“End Weight Hate” for Every Body

September 28th through October 2nd is Weight Stigma Awareness Week

MERCERVILLE - Stephen O'Rahilly, MBE, Director of the Metabolic Diseases Unit at Cambridge University and one of the world's leading obesity researchers, contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) in July. He stated that he was hospitalized in a high-intensity care unit and struggled to breathe. O'Rahilly added that his body mass index and weight were the reasons why he became more ill than others who have contracted COVID-19. While there is a link between obesity and COVID-19 complications, there is another aspect of body weight that might also be harmful to people during the pandemic. According to research from the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the University of Minnesota, young adults who experienced weight stigma before the pandemic have higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms and are using eating as a coping strategy and are more likely to binge-eat compared to those who did not experience weight stigma. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) defines weight stigma, also known as weight bias or weight discrimination, as discrimination or stereotyping based on a person's size. NEDA adds that weight stigma can also manifest as "fat-phobia", which is the dislike or fear of being or becoming overweight.

Weight stigma is a common underlying cause of eating disorders. Overlook Medical Center, a NJAMHAA member that offers eating disorder treatment services, explains that those who experience weight shaming can begin overly restrictive diets that are typically unsuccessful and that can lead to binging. An individual experiencing weight stigma can also feel alienation, a sense that they are defective, isolation and humiliation. Overlook Medical Center further states that this can damage a person's self-esteem, mental health and physical health. Those who are bullied or isolated because of their size are likely to experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and purging disorder.

"While there are many factors which contribute to the development of an eating disorder and each individual's journey is unique, weight stigma seems to be present in the story of nearly every child and adolescent we see at the eating disorders program. It often comes from a variety of sources, from the media kids consume to peers and even family. Sometimes direct comments are made to the kids, whether with good or bad intentions, and other times the kids see weight stigma play out in front of them in the interactions others have. Erasing this stigma is often one of the most challenging aspects of treating eating disorders, yet it is so vital to keeping kids healthy and preventing a relapse," said Jason Minion, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Attending Psychiatrist at Overlook and Morristown Medical Centers' Department of Psychiatry.

"Weight stigma is often overlooked when considering mental illness and eating disorders. It can be harmful to a person's mental and physical wellbeing. The sense of isolation that many people are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic can negatively impact a person's eating habits and wellness practices. A way to combat weight stigma is to recognize individual biases and underlying judgements and to make a conscious effort not to engage in behavior that negatively impacts a person," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of NJAMHAA.

The NEDA's second annual Weight Stigma Awareness Week takes place from September 28th to October 2nd. The goal of this week is to "end weight hate" and to help communities understand why weight stigma should matter to people with all different body types. This week also allows people to understand how weight stigma impacts people of all sizes, how it contributes to eating disorders and how to eliminate stigma and discrimination based on body size. Click here to access blogs and resources, as well as social media graphics and messages, from NEDA. To participate in social media discussions about Weight Stigma Awareness Week, use the hashtag "WSAW2020".


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