Wednesday, March 25, 2015

BalancedView - Addressing Weight Bias and Stigma in Health Care

Self perception

Have you ever noticed that people worry and talk a lot about their weight and appearance? Have you have heard people comment on others’ bodies or even their own in a negative way? In a society where it is considered important to be thin and fit, negative attitudes towards larger bodies can be common. Weight bias and stigma exist in employment, education and health care. So what exactly is weight bias and stigma? How does it impact us, and what can we do about it?
What is weight bias and stigma?
Weight bias is defined as the negative weight-related attitudes, beliefs, assumptions and judgements toward individuals who are at the ends of the weight spectrum[1]. Weight bias tends to be experienced differently by those who are overweight and obese. These attitudes are often manifested by false and negative stereotypes, for example the belief that large individuals are lazy, unmotivated and sloppy, less competent or lacking self-discipline[2].
A person may experience stigma when they have a characteristic (such as being heavy) that is not valued by the society they live in[3]. When someone is stigmatized because of their weight, it means that the way that others react to them or treat them can make them feel like a less important or less valuable member of society[4].
While it may be hard to imagine weight bias and stigma taking place in health care settings, research shows that health care professionals may endorse stereotypes and negative attitudes about patients who are overweight and obese. Evidence also demonstrates that there is a significant impact of weight bias on mental and physical health, independent of weight. The impacts of weight bias on health are many and include:
·       Poor body image and body dissatisfaction
·       Low self-esteem and low self-confidence
·       Depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders
·       Maladaptive eating patterns and eating disorders
·       Avoidance of physical activity
What can we do about weight bias and stigma in health care?
BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS) is working towards reducing weight bias and stigma in health care settings. BCMHSUS has developed BalancedView, an online and interactive resource that aims to decrease weight bias and stigma among health care professionals in British Columbia. Examples of health care providers include doctors, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, social workers, and physiotherapists, among others.
At the end of March 2015, the BalancedView resource will be launched and made available to health professionals across BC. BalancedView has 5 modules and contains information, videos, quizzes and activities designed to enhance the awareness, knowledge and skills of health professionals in the area of weight bias and stigma.
The BalancedView resource is just one part of a bigger movement towards promoting a focus on health rather than weight. Changing social norms related to body weight is a big task but change is happening. By shifting the focus from weight to well being, together we can promote better overall health for all British Columbians.
For more information visit or contact

[1] Puhl, 2011; Ciao & Latner, 2011
[2] Puhl & Heuer, 2009; Rukavina & Li, 2008
[3] According to Puhl and Brownell (2003), p. 213
[4] Goffman, 1963

Kiera is a Project Manager with the Health Literacy Team at BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services. She is co-leading the development of BalancedView a weight bias and stigma resource for health professionals and is passionate about promoting positive body image, addressing weight bias and integrating obesity and eating disorders prevention.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Supermarket Chaos

“Low-fat,” “Gluten-free,” “Reduced sodium” – labels, advertisements and recipes that are plaguing our supermarkets, TV and internet. I remember walking through my local supermarket feeling unbelievably overwhelmed. I remember growing up eating a “balanced” meal with meat, rice and vegetables. As a student, I was taught about the Canadian food guide standards and how many servings of each category we were supposed to have. Things felt simpler back then. Fast forward 20 years and I’m confused about every product I pick up. I have spoken to many people about following food trends. Whether it’s going Paleo or Gluten-Free, I believe it’s important to discuss these things with your doctor or a nutritionist. I also think it’s a responsibility of companies marketing any product with a mindfulness that we are susceptible to falling into “food traps.” That doesn’t take away the responsibility of ourselves to educate about our body and what we need in order to flourish. We want the onus to be on us to not fall for these “food traps” just because “that’s what everybody else is doing.”

 I find it frustrating that food has become more complicated because for some, food is already complicated enough. For those individuals going through disordered eating, these labels reinforce a need to stay or be a certain way. It no longer promotes a healthy view on food but instead it has a mindset that if you don’t do things in a certain way, you are more likely to be unhealthy, have health issues, gain weight, etc. I recently watched a documentary, The War on Wheat, on CBC’s “The Fifth Estate”. The documentary is based on the book, Wheat Belly, by Dr. William Davis. The documentary looked into claims Dr. Davis was making about wheat. He believed that wheat is causing an array of illness, body malfunction and mental health concerns; however, these claims have not undergone any research studies. Dr. Davis’s book is a best seller with millions of people following his teachings (The Fifth Estate, CBC News). It truly makes one wonder how powerful these forms of labels and advertisements have on people.

Next time you go into your supermarket, watch TV or surf the internet – take a second and listen to what your body needs and wants and follow that. The unfortunate reality is that we will be bombarded by flashy slogans and trendy words. Do your research, talk to your doctor and/ or nutritionist and get back to enjoying food the way you want. Let us organize this chaos together.

Nafiza is a Clinical Counsellor with Fraserside Community Services Society. Her passion is to promote healthy eating and activities in youth and adults, to live life appreciating the body she has today and to work on optimizing the opportunities she has around her.