Ending Weight Bias and Discrimination

Letter from the President

May 14, 2014 - TOS eNews

Dear Colleagues,Media Guidelines Graphic w border


This month I’d like to spend a few minutes discussing with you an area that you may not have heard much about from The Obesity Society in the past, but you will be hearing more about in the future: advocacy to end bias and discrimination against individuals with obesity. While many researchers may not be confronted with the impact of this discrimination in our everyday work, advocacy in this area certainly serves an important purpose in our field.


Imagine for a minute that I conduct animal-based research focused on metabolism in obesity (which I in fact do!). How does bias and discrimination impact me in my lab? 


Let me begin by providing a bit of history…


Six years ago, after careful deliberation, TOS declared obesity a disease and we were recently joined by the American Medical Association when it reaffirmed that position. Declaring obesity a disease is an important step to ensuring clinicians and policymakers recognize and treat obesity as a complex, chronic condition. Further, it lends support for reducing the stigma and discrimination experienced by the many people affected, and thus improves access to obesity treatment and funding for research.


Over the years, we’ve embraced speaking out on the topic of weight bias and discrimination and are making progress in this area. More people are understanding that, when we move past thinking about personal choices and poor decisions as causes of obesity, we can focus in earnest on the science of body weight regulation and novel clinical and population approaches to combat the disease. Thus, as a basic researcher, combating weight bias and discrimination is an important advocacy effort to improve the perception of and support for your research.


Today, I urge you to consider joining us as an advocate for persons with obesity by reviewing and sharing these recent guidelines for portraying individuals with obesity, developed by TOS, the Obesity Action Coalition and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. These guidelines highlight ways the media (and you too!) can help tackle weight bias by making slight adjustments to how you talk about and portray those affected by obesity in your work. Consider also the idea that your research in obesity is positively impacted by this effort. Further, I hope that this position resonates with you as a person and a citizen.


Second, I’d like to urge you to participate in a call to action to influence policy makers, through advocacy, to ensure our laws and regulations match our values and beliefs. Weight discrimination and bias naturally flows into the political process, negatively impacting efforts to address the obesity epidemic. We are making progress: new research in the Obesity journal shows that the majority support laws to end weight discrimination. But, our work doesn’t stop here – we must continue to advocate for treatment of obesity and those affected, like any other disease.


Lastly, I’d like to point you to an inspiring video giving a voice to the many basic scientists at TOS, and the great work that we do. Jackie Stephens, PhD, a longtime member and leader at TOS, bravely stepped forward to give a Tedx Talk on YouTube regarding the importance of this research. Not an easy task, but vastly important to state our case and defend our positions and values.


TOS thanks you for your work, and supports you as a member of a long tradition of leadership in research. It’s our values that compel us to continue in advocacy in support of persons with obesity. I urge you to take a minute to hone your arguments around why obesity research is important to you and the public and take a stand on bias and discrimination. 


See you in Boston!



Steven R. Smith, MD

The Obesity Society President

(Please note: External Links are provided as a courtesy. The Obesity Society is not responsible for the content on sites accessed through external links.)

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