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UCLH joins pledge to end stigma of obesity

UCLH and over 100 medical and scientific organisations across the world today have called for an end to the stigma that surrounds obesity.

Patient organisations, healthcare professionals, researchers and funders are pledging to end weight-based discrimination at an event in the UCH atrium until 4pm today to mark World Obesity Day – as they raise awareness of rising rates of overweight and obesity and its complex causes.

In a paper published in Nature Medicine, a team of experts including UCLH’s Professor Rachel Batterham said people with obesity are often subjected to discrimination in education and health settings, as well as at work.

They said unscientific narratives around obesity – such as the idea that obesity is the result of a lack of self-discipline – are a major cause of this pervasive social stigma. They called on academic institutions, professional organizations, the media, public-health authorities, and governments to develop a new public narrative about obesity, coherent with modern scientific knowledge.

Professor Batterham, who is Director of the Obesity theme of the NIHR UCLH Biomedical Research Centre, said: “Weight stigma can cause both physical and psychological harm, and affected people are less likely to seek and receive adequate care from healthcare professionals. This stigma is unacceptable in modern societies.

“People with obesity are often perceived as lacking in will power and self-discipline, but research tells us that obesity has many complex causes. Current scientific evidence demonstrates that biological, genetic and environmental factors are all critical in contributing to obesity.”

Professor Francesco Rubino from King’s College London, who led the team of experts behind the paper, said: “The objective of this initiative was to gather a broad group of experts and scientific organisations and, for the first time, speak with one voice to unambiguously condemn weight stigma and expose the misconceptions that contribute to weight bias.”

Read the full paper in Nature Medicine and Pledge to Eradicate Weight Stigma.

The statement was developed through an international conference jointly organised by the World Obesity Federation, American Diabetes Association, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Association for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, Diabetes UK, European Association for the Study of Obesity, International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, Obesity Action Coalition, Obesity Canada, The Obesity Society.

Visit the World Obesity Day website.