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Campaign to end the stigma of obesity


A campaign has begun to end the stigma of obesity as research reveals prejudice about body weight is the UK's most common form of discrimination.

In a survey was carried out to coincide with World Obesity Day, with four out of five of those questioned believing people are viewed negatively if they are overweight.

Image: Maggie Clinton says she has been discriminated against throughout her life because of her weight

Maggie Clinton, now aged 65, has suffered discrimination since childhood when she was even picked on by a teacher and it got no better when she entered the world of work as a nurse and later a senior lecturer in paediatrics.

"On one occasion I was told I had to go and buy my own uniform – that they didn't have one to fit me – and I felt completely demoralised and terribly, terribly upset," she said.

"On another occasion, I was asked by HR if I would agree to have a clause put in my contract to say that if I had sickness that was directly related to my weight my employer would not necessarily pay me sick leave… that was shocking… shocking."

The #endweightstigma campaign aims to 'reshape the narrative around obesity'
Image: The #endweightstigma campaign aims to 'reshape the narrative around obesity'

But Maggie is far from alone.

More than a 1,000 obese adults were asked about their experiences in the survey by the World Obesity Federation and 45% said they had felt judged when going to hospitals and the doctors, 32% had the same experience at the gym with 31% feeling judged at work.

In another question, nearly two thirds of people (62%) said they thought those who were overweight were likely to face discrimination, compared to 60% due to their ethnic background and 56% for their sexual orientation.

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Dr Stuart Flint, a psychologist with a focus on the psycho-social effects of obesity, says it is easy for people to point the finger but that for many, losing weight is far tougher than simply exercising more and eating less.

"We know there are over 100 different factors that contribute to overweight and obesity and it's time the public were really given the information they deserve… that obesity is complex… it's not simple," he said.

Susie Birney lost 13 stone after she had a gastric band fitted
Image: Susie Birney lost 13 stone after she had a gastric band fitted

Susie Birney was about to lose her sight due to diabetes when she had gastric bypass surgery and lost 13 stone.

Even at her heaviest, she was fit enough to swim a mile but spent most of her time hiding at home. The answer, she says, is to educate the public.

"People looking at you confirm what you felt about yourself. You didn't want that reminder that you didn't like yourself very much… that it was your fault.

"The more patients speak out the more people will understand."

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More from Obesity

Johanna Ralston, Chief Executive of the World Obesity Federation says the media has job to do "to reshape the narrative around obesity" with a campaign called #endweightstigma being launched.

"Changing the narrative around diseases and conditions can transform public perceptions and improve quality of life and outcomes for patients," she said.

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