Toronto Charter on Obesity and Mental Health

Yesterday, the Canadian Obesity Network in partnership with the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO) and the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH) officially released the 2012 Toronto Charter on Obesity and Mental Health, which reads as follows:


1. Both people with obesity and mental illness experience bias and stigmatization.

2. People with enduring mental health problems are two to three times more likely to develop obesity and related disorders like diabetes and heart disease than the general population.

3. Conversely, obesity can negatively affect mental health.

4. Shared societal, environmental and/or biological drivers are implicated in this frequent association of mental illness and obesity.

5. This frequent association has a large impact on the length and quality of peoples’ lives and leads to enormous costs for society.

Call to Action

The organizers and attendees of the Hot Topic Conference on Obesity and Mental Health, Toronto, June 26-28, 2012 declare and support this Charter and call on all stakeholders, including policy makers, health care professionals, service users and their families and caregivers, to join in the effort to reduce the negative consequences associated with obesity and mental illness by:

Enabling Change through Policy

1. Prevention of mental illness and weight-related disorders should be an important component of public health goals and measures.

2. Policies must recognize the links of both conditions to socioeconomic, cultural, gender and other determinants of health.

3. Public health policies and interventions must reflect the complex interplay between mental health and obesity without marginalizing and stigmatizing persons with obesity and/or mental illness.

4. Policy makers must ensure that individuals with mental health problems have equitable access to evidence-based obesity prevention and treatment. They should also ensure that individuals with obesity have equitable access to appropriate mental health services to address drivers and consequences of obesity.

5. Health systems need to ensure adequate capacity, infrastructure and program support, including education for health care professionals, caregivers, families and service users, to empower them to address these issues.

6. Policy makers should establish and ensure standards for responsible media coverage of obesity prevention and management and the promotion of healthy body image, including establishing standards for advertising and promotion of weight loss practices.

The Role of Health Professionals

7. A cultural shift is needed to foster respect, understanding and a non-judgmental attitude towards persons with mental health problems and/or obesity.

8. All health practitioners, particularly those involved in mental health care, must be trained and resourced to recognize and address the bidirectional association between mental health and body weight and to prevent excessive weight gain, including that associated with the use of psychiatric medications.

9. All health practitioners, particularly those involved in weight management and its consequences must monitor and consider mental health, as well potential unintended adverse consequences of interventions.

10. The primary care setting is ideally positioned to provide a holistic and family orientated approach to address these associated health problems.

11. All health professionals should collaborate across disciplines, services and sectors to ensure that the close links between obesity and mental health are recognized and addressed.

Expanding and Disseminating Knowledge

12. Greater investments must be made in research to understand the causes, consequences and costs of combined mental illness and obesity, and on the most effective ways to prevent and manage them.

13. Researchers must recognize and address the potential confounding role of mental illness in obesity research and of obesity in mental health research.

14. Existing knowledge on the links between mental health and obesity must be synthesized and developed into practical resources, accessible to the medical community, educators, patients, their families, and other caregivers.

I sincerely hope that this Charter will receive wide attention and consideration by policy and decision makers and be taken to heart by all involved in the care of individuals with obesity and/or mental illness.

Please indicate your support for this Charter by distributing this post and/or the actual Charter (available here) to as wide an audience as possible.

All comments appreciated.

Edmonton, Alberta