Whenever we see fat people, our first impression is they are lazy, lack discipline, or that they lead an unhealthy lifestyle. The healthcare system has approached obesity with the same sort of stigma and bias. Recently, in Canada, the health care system is taking steps to address this stigma and improve healthcare conditions for all people, regardless of their weight.
More Than a Weight Problem
The problem with the healthcare industry bringing in social biases about fatness is that patients are being treated like they are the problem. Dehumanizing treatment of fat people is not allowing them to get the help they need (and I’m not just talking about getting help for weight loss). A Health Psychologist and Behavioral expert, Dr. Michael Vallis, states, “First of all, Obesity is not weight. And Obesity Management is not weight loss. Obesity is a legitimate medical problem associated with the kind of society we have developed, and we have lived in in the last fifty years.”
Fatness Does Not Equal Health
Obesity Canada founder Dr. Arya M. Sharma told 680 CJOB “There are a lot of people who may not like their large bodies because we live in a fatphobic society where people who live in large bodies are generally looked down upon…but they might not necessarily have health problems that can be fixed by losing weight.” You can be healthy and fat. As a society, we need to learn to appreciate improvements in health regardless of weight status. Health should not be about how much weight a person can lose or how fast a person can lose weight, but about improving health and well-being.
Looking at Individual Health
As the new Canadian Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) expound, obesity can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer. Food choices of the patient are not the only factor. It is also a genetic, mental, physical, and societal issue where weight bias and stigma are active. It’s not just about weight, which is why medical professionals need to look at individual health, personal medical history, and experiences before making conclusions about patients.
At the end of the day, regardless if someone chooses “health” or not (fat or thin), we need to respect that their lifestyle choices are personal. Being unhealthy does not make you a bad person who is unworthy of respect, love, and life.
New Guidelines in Canada
The Adult Obesity Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPD) released these patient-centric recommendations:
- Open Discussion: Make the patient feel comfortable and destigmatize weight stigma. Their issues may have nothing to do with their weight,
- Listen: There are several factors that contribute to being fat including genetics. Healthcare workers need to understand patients’ complete history before making any diagnosis (especially if it is tied to weight loss).
- Give Options: Lay down all the treatment options and interventions.
- Set goals: With realistic expectations, agree on a treatment plan in which the patient is comfortable (if necessary at all).
Even with this extensive review on obesity, reducing the stigma and weight bias starts with us. After years of research, the guidelines look promising towards a healthier and happier world. But leaving this to our healthcare is not enough. We all must be active participants when we encounter people facing weight stigma; we must fight it.
What do you think of the new guidelines?