Obesity not due to willpower

Obesity is not a choice, and making people feel ashamed only makes them feel worse, according to top psychologists.

The British Psychological Society report, covered by BBC News, calls for changes in language to reduce stigma – for example, saying, “a person with obesity” rather than an “obese person” – and that health professionals should be trained to talk about weight loss more supportively.

Obesity levels rose by 18% in England between 2005 and 2017 and similarly in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. This means just over one in four UK adults is obese, while nearly two-thirds are overweight or obese. According to the report, these increases cannot be explained by a sudden loss of motivation and “is not simply down to an individual’s lack of willpower”.

“The people who are most likely to be an unhealthy weight are those who have a high genetic risk of developing obesity and whose lives are also shaped by work, school, and social environments that promote overeating and inactivity,” it says.

“People who live in deprived areas often experience high levels of stress with fewer opportunities and incentives for physical activity and options for accessing affordable healthy food are limited.”

In addition, stress caused by fat-shaming – being made to feel bad about one’s weight – by public health campaigns, GPs, nurses, and policymakers, often leads to increased eating and more weight gain.

The report recommends that the government approach obesity the same way as smoking. British Psychological Society Chief Executive Sarb Bajwa said: “It has taken action at all levels for decades, from government policy to helping individual smokers, but we are now seeing significant reductions in the level of smoking and the health problems it causes.”

Read the BBC report here.

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