Many fatal diseases are associated with increased obesity-related risk factors. Losing weight is one way for obese individuals to reduce risk. Unfortunately, some individuals may suffer from “fatphobia,” which can lead to a variety of extremely unhealthy behaviors. These conditions can result in additional physical and mental health issues.
According to the Boston Medical Center, fatphobia is an implicit and explicit prejudice against overweight people that is rooted in guilt and perceived as a moral failing. Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RD, LDN, a certified intuitive eating counselor and dietitian for moms at Sarah Gold Nutrition, LLC, tells Eat This, Not That! that the anti-fat syndrome is an internalized fear of obesity that can manifest in various ways.
Therefore, a fatphobe is not someone who fears becoming overweight. Rather, the term implies that they may be prejudiced against people who appear to have a greater amount of body fat than is considered acceptable. This threshold is also highly subjective.
Anzlovar added, “Simply put, fatphobia is humiliating or intimidating.” While it can often appear subtle, someone commenting on how certain clothes make you look thinner or praising your weight loss are examples of subtle compliments.
Unfortunately, people’s negative feelings about obesity affect more than just those who hold these beliefs. Fatphobia can have significant negative effects on many members of our society, as it is strongly linked to weight prejudice.
According to dietitian Christine Byrne, RDN, who specializes in eating disorders, the weight bias is a prejudice against obese people. Some believe that being overweight is a moral failing or a lack of personal responsibility. The negative belief that obese people are slothful, irresponsible, and lack self-discipline has been adopted by contemporary society. Despite the fact that genetic, socioeconomic, and environmental factors all contribute to the onset of obesity.
In fact, the findings of a review and meta-analysis published in the journal Obesity indicate that even healthcare professionals exhibit an implicit bias regarding weight. A significant number of medical doctors, nurses, dieticians, psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, podiatrists, and exercise physiologists have an implicit and/or explicit weight bias against individuals perceived as obese.
Reportedly, the stigma associated with weight gain has increased by two-thirds over the past decade, which is a cause for concern. And research has demonstrated that weight stigma has negative physical and psychological health effects on this population.
“Because of this inherent bias, only 10 percent of people with obesity seek medical treatment,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStartingYou.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. “This leaves the remainder to seek self-care, often in the form of fad diets and weight loss scams promoted by ‘influencers’ with no training in the care and treatment of obese individuals.”
Bryne added that being stigmatized repeatedly for being overweight can increase an individual’s overall stress and decrease their quality of life.
Scale weight is not the only indicator of health.
Harris-Pincus argues that using body mass index (BMI) alone is flawed. Because this measurement is based on 1930s and 1940s Met Life insurance tables. It is not based on science and does not account for racial/ethnic, gender, or body type/composition differences.
Byrne remarked that BMI was never intended to be a health indicator, but the medical system uses it as such. This is problematic because it places an excessive emphasis on the connection between weight and health.
Beyond the fact that BMI does not differentiate between fat and muscle weight, BMI provides no information regarding the health of a person’s internal organs. Thin people are in poor health, whereas obese people can have a healthy body.
Byrne and Harris-Pincus concur that other health metrics can provide an accurate picture of an individual’s health and should be considered. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels are examples of health indicators that do not account for a person’s weight.
Byrne adds that other determinants of health, such as access to health care, access to fresh food, social connectedness, a good environment, lack of stress, sleep quality, and overall genetics, also play a significant role in determining an individual’s health.