Eight of every ten people facing obesity have experienced some kind of embarrassment due to overweight, and most claim to fall victims of discrimination at least once a month.
An online survey on obesity and fatphobia covering 3,621 people—of which 88 percent were overweight—reveals that, for 72 percent of respondents, the family environment is the most hostile when it comes to shaming episodes linked to their weight.
Conducted in February this year by the Brazilian Society of Endocrinology and Metabology (SBEM) and the Brazilian Association for the Study of Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome (Abeso), the survey identified that, after the family environment, the places where people with obesity are faced with most prejudice are stores and commercial establishments in general (65.5%), followed by situations of discrimination at the doctor’s office (60.4%) and at the workplace (50.7%).
Endocrinologist Maria Edna de Melo, coordinator at SBEM, said shame and prejudice do not only affect obese people. “Almost 70 percent of overweight people already report weight-related body-shaming. And, as the degree of obesity increases, this becomes more frequent.”
Most striking in the survey, she noted, was the fact that the place where prejudice is most prevalent is the patient’s own home. “Even though there are embarrassment situations at school and work, it is at home that prejudice is most frequent. When we talk to patients on a daily basis, this becomes very clear.”
Official data indicate that overweight affects more than 60 percent of Brazilians, and about 20 percent of adults in the country are obese.
To minimize the impact of this disease on the health of Brazilians, the endocrinologist advocates for the expansion of knowledge about the subject as well as the appropriate care.
“People need to perceive obesity as a disease and understand it’s not a choice, that obese people are trying to improve their diet and their health every day. For obese people, this is usually the routine. If it were not a disease, it’d be easy. But it is. It can be really difficult to curb one’s craving for food, because there’s food everywhere,” she said.
She also emphasized the complexity of the problem and the need to respect people with this condition. According to the specialist, people have a very narrow view when it comes to obesity. “Everyone thinks all you have to do is close your mouth and go for a walk, and people sometimes are convinced they know everything about the subject. People are not humble enough to educate themselves and show empathy to understand it’s not a personal flaw, nor is it a lack of willingness,” she declared.
The survey also shows that the higher the degree of obesity, the more often people struggle with body-shaming daily: 27 percent of people with class-3 obesity reported being shamed every day. “For some people, this happens on a daily basis. This is very bad, because it makes obesity worse. They get stressed, anxious, and end up eating more”—not to mention the genetic factor, she pointed out.
In the context of September 10—which marks the fight against fatphobia—the endocrinologist underscored the need for respect. “We can help with empathy. It’s no use just not being fatphobic. You have to actively fight discrimination,” she added.
To Maria Edna de Melo’s judgment, prejudice can be one of the factors making obesity worse. Almost 30 percent of overweight people say they believe they are to blame for the condition and do not seek professional help.
“In reality, obesity is a disease that’s influenced by a number of factors, such as genetics, lifestyle, stress, associated diseases, some drug treatments, and the type of diet that person follows. It’s not an individual choice, but rather the result of a combination of factors,” she pointed out.
The survey also shows that 81 percent of obese people have tried to lose weight in some way, and 68 percent did it with specialized help—from doctors, nutritionists, or other health specialists—and 32 percent did it on their own.
Of those who tried it on their own, more than half (63%) resorted to a combination of diet and exercise. Of the respondents who stated they had tried to lose weight on their own, at least 18 percent declared they had used medication without medical follow-up and resorted to risky devices—such as shakes as meal replacements, products, or medications sold online, herbal remedies, and teas.
In her view, these numbers show that people are still resistant to seeking specialized help. However, she argued, obesity, like any other disease, requires treatment.
The survey found that only 13 percent of people sought help to lose weight in the country’s national public health care network SUS, and 62 percent of them stated they did not feel comfortable and welcome, which was the case more frequently for those with a higher degree of obesity.
“This casts light on yet another alarming fact, which is the prejudice that the obese person experiences when seeking medical help. We need more well-prepared professionals meeting this demand,” the endocrinologist warned.
A person is diagnosed as obese when their body mass index stands at 30 kg/m² or higher. The normal range is 18.5 through 24.9 kg/m². The index is calculated by dividing one’s weight (in kilograms) by one’s height squared (in meters).
Source: Agência Brasil