Weight bias has harmed people with obesity for decades throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. But new research from the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) suggests that explicit weight bias may be declining in the U.S. OAC National Board Member Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, presented these findings at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO) 2020, held online this year.
**Explicit weight bias means that it is intentional and conscious, compared to implicit bias which occurs unconsciously and often automatically without thought. **
About the Research
Kyle and his team anonymously surveyed 6,082 adults in the U.S. and the UK in 2017 and 2020 regarding their beliefs about obesity and the people who have it. Their research found that among U.S. respondents, there was a significant rise in the belief that obesity is a problem because people are getting blamed for this disease instead of getting the medical help they need.
- In 2017, 30% of U.S. adults and 31% of UK adults agreed with this.
- In 2020, the number for U.S. adults rose to 42% and the number for UK adults unfortunately did not change.
As a result, more people in the U.S. than in the UK now agree that obesity is a medical problem and that patients should be able to get help with managing their weight if they want or need it.
In the U.S., respondents who agree that obesity is a person’s fault fell six percentage points, from 31% to 25%. The change in the UK was only four points, from 34% to 30%. Looking at the reverse of this question, roughly half (49%) of people in the UK reject the idea that obesity is not the fault of the people who have it. In the U.S., people are significantly more open to the idea.
Putting it All Together
Taken together, this data suggests that explicit weight bias and blaming people for obesity may be declining in the U.S. and that recognizing the need for medical help may be increasing. However, these changes are not evident in the UK.
“It’s encouraging to see explicit weight bias trend downward in the U.S. Unfortunately, we know from other research that implicit, unspoken, and systematic bias that people with obesity face every day is still very strong,” said Kyle.
“We’ve studied weight bias across continents for more than 5 years, and in that time, we have seen public opinion and attitudes shift regarding obesity and the people who have it. This research is invaluable because addressing obesity on a global scale must start with reducing weight bias,” Kyle explained.
“We know that there is no easy fix to stop weight bias,” said Joe Nadglowski, OAC President and CEO. “The OAC addresses this critical societal issue on many fronts and will debut a campaign later this year to raise awareness of weight bias and how it impacts people with obesity.”