Stigma is defined as a sign of social disgrace or discredit that sets a person apart from others. It most often pertains to a person’s appearance, which for the person living with obesity is almost impossible to hide.
Stigma is systematic and pervasive for Australians living with obesity and the conditions it causes. Stigma is generated by the stereotypes, misconceptions, and myths about the causes, prevention, and management of obesity that is propagated by a lack of understanding of the complex mechanisms underpinning both weight-gain and the difficulty of achieving and maintaining weight-loss.
This stigma leads to bias and discrimination that infiltrates all areas of Australian society including our health care professionals. It likely leads people with obesity to assume complete responsibility for their own weight-loss and likely prevents them from seeking timely help from a health care professional. Addressing obesity stigma, both explicit and implicit, is the greatest challenge to effectively preventing and managing obesity.
Shaming and blaming has not, and will not, work. As a society we must change our approach to addressing this chronic disease that is present in an ever increasing number of Australians.