BalancedView – Addressing Weight Bias and Stigma in Health Care

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Self perception

Have you ever noticed that people worry and
talk a lot about their weight and appearance? Have you have heard people
comment on others’ bodies or even their own in a negative way? In a society
where it is considered important to be thin and fit, negative attitudes towards
larger bodies can be common. Weight bias and stigma exist in employment,
education and health care. So what exactly is weight bias and stigma? How does
it impact us, and what can we do about it?

is weight bias and stigma?
Weight bias is defined as the negative
weight-related attitudes, beliefs, assumptions and judgements toward
individuals who are at the ends of the weight spectrum[1].
Weight bias tends to be experienced differently by those who are overweight and
obese. These attitudes are often manifested by false and negative stereotypes,
for example the belief that large individuals are lazy, unmotivated and sloppy,
less competent or lacking self-discipline[2].
A person may experience stigma when they have a characteristic
(such as being heavy) that is not valued by the society they live in[3].
When someone is stigmatized because
of their weight, it means that the way that others react to them or treat them
can make them feel like a less important or less valuable member of society[4].
While it may be hard to imagine weight bias
and stigma taking place in health care settings, research shows that health
care professionals may endorse stereotypes and negative attitudes about
patients who are overweight and obese. Evidence also demonstrates that there is
a significant impact of weight bias on mental and physical health, independent
of weight. The impacts of weight bias on health are many and include:
Poor body image and body
Low self-esteem and low
Depression, anxiety, and other
psychological disorders
Maladaptive eating patterns and
eating disorders
Avoidance of physical activity
can we do about weight bias and stigma in health care?
BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services
(BCMHSUS) is working towards reducing weight bias and stigma in health care
settings. BCMHSUS has developed BalancedView,
an online and interactive resource that aims to decrease weight bias and stigma
among health care professionals in British Columbia. Examples of health care
providers include doctors, nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, social
workers, and physiotherapists, among others.
At the end of March 2015, the BalancedView resource will be launched
and made available to health professionals across BC. BalancedView has 5 modules and contains information, videos,
quizzes and activities designed to enhance the awareness, knowledge and skills
of health professionals in the area of weight bias and stigma.
The BalancedView
resource is just one part of a bigger movement towards promoting a focus on
health rather than weight. Changing social norms related to body weight is a
big task but change is happening. By shifting the focus from weight to well
being, together we can promote better overall health for all British
For more information visit or contact

[1] Puhl, 2011; Ciao & Latner, 2011
[2] Puhl & Heuer, 2009; Rukavina &
Li, 2008
[3] According to Puhl and Brownell (2003),
p. 213
[4] Goffman, 1963

is a Project Manager with the Health Literacy Team at BC Mental Health
& Substance Use Services. She is co-leading the development of
BalancedView a weight bias and stigma resource for health professionals
and is passionate about promoting positive body image, addressing weight
bias and integrating obesity and eating disorders prevention.

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