World Obesity Federation

Worrying levels of stigma from healthcare professionals risks exacerbating the obesity crisis

NewsWorrying levels of stigma from healthcare professionals risks exacerbating the obesity crisis

This World Obesity Day (11th October), a new comment in the Lancet Public Health, co-authored by Dr Donna Ryan, President of the World Obesity Federation, highlights worrying levels of stigma experienced by patients, including from healthcare professionals.

Dr Ryan and the co-authors argue that at the heart of the stigma is a failure to recognise obesity as a disease and the complexities of obesity. This failure to support people living with obesity violates patients’ right to access treatment and receive compassionate care.

“The common narrative around obesity is one that focuses on the disease being a result of poor choices, ignoring the multitude of factors; social, commercial and others, that contribute to this epidemic,” said Dr Ryan. “This failure to recognise obesity as a chronic disease means that those living with obesity are subject to stigma, even from health professionals who should and must know better.”

This lack of understanding about the complexities of obesity, stigma and blame has worrying implications. A report published yesterday by the OECD highlighted the high levels of obesity across OECD countries, with 1 in 4 adults across OECD countries now living with obesity. The report goes on to highlight the significant impact that these trends have alongside co-morbidities such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, including reduced life expectancy, high healthcare expenditure, and reduced employment opportunities.

“The associated costs of the diseases for which obesity acts as a gateway are $2 trillion annually and OECD countries are spending about 8.4% of their total health budget on treating obesity-related diseases,” said Johanna Ralston, Chief Executive of the World Obesity Federation. “This is unsustainable and it is clear from the OECD report that focusing on prevention at the health systems level would result in huge benefits, both in terms of disease prevention and economic savings.”

Children are far from being immune to the obesity epidemic and last week, the World Obesity Federation published a childhood obesity atlas which highlighted the rise in childhood obesity around the world, most notably in emerging economies such as the Pacific Islands, Middle East and Africa. The OECD report suggests that children of healthy weight are 13% more likely to perform well at school, and more likely to complete higher education.

These trends show an urgent need to revisit governments’ approach to obesity. “What we can see is pockets of actions to address obesity around the world, but rather than taking a comprehensive approach, governments are currently cherry-picking which policies they adopt,” argued Hannah Brinsden, Deputy Director of Policy at the World Obesity Federation. “For a disease as complex as obesity, adopting a comprehensive package of policies which serves to prevent, manage and treat obesity, alongside a people-centred approach, is vital”.

Civil society organisations working on obesity and overweight from across the world, will be working together to launch a new World Obesity Day on 4 March 2020. This represents a concerted global effort to coordinate the vital work that is being done to change the narrative around the stigma of obesity and for all of these organisations’ global voices to become more than the sum of their parts. 

Note to the Editor:

World Obesity Federation represents professional members of the scientific, medical and research communities from over 50 regional and national obesity associations. Through our membership we create a global community of organisations dedicated to solving the problems of obesity.

Media Contacts:

Peggy Walters, World Obesity Federation

T: +44 7985 446 169


Ellie Needs, World Obesity Federation

T: +44 7511 165 247