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Calgary conference tackles Alberta’s weight bias

CALGARY – The Canadian Obesity Network estimates six million Canadians are currently classified as obese. Excess weight has been linked to health problems like diabetes and heart disease, but it also puts people at a greater risk of experiencing “weight bias.”

“Weight bias is the preconceived judgement that we have about people because of their weight,” explained Shelly Russell-Mayhew, a University of Calgary psychology professor with the Werklund School of Education. “It has serious consequences, so we’re really trying to come up with strategies and ways that can reduce the intensity and frequency of weight bias in Alberta.”

Experts in education, psychology and public health gathered in Calgary this week to come up with a plan to reduce the stigma associated with living in larger bodies.

According to the Canadian Obesity Network, part of the problem lies in a widespread perception that obesity can be easily solved through diet and exercise.

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“Getting people to understand that is a big part of weight bias, because as long as you say: ‘These people just need to eat better and get more active, and they will somehow lose all the weight’ is simply not how obesity works,” said Dr. Arya Sharma.

Weight bias includes incidents of teasing, bullying, verbal and physical abuse, or any other form of discrimination. Sharma says research has shown many people with obesity regularly experience weight bias from health care providers.

“There’s a lot of evidence showing that people with excess weight–when they go to see their doctor–don’t get treated with the same respect as other patients,” said Sharma. “And that’s why they may avoid going to the health care system, even for routine check-ups.”

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