Tampa, Fla. – 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 suggests that explicit weight bias may be declining in the U.S. Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, weight bias expert and OAC National Board member, presented these new insights at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020), held online this year.

Kyle and his team anonymously surveyed 6,082 adults in the U.S. and the U.K. in 2017 and 2020 regarding their beliefs about obesity and the people who have it.

They found a significant rise in the belief among U.S. respondents that obesity is a problem because people receive blame for this disease instead of getting the medical help they need. In 2017, 30% of U.S. adults agreed with this and in 2020, that number rose to 42% (p=0.001). But among U.K. respondents, agreement with that idea was 31% in 2017 and it did not change in 2020. As a result, more people in the U.S. than in the U.K. now agree that obesity is a medical problem (p=0.002).

In the U.S., respondents who agree that obesity is the fault of a person with obesity fell six percentage points, from 31% to 25%. The change in the U.K. was only four points, from 34% to 30%. Looking at the reverse of this question, roughly half (49%) of people in the U.K. 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 this idea (p=0.007).

Taken together, these data suggest that explicit bias, blaming people with obesity for their condition, may be declining in the U.S. and that recognizing the need for medical help with obesity may be increasing. However, these changes are not evident in the U.K.

“It’s encouraging to see explicit weight bias trend downward in the U.S. Unfortunately, we know from other research that the 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 five 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,” he 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.” Understanding and eradicating weight bias is a key part of the mission of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization with more than 75,000 members nationwide.

To view the research poster presented at ECOICO 2020 on this topic, please click here.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a more than 75,000 member-strong National nonprofit organization, is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals affected by the disease of obesity through education, advocacy and support.