distinguish the physiological and psychological pathology resulting from social stigma and weight bias from the physiological and psychological damage (harm) resulting from one’s actual body size category (or from adiposity), then—as a simple matter of professional integrity and in solidarity with the moral principal to “first, do no harm”—the organizational goal of the Canadian Obesity Network deserves to be applauded and supported by all who believe in social justice and in basic human rights:

    “…addressing weight bias and discrimination remains the number one strategic objective of the Canadian Obesity Network…”

    Thank you for stating this objective so directly and concisely. I hope it will be honored throughout the summit next month.

    RNegade (hopefulandfree)

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