By Patty Nece, J.D., @ObesityAction Vice Chair and @theNASEM Roundtable on Obesity Solutions Member (@pattynece)
This past week was filled with highs and lows for me as Obesity Care Week (#OCW2020) and World Obesity Day (#WOD2020) unfolded. (For background on these initiatives, take a look at our February chat blog.) Patient advocates, doctors, dietitians, allied health professionals, scientists, researchers, and the many Champions of OCW spread a remarkable amount of information about weight bias, obesity treatments, the need for access to those treatments, childhood obesity and more throughout the week. WOD saw the launch of the Global Obesity Patient Alliance (@GOPAObesity), a unified voice of patient organizations from around the world, and publication of a strong Joint International Consensus Statement For Ending Stigma of Obesity, which garnered endorsements from more than 100 organizations across the globe. And a personal highlight for me was telling my story of living with lifelong obesity to a group of about 400 people on WOD.
These accomplishments were triumphs and provided needed education on obesity and its affects on those who live with the disease.
While much of the response on social media was favorable, approval was not uniform. Members of the public as well as the medical community provided some stinging replies. Complaining about the consensus statement on stigma, one physician wrote in the Daily Mail that obesity is a choice and that “fat” people “prefer blaming the Government, the food manufacturers, their genes etc” rather than “acknowledging that they are fat because they stuff their faces on a regular basis.” Similar responses came when patient-advocate Angela Chesworth tweeted a respectful appeal for people-first language:
A celebrity with a large Twitter following retweeted Angela’s tweet asking, “Is this a joke?”
The derogatory comments came in fast. Some were outraged that someone would compare cancer (a blameless disease) with obesity: “Obesity is self inflicted, pretty disgusting and narcissistic to even attempt to put herself in the same category as someone with cancer.” Others called her a “snowflake” or “liberal,” or tweeted stigmatizing images or gifs. And many – including people at higher weights themselves – tweeted familiar refrains about simply eating less to solve any weight issues.
The good news is that other advocates for people with obesity, including fellow patients and medical professionals, tweeted their own responses supporting Angela and citing science and research in hopes of educating those whose tweets were ill-informed.
How do we move the needle towards understanding obesity in both the medical profession and the general public? How do we reach the sorts of people who posted stigmatizing or uneducated tweets? When do we stop the shame and blame game and instead lend respectful support to people with obesity?
During this month’s #obsm tweet chat, we’ll discuss the following questions.
1. This past week was #ObesityCareWeek (March 1-7) and #WorldObesityDay (March 4th) Did you participate in OCW or WOD? If so, how did you participate?
2. Awareness Weeks are full of positive experiences but if you read the #obsm blog you know there are some negatives as well. How can we reach and teach people who express views on social media that show no understanding about the complexities of obesity?
3. Have you ever had to deal with negative comments online? What are some of the ways you've dealt with them? Can you offer any tips for others? Does responding individually make a difference?
4. What are some of your positive online experiences? Please share the many wonderful ways you connect with others about obesity-related issues online.
5. Do you have any suggestions for improving and increasing participation in #ObesityCareWeek or #WorldObesityDay in 2021?