People Living With Obesity Need a Voice

sharma-obesity-con-logo6This week, the 4th Canadian Obesity Summit will again bring together over a 1,000 obesity researchers, health care professionals, trainees, decision makers and other stakeholders with plenty of opportunity for networking, exchange of scientific knowledge, professional education around all aspects of obesity prevention and management.

In this day and age, such an event should not be happening without also engaging and hearing from the people who live with this problem.

This is why, the Canadian Obesity Network has worked hard to identify and encourage a handful of Canadians, who have struggled with obesity (and still do) to attend the conference and share their first-hand stories with the other attendees. While I have no doubt that the conference will benefit from this “engagement”, I must also readily admit that finding this handful of brave and committed “volunteers” is anything but easy.

It is evident that the bias, shame, blame, and discrimination that surrounds obesity is so pervasive that very few people living with this disease apparently have the courage to stand up and publicly share their stories and “demand” help and support for dealing with this condition.

To me the question boils down to the simple issue of whether or not, someone who is struggling with obesity and its consequences, is as deserving of help and support as the person living with heart disease, diabetes, cancer or anything else.

Not only are all of these other conditions “preventable” and largely driven by lifestyle but also have complex biologies that make their management anything but easy – obesity is no different.

The only difference is that while heart disease, diabetes and cancer are widely “accepted” as “legitimate” diseases that “deserve” treatment, obesity is not.

This must change – but the only thing that will change this is when people living with obesity stand up for themselves and get “engaged”, not least in supporting organisations like the Canadian Obesity Network, with its impressive track record of tackling weight bias and promoting a better understanding of the science of obesity.

Can the Network help kickoff and support this process of patient engagement?

If not, it will not be for lack of trying.

Toronto, ON