With over 1.5 billion overweight adults worldwide (approximately one quarter of the entire world’s population), it is somewhat surprising that overweight and obesity still carries a serious stigma along with it.  This stigma has its basis in a poor understanding of the complex nature of the causes and contributing factors that are responsible for obesity – it is so much more complex that just what we eat and how much we do or don’t exercise.

In a position statement regarding the support of bariatric surgery as a treatment option for Type 2 Diabetes, the International Diabetes Federation Task Force writes:

There are widely held community attitudes that the majority of obese individuals are responsible for their current weight.  Severe obesity is too often misconstrued as a ‘cosmetic’ problem and as a result of personal failure or lack of motivation. 

However, this perspective ignores the very strong genetic and developmental bases to severe obesity compounded by physical, emotional and societal issues.  It also fails to consider the pervasive obesity promoting effects of modern societies (the ‘obesigenic environment’) where an abundant food supply, changes in food preparation, increasing sedentary behavior and other lifestyle factors mitigate against weight control for individuals.  Additionally, it ignores the emerging evidence that body weight is defended by powerful physiological mechanisms, making long term maintenance of weight loss difficult. 

In the context of treatment, negative societal attitudes have been a barrier to the provision of clinically effective, and cost-effective, health care for people with severe obesity and type 2 diabetes.  As noted earlier, obesity is a complex, multifactorial and chronic disorder with serious adverse consequences for health which requires a comprehensive approach to both prevention and treatment.  People affected by severe obesity often struggle not only with the health and physical consequences of their chronic condition, but discrimination at work, socially and within the health care system. 

In order to be able to successfully work together as a society to tackle the issue of obesity, these societal attitudes must be cast aside, such that this very serious health issue can be handled with open arms, minds, and hearts, by each and every one of us.

Dr. Sue © 2012   www.drsue.ca     drsuetalks@gmail.com

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