Weight Bias Task Force: OAC in ACTION

This morning I watched a video making fun of “fatties” shopping in a store and saw a headless, dehumanizing picture of a person with obesity accompanying a weight-loss study. And that was before I even got out of bed!

Unfortunately, weight-based bias, stigma and discrimination are everywhere in our society. People affected by obesity are ridiculed, shamed and blamed for our weight. We’re negatively stereotyped as lazy, lacking willpower and even stupid. We’re sometimes passed over for jobs and promotions or paid less than our colleagues. Healthcare providers don’t always take our symptoms seriously and instead attribute any physical problem we’re experiencing to our weight, leading to missed diagnoses. Some policy makers who believe weight is all a matter of personal responsibility and willpower refuse to take actions that would improve access to obesity care.

All these experiences can take a harsh toll on us, both emotionally and physically. Weight bias and discrimination can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and additional weight gain.  Some of us – myself included – “internalize” the stigma. We start believing what everyone says about us.  In my case, I wasn’t able to manage my weight effectively until I first addressed the emotional damage from the years of bias and discrimination I had endured.

That’s why OAC actively fights against weight bias. Along with co-chair Pandora Williams, I’m proud to be leading the fight as Chair of OAC’s new Weight Bias Task Force. The Task Force members – Dr. Scott Kahan, Ted Kyle, Nikki Massey, Jeff Newell, Melinda Watman and James Zervios, OAC’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications – are some of OAC’s most experienced advocates.

When the Task Force learns of a weight bias issue, we evaluate whether OAC can make a difference by taking responsive action. Recently, an OAC member told us about a video circulating on social media that belittled people with obesity. A doctor who meant to spark a serious discussion about obesity made the video. But it was clear from the many comments posted on social media that the video just reinforced the usual view that people with obesity eat too much unhealthy food and don’t take personal responsibility for their choices. In this instance, the Task Force decided to contact the doctor directly to discuss our concerns.

How can you help with this fight? You can start by reporting weight bias you experience or see.  We’ve launched an online reporting form that makes it easy for you to tell us about weight bias issues. Just describe what happened or what you saw. You can also attach a file and include links to any relevant online media. You can tell us your name or make the report anonymously – whatever you’re most comfortable with.

You can also help when the Task Force decides that the best response to a particular weight bias issue is to mobilize OAC’s members. When we encounter a very important weight-bias problem, we will be calling on all OAC members to raise their voices. We may ask you to make a phone call, send an e-mail or take some other action to show that we will no longer tolerate weight-based bias and discrimination.

The Task Force won’t be able to get involved in every issue reported, but we’ll provide as much support and information as we can. If we can’t take action on your particular issue, your report will help us battle weight bias by helping to identify areas where bias occurs frequently. That will help us know where to target our resources to proactively address weight bias. Together, we can find weight bias issues, and eradicate weight-based discrimination. Simply stated – weight bias needs to STOP, and this is where YOU can help!

Written by Patty Nece, JD, OAC National Board Member and Chair of the OAC Weight Bias Task Force

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