As Canadians, we are quite proud of our very accepting, non-discrimatory nature. Canada is a melting pot by definition; our culture is defined by the richness and diversity that springs from the assimilation of thousands of cultures from around the world into one country. Many other nations around the world are also very accepting and appreciative of people from diverse backgrounds. Regardless of where in the world you live, stop and ask yourself for a moment – are people as accepting of overweight individuals as they are of indivicuals of a different color, racial, or ethnic background?

Studies have shown that the answer overall is no. As reported by Rebecca Puhl and Chelsea Heuer in the medical journals Obesity and the American Journal of Public Health, obesity discrimination is not just a problem of kids teasing each at school. The problem is rampant in the adult world as well, with 25% of people reporting job discrimination due to weight issues. The majority of overweight adults report weight stigma from colleagues, and nearly half report discrimination on the part of their seniors in the workplace.

Sadly, health care professionals – where the overweight individual should feel they can safely turn for help – are no exception. Several studies have demonstrated that the majority of health care professionals feel that overweight patients are at fault for their weight struggles, and that they lack motivation. Over half of overweight women report receiving inappropriate comments about their weight from their doctors. A somewhat more subtle form of discrimination occurs when an overweight patient is made to feel distinctly uncomfortable at their physician’s office, due to lack of equipment (blood pressure monitors, chairs, etc) that can accomodate the patient’s size.

It is high time that we as a society (and as a health care profession!) make some drastic changes to these attitudes. Medical professionals should make a point of making all patients feel comfortable, welcome, and accepted in the clinic or hospital environment. From a societal perspective, rather than spending energy on negative endeavors or rude remarks that make overweight people feel badly about themselves, let’s generate some positive energy together, and focus on building a happier, healthier, more supportive society!

As discussed in a recent issue of the Canadian Obesity Network’s Conduit magazine.

Dr. Sue © 2010