Weight stigma and discrimination are more prevalent than discrimination due to sexual orientation, gender or ethnic background, new research shows

The World Obesity Federation is calling for an end to weight discrimination to improve the life chances of people with obesity around the world.

The figures, released to coincide with World Obesity Day on October 11, reveals that people with obesity are viewed negatively because of their weight and are likely to be victims of discrimination because they are overweight.

The findings from adults in Brazil, South Africa and the UK show that people with obesity experience stigma and discrimination across all aspects of their lives, including in clothes shops, health settings and at the gym.

The impact of weight stigma and discrimination is far-reaching, says the Federation: it can damage career prospects and reverse efforts to tackle obesity.

Stigma also has physical and mental health consequences, having been found to deter people from seeking medical care and can lead to social isolation, it says.

The Foundation’s research has also highlighted the prevalence of negative images used in the media when reporting on obesity.

It has launched a Twitter account, @endweightstigma, and hashtag, #endweightstigma, to highlight examples of discrimination, or of good practices by businesses, institutions or individuals.

“Weight discrimination is rife across the world,” says Johanna Ralston, chief executive of the World Obesity Federation.

“People are being blamed for obesity, but decades of public health research show that obesity is complex and there are multiple causes.

“Despite this, society at large continues to treat people with obesity unfairly. Stigmatising obesity undermines people’s health and makes it harder to seek support. It’s time this ended.

“This World Obesity Day we’re calling on the media to reshape the narrative around obesity and for social media companies to clamp down on weight abuse online.

“Changing the narrative around diseases and conditions can transform public perceptions and improve quality of life and outcomes for patients. 

“As obesity rates continue to rise, we’re also appealing to the medical education authorities and providers to improve specialist education in medical schools, as people with obesity are often dismissed by their healthcare professional because of their weight without being properly diagnosed.”