Stigma stops people addressing weight issues

The social stigma attached to being overweight or obese is preventing people from taking action to address it, Ireland’s health watchdog said yesterday.

Safefood’s director of human health and nutrition, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said it is unfair to describe people who are overweight or obese as weak-willed.

“It is a lot easier for some of us than it is for others to remain lean and it should not be cause for self-congratulation if you are one of the luckier ones,” she said.

“The stigma that is attached to being overweight or obese is preventing people from taking action.”

Dr Foley-Nolan was one of a number of experts to speak at a conference in Dublin on the role appetite plays in obesity.

The conference was hosted by the All-Island Obesity Action Forum, supported by Safefood and the Association for the Study of Obesity.

Safefood believes there has been an over-emphasis on personal responsibility and blame, and says the media has a crucial role to play in destigmatising weight issues and obesity.

Dr Foley-Nolan said Safefood wants people who don’t struggle with their weight to better understand those who do.

“The reason we brought a number of leading Irish and international speakers together is to understand from a biological and behavioural point of view what appetite is all about,” she said.

Dr Foley-Nolan said one of Safefood’s roles is to change society’s views on weight and, to that end, it has put an emphasis on childhood obesity. She said it is not so much our genetic make-up that defines our destiny as the first few years of life.

Research just published shows that, by age 10, our eating behaviour is ingrained, thus emphasising the importance of prevention of unhealthy eating habits in childhood.

“We are all different in the way we respond to both food hunger or cravings. Some of us find it easier to be satisfied with food than others. You can see that in newborn babies in the first few weeks of life. Some infants are just hungrier than others.”

Meanwhile, a UCD/HSE study of some 3,000 families has found there are significant differences in risk factors contributing to childhood obesity among children attending schools in disadvantaged areas compared to pupils attending other schools.

It found that children in third class who attended schools under the DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity Schools) programme were less likely to eat fresh fruit daily (45.5%) compared to those in other schools (61.1%). They were also less likely to eat vegetables daily (41.6%) compared to students in other schools (56.2%).

About 61.3% of DEIS first-class children spent two hours or more watching TV during the week compared to 30.2% in other schools.

Overall, DEIS students from surveyed families also spent more time watching TV at weekends.

However, DEIS first-class children were more likely to play outside for three hours or more at weekends (74.9%) compared to students in other schools (50.5%). Some 29.3% of DEIS first-class pupils walked or cycled to schools, compared with 14% in other schools.


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