Weight stigma or stereotyping, separation, and discrimination of people on the basis of weight has increased dramatically in recent days and is seen in media, schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings. Sizeism is the most deeply entrenched stigma and can be damaging. Many aspects of life can be affected including the mental health of the people who are facing this issue.
The misconception that body weight is easily controlled by changes in diet and physical activity level is the root cause of weight bias. Problematic social media perpetuates this misconception. People suffering from obesity are often misconstrued as lacking willpower or self-discipline. Overcoming obesity is not as simple as eating less and moving more. It is a complex disease with the interplay of many factors – Inherited, physiological, environmental, and lifestyle choices. More than 400 different genes have been implicated in the causes of overweight or obesity.
There is evidence that stigmatizing situations can cause a release of stress hormone (glucocorticoid) which inhibits inflammation and eventual development of Hypertension, Insulin resistance, Diabetes, High cholesterol, and cardiovascular events. Being made to feel bad does not motivate healthy changes to lifestyle but instead can lead to Depression, Anxiety, and eating disorders that can be real and long-lasting.
Unfortunately, jokes or disparaging comments based on someone’s weight or age are still acceptable, tolerated even in the closest of circles. Words have power – They can help people build confidence or lose confidence. It is all about using respectful language when talking about weight and equal treatment for people of all body weights and sizes.
As a society, we all have a responsibility to do better, have a weight-inclusive mindset, and work toward eliminating weight stigma. The utility of social media, a valuable tool in shaping people’s attitudes, should play a prominent role in lessening the weight stigma. Social media should help provide a space to build solidarity and reduce social isolation. People with obesity should be placed at the center of our policies and practices.