How do you feel about people who are overweight, what are your perceptions of the person who is carrying noticeable amounts of fat mass? What about the person who has high amounts of visceral fat i.e. fat surrounding ones organs, how do you feel towards those people? Someone with large amounts of dangerous visceral fat are at as much risk of health problems and mortality as those with fat on the outside, but there is no stigma attached to them.
So should our attitude change?
Well according to a report conducted by researchers from University College London, the ‘language of blame’ used towards overweight people is what is causing most damage. Overtly overweight people are all too often treated disrespectfully, and it doesn’t help their cause, yes, the image above is extremely derogatory and hurtful to many and the purpose of it is merely to demonstrate a point. The adage ‘being cruel to be kind’ may well work for a person with a dangling bogey coming from their nose, you’ll embarrass them for harmless moment, but save them torment over the rest of the day. It seems this adage does not hold true for overweight people, and this is research evidence based. A large majority of overweight people become overweight through comfort eating, an anomaly that sees people turn to food to make them feel better. A tactful and skilled person will be able to offer support and assistance to an overweight person that will empower them, NOT blame them for their condition (which is considered a disease according to current evidence).
The study that assessed 2,944 people over 4 years found that those who experienced weight discrimination gained more weight than those who did not. Doctor Sarah Jackson explains it well:
“Most people who are overweight are aware of it already and don’t need it pointed out to them. Telling them they are fat isn’t going to help - it is just going to make them feel worse.
“There are lots of different causes of obesity, yet a lot of blame just seems to be on individuals and a lack of will power. Raising awareness of some of the factors involved might make it easier not to blame people.”
One of the best ways to encourage somebody to make a change to their lifestyle i.e. physical activity levels and diet is to demonstrate empathy and understanding…note I don’t say sympathy! If you sympathise and pander to someone they will feed from it and probably start to feel sorry for themselves. A great way to be is to talk WITH the person and not AT them, a two way conversation is key to them, they need to be heard and we need to listen and support.
Jackson, S, E., Beeken, R, J, & Wardle, J. (2014). Perceived Weight Discrimination and Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference, and Weight Status. Obesity. Press release, University College London (UCL). Retrieved 15th September, 2014, from http://www.webmd.boots.com/diet/news/20140912/fat-shaming
The Telegraph, (2014). Fat shaming 'makes people eat more rather than less'. Retrieved 15th September, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11086483/Fat-shaming-makes-people-eat-more-rather-than-less.html