More than 71 percent of adult Americans in the United States are overweight or obese (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). A everyday occurrence for millions of these individuals is weight-based prejudice. Frequently, prejudices, such as weight bias, are predicated on assumptions. As a health and fitness professional, you are likely to interact with individuals who have been exposed to weight prejudice and discrimination. Before digging deeper into the topic of weight bias, you may find the following definitions helpful:
- The term “stereotype” refers to an exaggerated opinion of a person or group. Frequently, preconceptions originate from media portrayals or reputations that have been passed down via my family, my friends, and other members of society. Positive and negative generalizations may be classified as stereotypes, although even positive generalizations can be harmful.
A biased or prejudiced viewpoint or attitude applies to a group or a member of that group.
People are discriminated against when they are treated unequally based on their membership in a certain group as a result of particular behaviors or actions. The establishment of negative beliefs and prejudices is often the genesis of discriminatory behavior.
A negative attitude, assumption, or judgement regarding a person’s weight that is based on their overweight or obesity is an example of weight prejudice.
The Consequences of Weight Discrimination in Contemporary Society
There are several negative consequences related with weight bias. The stigmatization of a person’s weight has been linked to discrimination in job and advancement opportunities, which may ultimately reduce that individual’s earning potential. This is especially important for women to remember. In addition, it has been shown that weight bias may severely affect the quality of care delivered to obese patients, leading to worse health outcomes and an increased risk of mortality. Internalized weight bias may lead to a poor body image, low self-esteem, compulsive eating, avoidance of physical activity, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideation (Friedman and Puhl, 2012).
Weight bias appears in a variety of settings, including the workplace, the school, and even the healthcare system. According to the conclusions of a research published by the World Health Organization (2017),
- 54% of obese individuals indicate that coworkers have made unpleasant remarks about their weight.
69% of obese persons report being treated differently by healthcare professionals due to their weight.
Children of school age who are obese are 63 percent more likely to be bullied than children of the same age who are not obese.
72% of media images are stigmatizing towards persons affected by obesity.
As with other types of prejudice and discrimination, ignorance and erroneous assumptions often contribute to weight prejudice (based on factors such as ethnicity, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc.). The states of overweight and obesity are caused by a complex interaction of behavioral, biological, social, and environmental factors. In contrast, the narratives we tell ourselves about overweight and obesity are often oversimplified. How many times have you heard the statement “Eat less and exercise more” in various forms? There are probably too many to count. Despite being designed with the best of intentions, these messages have the potential to be counterproductive because they do not address the difficult process of behavior change or the many factors connected with overweight and obesity.
Weight Discrimination Elimination Efforts in Health and Fitness Settings
The weight stigma has far-reaching consequences. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, researchers observed 46 people with a mean body mass index of 30.52 for 14 days. During the course of the experiment, participants reported meeting an average of eleven instances of weight bias. The research lasted two weeks. Additionally, the frequency with which study participants encountered weight bias affected their desire to diet, exercise, and make other lifestyle adjustments (Vatinian, Pinks and Smyth, 2018).
Unfortunately, areas dedicated to health and fitness are prone to the stigma of fat just as much as other types of workplaces. What actions can you take as a professional in the health and fitness sector to prevent weight bias? Here are some recommendations that may assist you in launching your project:
- Examine your own preconceived notions and biases. Do I base my assessment of a person’s level of fitness just on their weight or size, regardless of any other information about them? Am I prone to confound being thin with being healthy, and being overweight with being unhealthy? It is vital to remember that bias does not necessarily operate on a conscious or explicit level. In actuality, our unconscious attitudes may predict our behavior more accurately than our conscious thoughts and attitudes ever could. We are fortunate in that once we become aware of our own biases, we may take steps to rectify them. This article has extra information regarding unconscious bias.
- Establish physical activity zones that emphasize behavior rather than body size or weight. Your clients should be aware of the most current Physical Activity Guidelines, and you should support them in establishing objectives that are behavior and action-oriented (for example, “I will attend two group exercise classes this week,” or “I will aim to get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity this week”). It is not inappropriate for a client to desire to reduce weight, but if that is their main objective, they are setting themselves up for failure. Even if a client aiming to reduce weight reaches a plateau in their progress, it is still feasible to recognize their behavioral goals. As an example, one may remark, “You didn’t miss a single workout this week!” When we emphasize the client’s behavior, even if they do not accomplish their short-term weight-loss goals, they are more likely to feel successful.
- Assist your clients in achieving their objectives by establishing effective exercise programmed for them. When interacting with people who suffer from overweight and obesity, it is crucial to avoid from making snap judgments. In addition, it is essential to be aware of (and, if required, provide) adaptations for high-impact activities, resistance exercises, and any other types of exercise that may place undue stress on the joints.