Researchers are using World Obesity Day today to call for an end to the stigma which fat people experience in their daily lives.

Health and education researchers from the University of Otago, Victoria University and Massey University have joined forces to raise awareness of the issue.

Lesley Gray, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Primary Healthcare and General Practice at the University of Otago, Wellington; Dr Cat Pausé, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Education, Massey University; and Dr Caz Hales, a Lecturer in the Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at Victoria University of Wellington say the bias, discrimination and stigma that fat people experience across all aspects of their lives harms their health.

“Fat discrimination is pervasive across media, employment, health and school environments,” Lesley Gray says. “We must each play our part to call out discrimination and bias.”

The researchers say the government should pass legislation to make it illegal to discriminate against fat people. In the classroom, teachers need to ensure that stigma against fat people is not reinforced by course materials and in lessons about bodies and health.

Dr Pausé says “fat stigma contributes to decreased physical and mental well-being for fat people and presents a barrier for fat people to access evidence-based, bias-free healthcare”.

The media also has an important role to play when it comes to fat stigma, the researchers say, with stories often containing negative stereotypes about fat people.

Ms Gray says “the image of the headless fatty, a fat person without a head, that often accompanies stories related to fatness, reproduces fat stigma. It allows the reader to consider fat people to be less than human.”

Dr Pausé adds “the media also has a responsibility to tell stories that do not focus on fatness as a problem. Where are the positive stories about fat athletes or CEOs?”

In April, the researchers held a seminar at Otago University, Wellington to educate health and social care professionals on the stigma that fat people face.

Dr Hales says healthcare workers are in a prime position to advocate for people of larger size who require care and support.

World Obesity Day was launched in 2015 to support practical solutions to help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight and to reverse the obesity crisis. This year it is dedicated to raising awareness of weight stigma.

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