The Impact of Weight Shift – According to Joe Nadglowski, President and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition

Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition, as told to Alexandra Benisek

On the WebMD Webinar “Effect of weight shift,” Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition, answered questions from viewers about how weight discrimination can affect your life.

We know that there are perceptions that weight shift is different in different cultures. Maybe it’s the idea that living in a larger body is more acceptable in some cultures than in others.

But the latest research shows that thanks to the Internet, Instagram, TikTok and new technology, slimmer bodies are more favorable. This happens everywhere.

We know there may be differences between cultures, but we need to study this further. If you actually look at the research on weight bias, there are examples of it in almost every culture in the world.

No. In fact, the opposite is true. If we help people deal with the biases they face, there will be less stress and pressure. And this is more likely to lose weight over time.

We are not saying obesity is good for you. Obesity has health consequences – but we need to treat people with compassion. Just like you won’t blame and shame someone who has cancer, even if they engaged in behaviors that contributed to their cancer.

Airlines present a special challenge. I find that the airlines are trying harder. For example, Southwest Airlines has what they call a “bulky customer” policy, which allows people to basically book two seats for the price of one, as long as they plan ahead.

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But we still hear stories from airlines where certain rules are not followed consistently. One of our wishes is that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would actually develop standard policies instead of letting the airlines go their own way.

I always have this question. One of our challenges is the lack of education of health care providers about obesity. In fact, it ignores all the complex issues raised, whether it be adverse childhood events or the social determinants of health.

One of the things that I’m passionate about is that when a health care provider talks to someone about their obesity, we really encourage them to take a trauma-informed approach.

We tell doctors that it’s likely that their patient had an adverse experience with their healthcare provider—and that’s a complicated question. We need to use this trauma-based approach to understand and not make the person worse on their own.

Poverty and low socioeconomic status tend to contribute to obesity. This is because low-quality food is available at low prices.

It’s interesting how bias and stigma play into this.

How do you disentangle stigma from low socioeconomic status, weight, race, or gender? But because obesity often affects people of lower socioeconomic status, the stigmas affect them more. We probably see this most in compensation.

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One thing I often do is ask parents to look at their school’s anti-bullying materials. Bullying based on weight is probably one of the main forms of bullying in schools. But the reality is that we don’t have good data on this.

However, weight-based bullying is unlikely to be included in school policies. I know there are people who are passionate about trying to change this.

I think most people struggling with obesity and their health want to do something and have probably tried many things. The idea that they don’t try and that we should blame and shame people is false.

I’ve spoken to thousands of people across the country, and I can count the number on my two hands who have told me it was a stigmatizing event that motivated them to address their obesity.

For the vast majority of people, it is a compassionate, empathetic or health-related event that moves them toward change.

I ask people to look inside themselves and think, “Do you really know what this person is going through?” Instead of shaming and blaming them, have an honest conversation with them to see where they are on their journey.

I think weight charts are interesting things. I think what is missing is figuring out the best weight for someone. What leads to achieving the best possible health and quality of life?

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I don’t think this is randomly determined on a chart based on averages. It should be a very individual conversation. I think the weight chart is useless.

Instead, I encourage people to talk to their healthcare provider and ask if their weight is affecting their health. This is how people should manage their weight.

Be direct. If they blame your weight for all your problems, call them out and ask, “If I were a thin or normal weight person, how would you test these things?”

The reality is that obesity contributes to many health problems. So losing weight can help in certain circumstances. Even modest weight loss can help. But I think it’s important to challenge them to run tests to be sure.

I am very optimistic about our young people these days. They may not experience much bullying from their friend group. But we must remember that it is worth checking in regularly.

Let this be the conversation. Ask if they feel they are treated differently than their friends because of their size. Especially if they give you the opportunity to have these conversations.

Watch an online replay of the webinar “The Effect of Weight Shift.”