26 November 2020

Shift in language to help reduce obesity stigma

Health communicators in Western Australia are being urged to reset their language when talking about obesity.

Shift. A guide for media and communications professionals is a new communications tool which aims to change the narrative on obesity.

The guide is just one of a series of strategies in the WA Healthy Weight Action Plan 2019-24 – designed to improve the early intervention and management of overweight and obesity in WA.

WA Health’s Acting Director Health Networks, Kate Baxter said research showed that people were three times more likely to remain living with obesity if they experienced weight stigma.

“We need to change how we talk about weight to reduce stigmatisation of obesity and support people living with overweight to engage with their health providers,” she said.

“Media, communications and health promotion professionals are in a unique position to help reframe the public’s perception about obesity.”

Ms Baxter said weight stigma had been linked to health care and exercise avoidance and binge eating behaviours.

“This contributes to poor metabolic health and further weight gain as well as increased psychological distress including depression, anxiety, loneliness and lower self-esteem,” she said.

Seventy per cent of adults and nearly one-quarter of children in Western Australia are above a healthy weight. Adult obesity – classed as a body mass index of 30 or over – has risen steadily from 21 per cent of adults above a healthy weight in 2002, to 32 per cent in 2018.

Excess body mass increases the risk of many chronic conditions including heart disease, mental health conditions, diabetes and several types of cancer.

“We hope that by promoting the use of respectful, positive language and imagery in communications, media, marketing and health information, people living with obesity and overweight will be more confident to better engage with health or social care professionals – leading to improved health and wellbeing outcomes,” said Ms Baxter.

The WA Healthy Weight Action Plan 2019-2024 is the result of collaboration between WA health, WA Primary Health Alliance and Health Consumers’ Council.


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