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New Report from the Women and Equalities Committee on Weight Stigma

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A new report from the Women and Equalities Committee has raised important issues around weight stigma and the damage that it can cause.

Parliament's Women and Equalities Committee has released a new report looking at weight stigma, the damage it can cause and what can be done about it.

We agree that national and individual level conversations around weight need to be had sensitively to avoid reinforcing stigma. We also support many of the key measures in the government’s Obesity Strategy, which will have a positive impact on the food available to people, making it easier for everyone to live healthy lives.

Weight stigma

We are pleased that this report highlights the damaging nature of weight stigma and the consequences it can bring. We know that weight-related stigma can lead to physical and psychological harm. Importantly, research shows that those affected by stigma are less likely to receive adequate health care. This is unacceptable.

We agree with the Committee’s call for further research into the extent and impact of weight-based discrimination.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

The report recommends that BMI should no longer be used as a measure of individual health.

BMI measurements are often used as part of assessing someone’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as in ongoing care. While we acknowledge that there can be challenges in interpreting and using BMI as a measurement, the call for it to be scrapped doesn't seem right at this time.

Used appropriately, BMI can provide valuable information for care focused on individuals that doesn’t discriminate against anyone. There are instances where the use of BMI may not be appropriate so healthcare professionals should take a person-centred approach to weight and health.

Food

We have called for the speedy implementation of measures within the government’s Obesity Strategy that seek to change the food environment to make it more supportive of healthy living for everyone.

We agree that some communications around the strategy have focused too much on individual behaviour to manage weight. Adopting a whole population approach helps to avoid stigmatising individuals who may live with obesity.

Health-related organisations strongly agree that policies which limit the advertising of food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt are the right way to go. This report calls for an independent review of the policies within the Obesity Strategy.

We think that there is solid evidence to support interventions to improve the food environment and that they should be implemented as soon as possible.

Nutritional information

We support better provision of nutritional information wherever people buy and consume food. All pre-packaged food in the UK is required by law to display calorie content and other nutritional information.

People buying food from restaurants, cafes and takeaways are often unable to access this information and can struggle to make informed choices as a result. The adoption of calorie labelling will bring the information available when eating out more in line with the information we can currently access when buying food in supermarkets. Labelling calorie amounts on menus is also likely to encourage food businesses to offer more healthy menu options.

As a result, we disagree with the report’s conclusion that the government should not pursue legislation on calorie labelling.

 

Douglas Twenefour, Deputy Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said:

“This report shows the extent to which weight-related stigma is rife within our society and highlights the serious physical and psychological harm that often accompanies it. Yet, crucially, those who experience weight stigma are less likely to receive adequate care and get the help they may need.  

While the use of BMI may pose some challenges, when used appropriately, BMI provides valuable information that can help people get the personalised care they need. It is important that healthcare professionals take a person-centred approach to discussing weight and health, use appropriate language, and consider the use of BMI based on individual circumstances. 

We understand that some people may find certain measures and policies triggering, but if done sensitively, these are important tools to help people to live a more healthy life.”

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