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The Stigma of Obesity

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2012

With over 1.5 billion overweight adults worldwide (approximately one quarter of the entire world's population), it is somewhat surprising that overweight and obesity still carries a serious stigma along with it.  This stigma has its basis in a poor understanding of the complex nature of the causes and contributing factors that are responsible for obesity - it is so much more complex that just what we eat and how much we do or don't exercise.

In a position statement regarding the support of bariatric surgery as a treatment option for Type 2 Diabetes, the International Diabetes Federation Task Force writes:

There are widely held community attitudes that the majority of obese individuals are responsible for their current weight.  Severe obesity is too often misconstrued as a 'cosmetic' problem and as a result of personal failure or lack of motivation. 

However, this perspective ignores the very strong genetic and developmental bases to severe obesity compounded by physical, emotional and societal issues.  It also fails to consider the pervasive obesity promoting effects of modern societies (the 'obesigenic environment') where an abundant food supply, changes in food preparation, increasing sedentary behavior and other lifestyle factors mitigate against weight control for individuals.  Additionally, it ignores the emerging evidence that body weight is defended by powerful physiological mechanisms, making long term maintenance of weight loss difficult. 

In the context of treatment, negative societal attitudes have been a barrier to the provision of clinically effective, and cost-effective, health care for people with severe obesity and type 2 diabetes.  As noted earlier, obesity is a complex, multifactorial and chronic disorder with serious adverse consequences for health which requires a comprehensive approach to both prevention and treatment.  People affected by severe obesity often struggle not only with the health and physical consequences of their chronic condition, but discrimination at work, socially and within the health care system. 

In order to be able to successfully work together as a society to tackle the issue of obesity, these societal attitudes must be cast aside, such that this very serious health issue can be handled with open arms, minds, and hearts, by each and every one of us.

Dr. Sue © 2012

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Anonymous October 16, 2012 at 7:47 AM  

Good to see. The only thing I would take minor issue with is "obesity is a complex, multifactorial and chronic disorder with serious adverse consequences for health." Yes, it can be, but there are also many metabolically healthy overweight and obese (by BMI) people out there. It should not be considered an automatic. One of the first thing that needs to be assessed in a medical setting is whether weight is actually a problem. It is frustrating to be treated as a walking diabetes time bomb.

Dr. Sue Pedersen October 16, 2012 at 8:04 AM  

Thanks for your comment! I agree that the IDF should have incorporated these thoughts - for example, using a staging algorithm such as the Edmonton Obesity Staging System which can be found here:


I am excited that you have arrived at my site, and I hope you are too - consider this the first step towards a Healthier New You!! As a medical doctor, Endocrinologist, and obesity specialist, I am absolutely passionate about helping people with weight management. Though there is certainly no magic cure for obesity, there IS a successful treatment plan out there for you - it is all about understanding the elements that contribute to your personal weight struggle, and then finding the treatment plan that suits your needs and your lifestyle. The way to finding your personal solution is to learn as much as you can about obesity: how our toxic environment has shaped us into an overweight society; the diversity of contributors to obesity; and what the treatment options out there are really all about. Knowledge Is Power!!

Are you ready to change your life? Let's begin our journey together, towards a healthier, happier you!!

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